Are you paying enough attention to the little things?

I consider things like loading indicators, success notifications, error handling, and other user experience niceties as “little things.” They can make a product more enjoyable to use, more helpful, and less confusing — but they’re typically not going to move the needle in a meaningful way for the business on an individual basis. I’ve found that there are consistent opportunities to fit these kinds of little things into your design and development plans without costing you business priorities, and in aggregate they can elevate the overall user experience of a product.


Success notifications:

One of my favorite little things is a checkmark that appears after you’ve successfully done something, such as adding an item to a list or updating a profile. I refer to this as a “success notification,” which come in many varieties.

  • The text that accompanies the checkmark can say whatever is appropriate for the action that the user took (e.g., “Added” or “Updated!”)
  • In some cases, it’s fine for the message / checkmark to automatically fade away after a second
  • Bonus points if the user sees the checkmark draw itself (but this is of course more time consuming to implement)


Loading indicators:

Waiting for a page / screen / module to load can be frustrating for a user if it lasts more than a second, so having a nice loading indicator is an opportunity to prevent dissatisfaction. Any kind of indicator is better than nothing (e.g., a simple spinner), but some extra effort can make it a good experience.


Seeing the above isn’t so bad, right? It makes me think about the indicator, as opposed to the fact that the data on the screen hasn’t loaded yet.

Compare that to a very basic loading indicator:

And compare both of those to a complex (and very nice) example that’d take more time than most early-stage companies have for this kind of thing:

So where should you end up on this? How about a spinner, but a little more interesting than the most basic kind, such as:

It’s great to find ways to reduce loading times (such as by caching data, removing unnecessary data, or loading multiple things asynchronously), but loading time is a reality and you can prevent it from being an unpleasant one.

Error handling:

Plenty has been written about creative 404 pages, but error messages are another area that deserves attention.

I’ve seen error messages that aren’t clear what the problem is, aren’t helpful with how to resolve the problem, and don’t seem like they fit into the design of the application that they’re a part of. A little bit of descriptive text goes a long way, and a tiny bit of design attention is better than nothing.

Don’t overlook error messages as part of your user experience approach.


I like to have yearly, quarterly, and monthly plans when it comes to roadmapping.* These plans outline an approach to hit company goals while solving for user needs. Examples of company goals are increasing sales by X% or $Y, or reducing churn by Z%, within a set period of time.** A roadmap should be focused on achieving company goals while solving customer problems, but with some planning, you can likely also fit in some “little things” along the way.

I suggest doing advance planning for the little things just like you should be doing advance planning for the bigger things that are aimed at company goals. If you identify something that could be made nicer with a little thing, add it in your backlog or other type of planning documentation and prioritize it appropriately.

At any time, if something needs to get bumped from your plans, it should be the little things. With this approach, you’ll be focused on company goals and solving important customer problems, while also delivering value via the kinds of nice little things that are often missing from products to improve a user’s experience.

*I also build an idea of where things might be more than a year into the future, but that’s on a higher level with less detail because things are expected to change over time. Things also change within a quarter or even a month, but items on a roadmap within the next quarter are typically rearranged and not cancelled, while items more than a quarter out are more likely to be cancelled. So, have a vision for where things can be in the future, but don’t spend significant time on the detail.

**It’s important for any goal to have a target (i.e., a number to achieve), a deadline (i.e., how much time you have to achieve it), and a clear way to measure progress. Define success, measure it, learn from it, and report on it.

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How communicating more can help you succeed as a product manager





Sharing product information within your company is one of the most valuable things you can do as a product manager. Whether it’s your plans (roadmap), feedback you’ve heard from users, product usage data (analytics), or posing questions — getting what you’re doing and thinking in front of a cross-departmental audience will provide you with input that helps you make better decisions and will help align others with the goals you’re looking to achieve.

Spreading info can also help other people be more effective in their roles as they’ll be able to better prepare for upcoming changes. It can get them excited about the direction of the product, and it can make it known across your organization that you’re a person to bring questions or feedback to — opening up more lines of communication to help inform your thinking.


