Exo on the Couch: Understand 'Product Debt'

December 7, 2020
8 Minute Read

Join David again as he has a chat with our senior designer extraordinaire, Pierce O'Brien.


Pierce has years of experience with design across web, products, ux and ui. Right now Pierce is heading up the product design process with a number of Exo projects and today he’s having a rant about some recent consulting experience. 


The client was keen to get some input on existing product flow and design an additional component. From the start it was evident that this client didn’t have any of the foundational assets that Pierce would need to really get his teeth stuck in. 


Building up the initial stage of product infracture is a vital starting point.


The process of building up a product baseline goes into the detail of the research, documenting and sharing the research, then moving into the information architecture and user flows. It’s not just designers who need these user flows, but everyone in the team who wants and needs to have an understanding of the product. 


As the product changes and evolves it then becomes really simple to change and amend the flow, giving huge amounts of clarity to the design team and the client. 


Without doing this it was evident that the client had a lot of gaps, and were relying on a lot of assumptions without the data to understand the goals of the users. Without this it was hard to understand user goals and subsequently what the clients product should really look like. 


Obviously there's a cost associated with creating these foundational design elements, but if not done the potential to accrue product debt is increased. 


Product debt typically refers to anything that either ruins the product experience or internal productivity. Each time we have a key team member not across vital information our internal efficiency is at stake, costing the project time and decreasing profitability. Sooner or later this debt must be repaid!


One way that Pierce really recommends understanding the concept of debt is acknowledging the problem and putting it on a wall (digital or real!). Every time anyone across the team comes across a problem where it causes the business to spend money, a dollar sign is added to that item. Over time you then get a really clear idea as to how much money your product debt is really costing your business. 


The first step to getting rid of your product debt is getting your high level product elements aligned. The work you are putting in at the beginning is highly important for efficiency, there are plenty of tools you can use, from spreadsheets to something like miro. Or you can get someone like Pierce on board to really get stuck in and do this for you. 


After watching this video and reading this summary hopefully it makes you think about how you can reduce your own product debt and better understand why this foundational design work is so integral to your business. 


How do you reduce your product debt?


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