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Introduction to project management

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-time Product Manager, leading a product team while balancing stakeholder requests and business needs is challenging work. The Experience Center (XC) strives to enable our Product Managers to develop and maintain a sustainable, agile product development rhythm.

By working as a Product Manager within a cross-functional team, you are committing to work with collaborators rather than order-takers. The goal is to develop the product together, based on continuous input. But, never fear - as Product Manager, you maintain full control of feature prioritization, release timing, and product direction/strategy.

Key activities of an effective Product Manager

An effective Product Management practice leads to a happy and productive product team by:

  • Structuring regular ceremonies to ensure fluid communication among engineers, designers, data scientists, and stakeholders.
  • Breaking down big ideas into manageable pieces, establishing a reliable way to estimate features, and ensuring a predictable output of frequent releases.
  • Continuously keeping product and business risk low by identifying risky assumptions, and gathering and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data to help inform product decisions.
  • Balancing business goals against user needs, and technical feasibility, so that the team regularly ships features that have impact.
  • Encouraging your entire team to provide regular feedback on process and performance to drive continuous improvements in delivery and happiness.

Approach to modern product development

At the XC, we blend values, principles, and practices from three schools of thought:

  • Lean Startup
  • User-Centered Design
  • Agile/Extreme Programming (XP)

Additionally, we apply these philosophies within a structure called a “Balanced Team”.

We didn't invent these philosophies, however over time we have developed our own approach to enable these practices. Taking aspects of each philosophy, we combine them and apply them with discipline, empathy, curiosity and a strong bias to action. We will help you figure out how to adapt these methodologies for your organization.

Our approach is always evolving as we continue to uncover new and better ways of building great products. What follows is a quick primer to product development which will help you understand how we work.

Lean Startup

Lean Startup is an approach to developing businesses and products in environments with high uncertainty and change. It was created by entrepreneurs Eric Ries and Steve Blank. Ries and Blank based their ideas on lean manufacturing, which was popularized by Toyota as a means of minimizing waste and maximizing productivity.

Most products fail because they are based on flawed assumptions about user needs. Lean Startup emphasizes investigating and validating assumptions about what customers really need, and meeting those needs with as little time, effort and money as possible. Customer feedback is vital during product development. It ensures that we don't build products that customers don't want.

Lean startup also borrows from the scientific method, and assumes we don't know something to be true unless we gather the evidence to validate our belief.

User-Centered Design

User-centered design (UCD) is a product design philosophy that emphasizes designing the product around how the user can, wants or needs to use it, rather than seeking to change the user's behaviors to fit the product.

We consider our user's needs from the very beginning of the product cycle, and validate our assumptions about their behaviors and problems. Using investigative methods like ethnographic study, contextual inquiry and prototype testing we validate and refine our understanding. The whole user experience is considered; we seek to understand the user's full context rather than just the task(s) they would complete using the product.

The design work is done iteratively, and design options are tested and evaluated early and often. Users are involved directly in the design process. Through observation and interviews, we seek to gain empathy for the goals of our users, and use what we learn to ideate and evaluate design options and to inform design and development decisions.


Agile is a set of values and principles that enable teams to develop software with agility. Agile teams are quick, flexible, and respond to change without sacrificing quality. There are many implementations of this methodology. Most assume collaborative, cross-functional teams that deliver products in an incremental and iterative way.

We do XP which is a specific set of practices that implement agile values and principles. It was created by Kent Beck, who wrote “Extreme Programming Explained” in 1999. (One of our top recommended reads!)

XP enables teams to write high quality software, ship it often and predictably and be responsive to change. It’s a strategy to help teams go fast forever. XP is a system – we only get to experience its full benefits when we implement all of its practices. That's why it's called Extreme Programming!

Further reading

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