Hold a recurring meeting once per month that gets you in front of a cross-departmental audience

  • Invite people not only from Product & Tech, but also Support, Sales, Training, and any other relevant group.
  • Create slides to walk the audience through:
    • What’s been happening with the product (e.g., recap the last release, usage data)
    • What’s coming up soon (e.g., the next release)
    • Future thinking (e.g., distant roadmap possibilities)
    • Research initiatives (e.g., what problems about your users or business you’ve identified recently and their impact, what solutions might be viable, what you plan to learn about soon)
    • Competitive analysis (e.g., if you recently discovered a new competitor that you think would be valuable for others to know about, or if you want to highlight how a potential new feature could be a differentiator for your company’s solution vs. others)
  • Solicit feedback.
  • At the end, recap any next steps and actions.

While this might take you a few hours to prepare for each month, sharing information (ideally in an engaging way) is one of the most valuable things that can be done within a company, not only bringing info to others but also to you.

These sessions can also give people better insight into how you think and approach things as a product person, which is particularly valuable to stakeholders who you don’t work with on a regular basis. And it’s a way to take people on the journey of the product, showing where it’s been and where it’s heading, growing support and buy-in along the way.

Sync with certain people in advance of this meeting to prepare material

  • Ask co-workers in Support about common user pitfalls and analyze Support case trends with them.
  • Ask co-workers in Sales and/or Business Development about common sticking points that prevent a deal from closing. (Or if your company is more Marketing-centric, sync with the Marketing team.)
  • Ask the appropriate people about why users stop using your product (i.e., cancellations / churn).

You’d ideally be able to see quantitative data on these topics, in addition to having conversations about them. Depending on how much detail is made available to you, it could also be useful to speak with some of the users who these topics relate to so that you can dig deeper into the reasons behind what they said to your co-workers (i.e., learning why something happened, instead of only what happened).


The following is an example sequence of slides that you could use or adapt:

  1. Intro / purpose of the meeting (state a goal of sharing info and discussing possible solutions to problems)
  2. Recap of last release
  3. Plan for next release
  4. Insight / question #1 (takeaways from recent research you did, a trend that you think is worth raising awareness for and getting feedback on, or some other topic you’d like to increase visibility on)
  5. Insight / question #2
  6. Questions / feedback (while you should welcome questions or feedback throughout the meeting, dedicate a couple of minutes at the end for anything not already covered)


  • Don’t feel like you need to do everything listed above from the start
    • You can start simple with a small audience and short list of topics to get feedback and adapt for the next session, gradually inviting more people.
    • The most important thing is to get started with something, and be open with participants about how you want them to get value out of it and that you welcome their feedback. Adjust the format over time to find what works best.
    • Aim for a 50-minute meeting. If you find that 50 minutes isn’t enough, trim some content for the next time so that you can get it done in 50 minutes. If you engage the participants (e.g., by asking some to help prepare material in advance, and by inviting questions/feedback during), this will feel like a short meeting packed with insights and takeaways for everyone.
  • Frame the meeting in the right way
    • It’s not meant to be a collaborative prioritization session. Some open discussion among attendees is great, but it’s not a debate on what to work on.
    • You’re sharing information and believe that everyone benefits from hearing insights, both from you and others.

In general, respond quickly to whatever comes your way

  • Even if you don’t have an answer that someone is hoping for (e.g., if your answer is that it’s going to be a while longer until their concern is addressed in the product), getting back to people in a timely manner gives them confidence to reach out to you again in the future, which can provide you with valuable intel.
  • In some cases you might pass someone’s question to someone else who is better suited to answer it, which is fine. Whether you or someone else answers it, you helped get the answer.


Communication is a two-way street. When you share information with others, they’re more likely to share information with you.

Having a steady flow of communication with a group of people from across your organization enables you to test ideas sooner, hear feedback sooner, and make ideas better — resulting in better product decisions and benefits for both users and the business.

Overall, communication can be a big factor in a product manager’s success, both with a product’s success and also the product manager’s career. Seize the opportunity to spread information and to learn from others, and position yourself as a go-to person in your company.

[Note: This post didn’t touch on external communication, such as with users, partners, or vendors, which is worthy of its own writeup.]

