Notes for (How Product Management Plus Design Leads to Product Success)

Presenter(s):  Dan Olsen

Date-Time:  August 15, 2019 @ 9:20 AM

Key Takeaways

Collaboration between PM’s and UX teams is very important for designing products. Olsen explains how using simple frameworks such as the “Four D’s” and the “Triple Diamond” PM and UX teams can combine quickly and easily to create successful products.


Dan Olsen begins the talk by sharing the story of the Wonder Twins and how they must cooperate to activate their power in order to solve problems. Product managers and design teams are similar in that they must cooperate in order to be effective. Olsen then introduces his background which includes an MBA from Stanford and work as a product manager at Intuit and various startups. He hosts a monthly speaker series and founded his own company in 2014.

During his first role as a product manager at Intuit he realized that product managers and design must work together, through a framework he calls the four “D’s”: Discover, Define, Design, Develop. Discover and Define are often combined but Olsen believes it’s important to keep these separate. In Discover, we find who is the customer and what are their needs? In Define, we find how will we meet their needs, how will we be better, and what is our feature set? Through Design we figure out the best solution approach, user experience, and design details. In Develop, we build it. There are two main principles for how product managers and UX should work together: “diverge before you converge” aka explore different directions before you commit to a single solution, and think about problems before you think about solutions. Olsen defines diverge before converge for us as first creating more options and suspending judgement then prioritizing those options and picking the best ones. This is also called the Double Diamond, which Olsen has improved by 50% by creating the Triple Diamond framework. In summary the Triple Diamond wants to combine teams in an organized way, and reduce the issue of “that’s my job!” while increasing cooperation. Each section of the Triple Diamond calls for different roles to perform loosely as the primary, secondary, or in the case of a UX researcher, a less dedicated third role. Within the six phases of the triple diamond, the first phase is diverging on problems where the product manager leads while working closely with the designer and a UX researcher can come in. The second phase we converge and the product manager is the lead, with the designer being less involved, and everyone must be clear on what problems they want to solve. Once this happens, the designer becomes the critical role and takes over the solution space. When it comes time to evaluate design the UX researcher comes back in to this process.

To better define problem space versus solution space, Olsen provides the example of the space pen. The problem space is the customer problem, need, or benefit that the product should address and must include a well written user story. The ability to write in space with zero gravity is the problem space in this example. The solution space is a specific implementation to address the customer need or requirement, and for this a space pen was created for a one million R&D cost. The Russians also created a solution: a pencil. Both are good solutions, but is an example of the problem space becoming polluted by the solution space. The company who created the pen for NASA had the solution of it needing to be a pen polluting the problem space.

In another example, Intuit has TurboTax and this illustrates how we can peel the onion in the problem space to be able to help people file their taxes. Exploring the problems with doing taxes can be a messy process because users have different priorities, but by then discussing what benefits we can create from solving the problems we can build a benefit ladder that has things in common between the seemingly disconnected problems. There can be multiple benefit ladders for example saving money is a separate benefit ladder than empowerment and confidence. We then converge in the problem space to find importance versus satisfaction, i.e. rate each need based on how important the need is to the target user and how satisfied the users are with how the need is met, as well as targeting high importance and low satisfaction needs. We also need to find the value proposition, i.e. how will our product better meet these needs, and how will we be better than the competition in which it’s useful to use the Kano Model to classify benefits (must haves, performance, and delighters) and do a competitive analysis. We then diverge again in the Triple Diamond, and do a brainstorming session for a feature for each benefit. The next step is to converge on features by analyzing the return on investment (ROI) of each feature idea (ROI equalling the return divided by the investment), find how much value it will create, and what the cost is (usually for developer time). In this step we also create the product roadmap by deciding how we will be clustering and sequencing features over time and in what order they will be released. The third diamond is diverging on designs, there are a million ways to do this with variations of conceptual design, information architecture, interaction design, and visual design. Here designers should help the teams explore their options in multiple fundamentally different directions, and once it’s been tested we can pick and choose from those directions to create a truly amazing product. All of this helps avoid becoming stuck on lower local maxima.

Olsen’s final example of the importance of collaboration between product managers and design is a case study for where he used the Triple Diamond framework and quickly worked through the project. His client had a different idea for junk mail which would empower individuals to see their marketing report and influence the direct mail they received. The marketing report is analogous to a credit report and the client wanted the main idea to be centered around learning why one receives the junk mail they do. Other benefits were saving money, reducing junk mail and waste, comparing your spending habits with others, and creating a social networking space. After testing the prototype, where these benefits were separated into three categories, Olsen discovered that the benefits with no appeal were comparing spending habits, social networking, and seeing your marketing score which would tell you why you receive certain junk mail. The options with strong appeal were reducing junk mail and therefore saving trees, and saving money. These benefits were referred to as the “Shield” concept. Often in testing users can lead you to tertiary concepts developers hadn’t thought of before. It was very important to see what should be cut, for example the marketing score would have been very expensive to obtain for the website. Through this discovery phase Olsen learned that: the most annoying type of junk mail were financial items like credit card offers, people spend significant time shredding junk mail, and saving a specific amount of trees was very important to people (43 for the new prototype). Between the two prototypes, both tests they asked if people would pay $10 a month for this service and after the second most people agreed it would be worth it.  Once the user test was over, almost everyone wanted to go home and use this site immediately.

The talk concluded with a short Q&A, some of those are listed here.

How do you divide time between the three diamonds?

Focus on where the uncertainty is, if it’s a new market or new customers, then invest in the discovery period. That knowledge is very important for figuring out the rest of the functionality.

In your model, research comes in in third diamond, but can it come in during the second diamond?

I like to move quickly through that second diamond. Before we even get to design, figure out functionality, and then test it with design. Prototypes really allow you to pin down what works instead of trying to work with wide loose concepts.