Rasmus Skjoldan is the lead product manager of Magnolia, the CMS behind sites for the likes of Virgin America, Airbus, Al Arabiya and Atlassian. Before joining Magnolia, he was
the user experience lead of the open source content application framework, Neos—a challenge that originated from his many years in the TYPO3 community. Besides his CMS work, he co-founded Cope, the first purely content strategy focused consultancy in Denmark.
We thank Rasmus for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions for Product Manager ‘ series.
Product Mantra: Reading you, it seems that user experience is always at the core of your thought process. From your experience, what are the critical aspects that a product manager must consider while defining user experience for a mobile application?
Rasmus Skjoldan: The best advice I can give is to largely disregard the device type and first return to the core of what user experience planning can give. The type of glass doesn’t matter much before you start thinking about the interaction design.
Before you get to that point of exploring possible user experiences within the application, I generally lean strongly on the practice of master planning from architecture. It tells you to strive for inclusiveness of unforeseen human behaviour. What that means is that I strive to enable as many use cases as possible rather than being obsessed with getting just one nailed—which is otherwise the typical idea when building mobile applications.
I’m skeptical when it comes to a narrow focus on key user goals as I prefer to think of mobile as just one piece in a larger holistic picture. Think about how many mobile applications there are out there—that have absolutely killer user experiences but completely fail in just being a valuable product. Focussing too strongly on key user goals can be a trap that limits the use of your application so much that it essentially excludes the user’s creativity. Urban planning teaches you to build an environment that leaves room for imagination.
As a product manager of a mobile application, you need to position yourself in the middle of the application’s larger purpose and it’s UX. Again, that’s where architectural master planning ideas come in handy because they force you to formulate the larger picture than the user’s journey within the app, what buttons to force-touch or the desired performance stats. Without that larger scope being set right, you can waste endless time coming up with wonderful user experience patterns that no one really cares about.
Product Mantra: We often get to hear from early startups that they struggle to make people use their product. Could you please share any insights which will help such early stage startups get people hooked to their product?
Rasmus Skjoldan: Most of the time, the problem lies not in the onboarding—but rather with the core product/market fit. I see so many products that are fundamentally screwed on such a grand level that not even the best marketing, community management or onboarding exercises will help.
Design thinking teaches us to quickly build a prototype and then go out into the world and place that prototype in front of the target audience, watch their reactions and change your prototype fast. Focus on such validation of your idea early on. If the idea is good enough, you will have an easier time getting past the noise.
I’m also a firm believer in reaching out to established experts in the early stages of product innovation. I have even paid experts to have coffee with me—just to ask them to try to kill my idea. It wasn’t about pitching my idea to them—but about tapping into their experience and their ability to see through all of my love for my own idea. It’s such a waste when startups spend life and money on creating a product that just plainly has no real product/market fit.
Product Mantra: What traits should one look for in a candidate while hiring for Product Manager Position for a CMS solution?
Rasmus Skjoldan: The CMS market is very mature. That automatically calls for disruption—which we’re seeing plenty of attempts at these years. If I were to set up product management for a new CMS, I would insist on having two product managers; one with domain experience and one being all about disruption and with zero domain experience.
Market maturity calls for the product manager with strong domain experience—because you will gain from their experience of having fallen down all those many pits, having painfully explored the dead-ends—and crawled up again to find the effective approaches that most CMS’s ultimately arrive at. A trait of such a person is the ability to bridge business with engineering. That product manager knows the dilemmas and challenges of content publishing inside-out, understand the technical complexity well and knows how to map business needs to what is technically viable.
At the same time, the potential for disruption in the very developed and optimized market of content management calls for another type of product manager; one that is blissfully ignorant of the content management learnings that only time and hard thinking brings. Such a product manager must be intelligent and ignorant at the same time. She should have no domain experience in the CMS field—but come with traits such as massive curiosity, a heartfelt desire to change the world of digital publishing and a knack for looking into other industries to uncover methods and ideas that are transportable to the content management scene.
If I were insane enough to start building a completely new CMS today, I would choose one of each product manager type and hope to gain from the dialogue they would enter when trying to discover a product/market fit in a saturated market.
Thanks Rasmus, it was great reading your thoughts. I am sure the community of product champions will like it as well.
Rasmus on web:
- Linkedin: https://dk.linkedin.com/in/rasmusskjoldan
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/rasmusskjoldan
- Blog: http://rasmusskjoldan.com/