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Why you should start with a paper wireframe

In a world that’s getting more computerized every day, it may sound a little crazy to suggest that something should be done on paper when digital solutions have been developed (e.g., Balsamiq, OmniGraffle). Digital wireframes are great. They’re easy to share with co-workers, they look professional, and they’re fun to make. While I’m a big fan, I’ve found that starting with pencil and paper, or marker and whiteboard, results in a higher quality wireframe. Here’s why:

  • It’s a quicker way to get your ideas into a form that you can look at and tweak.
  • You can easily work through different variations by erasing or crossing something out, or flipping over the paper and starting again.
  • It enables you to see an entire user flow in one view to visualize everything working together before making more detailed wireframes of each screen.
  • It’s the fastest way to get feedback from a co-worker, which could result in a quick iteration or scrapping the whole thing and starting over.

By the time you’re ready to digitize what you’ve done on paper, you will have thought through the core goal(s) that you were trying to accomplish and worked through issues that you discovered along the way. Then, you can focus on any final adjustments once its digitized before handing it off to the next person in the development process.


I came up with a ‘question of the day’ app for a simple example to use here. Depending on which out of the multiple choice answers the user selects, they’d see a different result. Here’s how I sketched it on paper:

Image of a paper wireframe

It’s sloppy, but it’s a sketch (and I also have sloppy handwriting). Remember, the goal is to quickly reach a point where you can rethink the idea, or to get feedback from others, resulting in a better version.

When I was in the middle of the above sketch, I thought it’d be good to include a “change your answer” option, so I added one at the bottom right of each answer screen. Clicking on this would send the user back to the question so they could choose a different answer. I didn’t need to resize anything to fit this in — I just added it in the corner, and it’d look better in the next version of the wireframe.

When I finished the sketch, I thought it’d be good to show what other people had selected as their answers, similar to poll results. I couldn’t fit that into the answer screens that I had sketched, so I added a representation of it at the bottom right of the paper (and I would explain this to whoever I shared the sketch with). It could turn out that the poll result feature doesn’t make sense to include, or at least not in the MVP, so it could have been scrapped anyway. As long as it was sketched in some form, it was ready for a discussion or a decision.

Depending on who you work with and what they do in their job function (i.e., some designers and product managers handle different things and have different processes), you may find that all you need to do is deliver a sketch and have someone else run with it. Or you may be the person who receives a sketch and needs to make it better. Whatever the case, I’ve found that step 1 being on paper gets you there in a better way.

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How to track and improve the customer support function of your startup

When you think of KPIs and metrics, what often comes to mind are things related to user acquisition, engagement, retention, virality, and monetization — most of which are (or should be) a focus for many technology companies. Sign up conversions, social shares, email open rates / clickthroughs, and purchase flows are examples of what can be tracked and optimized. The operational side of a company, however, is often overlooked when it comes to measuring and optimizing. Customer support efficiency ends up as an overlooked KPI in startups.

If you get more than a small volume of customer support cases, it may be worth a focused effort to improve the following two metrics:

  • Number (or frequency) of support cases
  • Average time spent processing each support case

Less issues + quicker resolutions = more happy users + more efficient employees. This is a path to better business results.

All of the things mentioned in the beginning of this post (user acquisition, etc) are important — typically more important than optimizing customer support — but when time spent on handling support takes a significant bite out of time spent on growing user base, building product, or working on any other key function of a company, it may be time to figure out how you can make an improvement.

While you may use multiple customer support channels, including email, live chat, messages via social media, and/or phone calls, I’ll keep this post focused on email for the sake of simplicity, and some things written about email can be applied to other channels. You may also find that some parts of what I describe apply more to your company than others.

Step 1 – Track the number of support cases that you get. If you use an app such as Zendesk, UserVoice, or, it may include analytics that will show how many cases you get during set time periods (e.g., monthly). If you do support via regular email and not an app, it’s fairly straightforward to see the number of emails that come in (and you can create a “Support” filter if you use the email account for more than only support).

Ways to potentially reduce the number of cases:

  • Create (or expand) an FAQ / Knowledge Base on your website – This is a great resource for users who have questions because a) they can get answers faster than waiting for an email response from you and b) you save time by needing to answer less questions. The material should include step-by-step instructions (and screenshots) where applicable, and be sure to keep it up-to-date. Consider using an app like Zendesk, UserVoice,, or Helpjuice to provide some automation.
  • Add more guidance in your app’s user interface – Small changes like adding tooltips, more descriptive copy for how something works, or arrows/text for the next suggested action that the user should take can reduce confusion and prevent questions from arising. Be mindful that it can be a delicate balance to keep clutter to a minimum in a UI while also keeping things informative enough. I’m a big fan of tooltips and there are many different types.

