Product Planning for Smarties

Oct 12, 2008 | Mobile & Web

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The first step that I typically take after having an idea for a new web product is to pace around in front of a whiteboard and start to draw out the overall system, the entities involved and how data will flow between them. Once you have the basic system encapsulated into a mental model you feel good about, you want to start breaking it down into the actual flow a user will traverse.

Typically people will use Visio or some other diagramming package to put these together and I often find that while powerful tools, they typically are not optimized for the basic task I’m trying to accomplish as they require a lot of fiddly operations to achieve a workable design. Inevitably you spend as much time making it ‘look pretty’ as you do thinking about the actual flow.

Enter Product Planner from Kissmetrics, a simple tool that allows you to quickly create a user flow with associated imagery and upload and share it with others. Each flow is categorized by type such as ‘sign up, invite, follow, action’ as well as the kind of web product it’s designed for, such as social networking, photo sharing, facebook applications, etc. While you can lock down a flow to just your colleagues, Product Planner encourages you to add your flow to the public ecosystem and allow others to borrow and learn from successful flows. Examining a flow is simple and easy with a system view that shows all the flows and their interconnections and a couple of one click zooms to drill into any component.


Product Planner, shares some of the ideals that the folks over at 37Signals espouse with their mantra, “We aim for the software sweet spot: Elegant, thoughtful products that do just what you need and nothing you don’t.”

Their tools provide a quick and convenient method to put together a well articulated flow and share it with a broad audience for comment and suggestions. By focusing on a niche activity they’re helping to create a de facto community amongst people who typically don’t share broadly at a design level. In the same way that developers rely on tried and tested methods and libraries from multiple sources, Product Planner could become the place to cobble together common user flows without having to reinvent the wheel every time. While the site is still relatively bare bones and there’s room for improvement the foundation is here to build a real community resource that will benefit both the creators and users of software for the web.

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  1. Oct 16, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Neil says:

    Were you able to reliably get the site to work? I’ve tried for a few days to build some flows, and the actual flow piece (the Flash UI) doesn’t render about 90% of the time. I’ve tried IE7 and Firefox.

  2. Oct 19, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Derek Collins says:

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for the review and kind words about ProductPlanner. You are correct in that we still have a long way to go with ProductPlanner. Please let us know your thoughts, we love feedback =)


  3. Oct 28, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    adam says:

    Neil, I didn’t encounter any issues with the app itself but from Dereks’ comment it sounds as though they’re eager to hear the feedback. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment. Nice stuff Derek!


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