Senior Product Manager, Kurt Stangl talks with Justinmind about functional prototyping, product design philosophy and the Internet of Vehicles.
As a Product Manager, Kurt is responsible for the strategy, road map, and feature definition for each product that he’s bringing to market. In this Q&A, Kurt reveals his secrets of creating a winning Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and how prototyping with Justinmind has become an intrinsic part of this process.
Could you tell us more about the Internet of Vehicles project you’ve been working on with Justinmind?
Darby is the Internet of Vehicles (IoV) project I’m currently on, and it’s been chock full of fun and surprises. Back in April 2014, there was a court case that opened up the market to something called UBI or usage based insurance. It relates to IoV in that there is a little device that plugs into a car’s OBD-II port (the same port mechanics use to fix your car) which logs a few pieces of basic data. Sudden stops, big impacts, and how many miles are on a small list are the kinds of things that get logged. Insurance companies can then use this data to say, “Hey, this person is a genuinely safer driver and we can lower their rates because we have the data.”
Since the marketplace gun has fired and the race has started, we have to get to market fast – especially since there are already other players in the field. To beat the curve, I used Justinmind to define a low-to-medium fidelity functional prototype (a prototype that was completely defined in terms of functionality while leaving lots of room for design and front-end innovation).
I was able to create a winning MVP by defining the entire product experience in a single month. With that tool, I was able to create a working model that the back-end team could use to create APIs and battle-harden the platform with some sweet non-functional requirements. This allowed me to spend the right amount of time with my designers and front-end engineers to build a beautiful product.
The twist is that my front-end and back-end teams are on opposite sides of the world. Being able to share and present my prototype with my team gave me a supercharged tool that allowed me to keep everyone on the same page, at the same time minimizing waste.
What other kinds of projects have you worked on using a prototyping tool?
“There’s nothing better than being able to show your product working on a device when and if you get that golden moment to pitch to an investor on the spot.”
Every project of mine starts with prototyping. Doing anything less is asking for more grief over the life of any project. Every product has an experience and needs an MVP. Building a working concept will tell you right away if the product works or doesn’t and keep R&D overhead down.
The last project in which I used a prototyping tool was for a product idea that I pitched at the Launch Festival in San Francisco. I found myself with an opportunity to go out there so I built a completely functional prototype with Justinmind and got it up and running on my phone. There’s nothing better than being able to show your product working on a device when you get that golden moment to pitch to an investor on the spot. Passions happen in the moment and being able to show your entire product to an interested investor in the heat of the moment can literally be the difference between a check and a missed chance.
The list goes on. Prototyping has been part of my product design philosophy since the beginning. Having tools like Justinmind really just makes the process faster, easier, and more successful.
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You’re currently at the alpha testing stage of the IoV project. How does prototyping with Justinmind fit in with this process?
A trial-by-fire irony in product management is that the better you work, the more successful the team is, the more successful a team is, the higher the confidence the board will have, and the higher their confidence, the more likely they are to put a lot of pressure on you to ship sooner.
In alpha schedules are tight – as usual, right? – so I’m using Justinmind to prototype the marketing site and the back office tools while we deploy and test. We’ll be using the tool shortly after alpha to do our initial validations in beta test. Sure we’re squeezing things in tight but the prototype has given us every advantage and we can shorten our cycle with confidence.
Can you briefly describe your working process with Justinmind during this project?
The mountaintop view:
So first of all, I created a functional prototype. It’s a technique I borrowed from a previous life to define how the product needs to work page-by-page.
Next we used the interactive tool (Justinmind) to define the back end. Daily discussions over the course of a few weeks let us scope out the entire project. We were able to spot a few features with longer build estimates so we pushed those features out passed launch.
A functional prototype is usually pretty ugly. The point is to get it to work without boxing your designers in. Once the back-end team was up and running, I was able to take the prototype to my designers and front-end engineers. In a single morning, I had given the designers the product definition that accomplished our business goals with the engineering scope and architecture clearly defined.
After that, it was another round of day-by-day discussions for a few weeks while we went through every feature; rich and flavorful discussions that were a lot of fun! The team took my big picture ask and every day we went back to the prototype to go over details and the team built me a beautiful product.
What stands out in Justinmind prototyping for you and your team?
Justinmind gives me the flexibility to create products and features on the fly. It lets me have truly robust and meaningful discussions with everyone from the engineers and designers to marketing, executives and boards. Nothing beats show and tell.
As Product Manager, working with multiple teams in an Agile environment, how does prototyping fit in to your day to day?
Prototyping doesn’t “fit” into working with teams in an Agile environment, it IS the Agile environment.
I’ve been managing successful agile teams for years and this is one magic bullet that you shouldn’t go without. Let’s look at the Agile Manifesto:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: I can create an interactive feature idea to show my colleagues at any level in minutes. That means I can create a solution and collaborate in minutes – real conversations with real people about real, detailed interactions.
Working software over comprehensive documentation: I can build a working idea to kick-off collaboration in minutes-to-hours and I can show working versions to my designers and engineers the same day. Depending on what they’re designing and implementing, we can get working software up and running while other teams are still sitting in boring meetings wondering why they aren’t building anything.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: With Justinmind I can sit down with a customer and a fully functioning prototype and literally make changes on the fly. We can build out ideas real-time with interactions, transitions and all the bells and whistles customers like to see. That same prototype facilitates the discussions with the designers and engineers and is a game changer in enterprise situations. I can do all the songs and dances with customers without wasting any of my design and engineering resources.
Responding to change over following a plan: Responding to change by using interactive prototypes to build out product ideas on the fly gives me the single tool I need to manage feature and product changes in days or hours instead of months or weeks. No matter who has a great idea, we can build out and validate the experience in so little time it will really shock folks who aren’t used to using this approach.
How has your workflow changed since incorporating prototyping tools into your internal processes?
Prototyping is something that’s intrinsically part of my process and I brought it with me to my current team. The designers and engineers that I work with are fantastic and we didn’t have to change a thing when incorporating prototyping into the process. The team expected a prototype and with Justinmind, we had an amazing centerpiece of collaboration that I used with teams on opposite sides of the world in Silicon Valley time frames.