Seeing a reduction in support cases isn’t necessarily the best way to measure success because you’ll hopefully be gaining new users as time goes on, so you’ll measure success by seeing a reduction in support cases per user or per event.

  • Measuring by users – Getting 100 support cases from a user base of 5,000 over whatever period of time (a support rate of 1 case per 50 users) is not better than getting 500 support cases from a user base of 100,000 (1 case per 250 users). The example with 500 cases is a substantially better (lower) frequency that will allow you to more effectively control support costs over time.
  • Measuring by events – An event can be anything from an account registration to a sales transaction to a download. Identify the primary source(s) of support cases that you get (you’ll know this based on the subject matter of the cases) and then make adjustments to improve on the problem source(s). For example, if a download process is a big problem source, you’ll see users asking about it and can document how many cases arise per download event (or per attempted download if users are having trouble completing the download process, which would mean you’d measure the number of cases against the number of sales that are supposed to lead to a download). Based on this, you’ll be able to target improvements to the problem source and then track what will potentially be an improved (lower) frequency of support cases.

Step 2 – Get a sense of how long it takes to resolve each case. The time needed for each case starts when you open the support email and ends when the user’s issue has been resolved. If it takes multiple emails to resolve a case, add up the time for processing each of the emails. I suggest tracking 20 cases and using the average time between them as your benchmark to improve upon.

Ways to more quickly resolve cases:

  • Have a collection of answers to common questions (such as in an FAQ / Knowledge Base) and copy and paste the relevant material into support emails. Depending on how your page with the help material is set up, you may be able to quickly find the relevant material by doing keyword searches via the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F on a PC or Command+F on a Mac. Another option is to include a link in the email to where the user can find the relevant material on the FAQ / Knowledge Base, which has the benefit of introducing the user to a resource where they can find other helpful information, but also the drawback of requiring the user to go through another step to get their answer. I suggest copying and pasting short answers and linking to a resource for longer answers.
  • Build a search feature in an admin panel (that only company staff can access) where you can search for information about particular users or transactions to quickly see details that can help you resolve a case. This would potentially save you from needing to have extra correspondence with users where you’d need to ask them for the same details that you could get from a quick search. For example, by searching for a user’s name, email address, transaction number, or other unique identifier, depending on what your system logs about users and transactions you could see things like the user’s device type, operating system, browser, purchase history, last login, IP address, additional email addresses registered on the account, and anything else that you find relevant to resolving support cases (as long as it gets logged).

Example of a search feature in an admin panel:

Wireframe of a search feature in an admin panel

If it helps to know what browser someone was using when they experienced an issue, you’d know from a quick search without needing to ask them. If a user emails you from an address than you don’t have on file, you could search for their name and potentially find their account. Figure out what’s most important to know in order to resolve issues and create a way to pull up that info as needed.

Two important factors for creating happiness via customer support:

  • Response time makes a big difference for customers. Many companies take 24 hours or longer to respond to an email, while the elite respond within a couple of hours. The faster you respond to (and resolve) someone’s issue, the more likely they’ll become a happy customer.
  • Always include pleasantries in emails, such as “Hi,” “I can certainly help you resolve this issue,” “Please reply to this email if you have any additional questions,” and put your first name at the end. This shows that you’re human and that you understand people’s concerns, as opposed to letting someone think that you don’t care much about a user’s experience with your brand. The ‘human approach’ can also help you disarm an angry customer to the point where you can have a constructive exchange of information to more quickly resolve their issue. Angry customers make great evangelists when you turn their poor experience into a good one.

Providing a good support experience can help transform customers into loyal customers who will continue to use your product, tell others about it, and even provide you with a testimonial that you can use in your company’s marketing materials. Don’t overlook support as a way to help build your business.

This post was based on my experience handling thousands of customer support cases and using various tools to make the process more efficient. I didn’t include some details due to length concerns. Email me or post a comment if you have questions.


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