What Is Product Debt And Why You Need To Prioritize Paying It Down

November 13th 2017

Interview with Leslie Yang Senior Product Designer at Pivotal Labs

Poornima Vijayashanker, founder of Femgineer (left) and Leslie Yang, Senior Product Designer at Pivotal Labs

Confession time… as an engineer and founder who is eager to ship and get a product out into the hands of customers, I’ll admit there have been not one but more than a handful of times where I’ve de-prioritized usability and visual design in favor of shipping a product that “works”.

And there have been other times, where I may have strongly suggested to a designer that their designs were “too complicated” and needed to be changed to ease my workload.

Instead of thinking through how a customer would interact with it and paying down tech debt to implement the design, I pushed them to “put it in a new tab”.

You can probably predict what happened next…

The product quickly became complicated to use, and customers slowly started to drop off.

While that was a wake-up call for me, I struggled to figure out how to balance the workload of paying down tech debt versus product debt.

It wasn’t until a wise designer took me aside to explain to me the importance of paying product debt and I shouldn’t think about it as being at odds with tech debt, that I started to think more holistically about the two.

If you’ve struggled to deal with paying down product debt on your product team, or want to educate new teammates on how to manage it, then today’s Build Tip is for you!

I’m joined by Leslie Yang who is a Senior Product Designer at Pivotal Labs, and together we’re going to be sharing:

  • What product debt it is and how to recognize it
  • What happens if we de-prioritize it over and over again
  • Some proven strategies to help designers and engineers work together to pay it down

After you’ve watched today’s Build Tip, let Leslie and I know, how you handle product debt at your company in the comments below!

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Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.

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