A Product Excellence Framework by Google Product Manager

Sara Zare is concerned with aligning goals across teams. Currently Product & Program Manager at Google, she will reflect on a Product Excellence Framework that can achieve this.

Before Google, Sara worked for Cornerstone OnDemand, ZS Associates and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). In her wide experience with different products, she has acquired multiple insights on knowing your users when there’s millions of them; on predicting pitfalls before they become challenging; and on fitting your metrics to your goals so you can iterate in a positive direction.

Meet Sara Zare

Sara Zare is currently Product & Program Manager at Google. In her role as PE (Product Excellence) evangelist, she’s working hard at applying PM, UXR/D, Eng and stakeholder collaboration to inspire Google teams. In the past, she worked for Cornerstone OnDemand as Technical Integration Consultant and later Acting Chief Technical Solutions Architect. She was also Operations Research Associate for ZS Associates and Product Manager for UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

What is Product Excellence?

So, you think you’re a good PM? There are many discrete skills you could list: communication, business acumen, strategy, data analytics… However, from a logical point of view, you should be judged on the products that you deliver. Product excellence should, therefore, be your top goal. Although many organizations and professionals will give you a different definition; we believe that you can get a headstart in PE with Sara Zare’s advice. After all, we’re talking about Google!

Sara Zare’s Insights on Achieving Product Excellence:

  • When you’re building products for millions of people, you can’t really make assumptions
  • “The Product Managers’ language is different from that of the UXRs, engineers and the rest. One of the goals with a Product Excellence Framework is to have a common reference for all of them”.

Product Excellence Framework at Google

Product Excellence Framework #1: Know your users

  • Be aware of bias. For example, an initial G+ feature was an auto-upload of photos by default. Unfortunately, while convenient on paper, this angered some users as their data would be spent in the process.
  • The curse of knowledge: As an experienced PM, you will tend to have inbuilt assumptions. Avoid unconscious bias and analyze, observe and ask. Respectively, embark on looking at existing data; attempt to watch users interact with your product, and try to establish direct communication with them.

Product Excellence Framework #2: Critical user journeys

  • A Critical User Journey describes the path users take to achieve a goal. At Google, they look to all parts of the process. For example, a song search by a user might include: finding a song, tapping the result, adding to playlist, signing up to do so on chrome, complete the adding to playlist
  • To avoid making incoherent assumptions, create a blueprint: a map which highlights the critical user journey. This journey refers to the dual consideration of the customer’s identity and his/her goal. The scope and frequency of these objectives should also be taken into account.

Product Excellence Framework #3: Prioritization

  • Prioritization involves empathising with your users. You might believe that you are taking all possible journeys into account and move towards a particular direction.
  • However, did you think of accessibility? All users might not have the same ability to consume your product if it just relies on visual cues, for example. Could noise signals and additional features help increase your user base?

Product Excellence Framework #4: Pitfalls 

  • If you’re a great PM, you don’t need to be warned about product pitfalls. You must prepare for them.
  • Some common ones involve characteristics like: user choice, navigation, feedback, consistency, language, internationalization, performance, aesthetics, discoverability, ergonomics and error states.

Product Excellence Framework #5: Product Excellence principles

  • Principles are a shared vocabulary. They define and offer a verbal shorthand to refer to excellence. Thus, they are analogous to design patters in engineering.
  • Sara Zare’s PE principles include: focused utility, simple design and crafted execution.

Product Excellence Framework #6: Measurement

  • You need to design a measurement that fits your goals. Many times, PMs focus on the noise rather than looking to align signals with targets.
  • For consumer products, the HEART model is quite reflective: Happiness, Engagement, Adoption, Retention and Task success. For business products, try SUPER: Serviceability & System Health, User sentiment, Productivity, Engagement, and Revenue.

Product Excellence Framework #7: Bringing it all together

  • Launch and iterate. Travel through the cycle: simple design, focused utility and crafted execution are key.
  • A minimum product that delights our users can improve across dimensions when you iterate.

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