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Product Management Capstone | Classroom to Conference Room

The MSPM program has a strong focus on developing practical skills.  Product management is more than just reading theory from textbooks.  The semester long capstone project provides an excellent opportunity to hone the skills we have been learning all year.

What Makes a Great Capstone?

  • Interesting topic – Is there a large, interesting product/business question?
  • Great client – Are they supportive? Understand product management?
  • Solid research plan and execution – Do they know what they want? How to get it?
  • Opportunity to apply PM skills – Is there an opportunity to apply our product management & design skills?

Gift Registry | Digital and Physical Customer Journey

A large North American retailer came to CMU looking for help developing a roadmap for the lucrative gift registry industry, valued at over $15B annually.  Wedding registry is a fascinating topic because it is steeped in American tradition yet is being buffeted by changing tastes and technology. Giving cash for a vacation or home fund was unheard of just 10 years It is now included in 6% of all wedding registries.

At first, the traditional retailer didn’t seem like a place with excellent product management; this wasn’t Google or Amazon, what would they know about digital products?

We were totally wrong!

The retailer had a mature, innovative product management organization that was spread across all parts of the technology organization.  When we arrived at their office, we were impressed by how much planning and rigor they had already invested in the project.  The retailer was looking for personas, a user journey map, and the roadmap of features that would make gift registry a success for them.  They had even assigned us a user researcher to help conduct user interviews.

Getting to Work | Research and Customer Interviews

We started at the right place – User Research.  The retailer’s user research team arranged for a series of interviews and diary studies which we immediately dove into.  Customers discussed their plans for an upcoming wedding or house warming registry during an interview and then recorded themselves going through the process on body cameras.  We had never built a registry ourselves – we learned about how customers thought about registry, the anxiety of what to add to their lists, and the dynamic between partners.

In parallel, we started secret shopping at major retailers with strong wedding registry service.  We created gifts lists online, talked to store associates, and purchased gifts as a potential wedding guest might, all while thinking about the potential customers from our interviews.

Finally, we brought all of our understanding together into the classic affinity diagram, a very useful design aid to focus understanding and collect insights from multiple people. From the affinity diagrams, we were able to build and communicate the customer journey – what do customers care about?  What are their pain points?  Where are their moments of delight and surprise?

Final Pitch and Roadmap | What to Build?

After 3 months of hard work, we presented our final product feature roadmap to the retailer’s product management team in person, including their Chief Product Officer.  The whole experience was tremendous and a great example of product management skills in action.