Product Manager 101: Enhance Collaboration and Discoverability with Discussions

Bailey Gannett
by Bailey Gannett on January 13, 2023 8 min read

"Being a good API Product Manager is all about making it so that stakeholders can make better decisions faster. Stoplight's new Discussions feature is a huge part of that solution."

–Wil Kirwan, Senior Product Manager.

Previously, we dove into success tips for Product Managers by interviewing our own Product Manager, Wil Kirwan. We are back with Part Two to help PMs optimize their skills. As previously noted, it was clear that proper collaboration was the number one priority an API PM should consider with their API team.

Today–we're here to share some further collaboration tips, the importance of discoverability, and a new feature in Stoplight that will help accelerate those efforts! That new feature is called Discussions, which promotes ease and accessibility for your developers while taking the strain out of adding social add-ons such as real-time chat, annotations, and integrations with task managers. Along with Discussions, now there is a Slack integration with Stoplight that allows teammates to annotate, comment, and collaborate on API designs with ease.

"A lot of what we talk about is the importance of communication, a wide variety of voices in the room. Launching Discussions is key because you can bring more people into the discussion when designing APIs," Kirwan shares. "Just having the ability to have fresh eyes and a new perspective, Discussions really facilitate that."

More Collaboration Capabilities

"For me, the big win is enabling more people to collaborate in Stoplight. We do a good job of being that tool for so many developers when we are designing these APIs, and ultimately this is going to help developers understand that there are more perspectives to bring into the picture," shares Kirwan.

You already know how critical proper collaboration is to the success of your Product Manager career, so anything that can increase that across your API team is a huge win.

As a PM, you know the best solutions don't necessarily come from the inside out; best practices state that they come from the outside in. Further collaboration with cross-functional teams offers room for additional innovation, creativity, inclusion, and new perspectives that weren't previously discussed. That level of collaboration can ensure your API team has a solution that will fit with the market and resonate well with ALL stakeholders–not just other developers.

Discoverability Leads to Better PMs

"Discussions increase discoverability across your API program because you can integrate your Stoplight discussion with a designated Slack channel so someone not in the Workspace can add new insight and see the discussion around the API you're creating," shares Kirwan.

For Product Managers, having that insight and making it so that people build better APIs earlier in the process is the goal. They need a certain level of discoverability to get that 360-degree view of what is going on in their API program.

"I love the idea of getting an email notification of all the comments that have been made on something in Stoplight and then being brought back to that exact point in Stoplight where that discussion was happening. It greatly improves my visibility into the program," shares Kirwan.

Often, API PMs have to switch contexts constantly throughout the day depending on what team they're interacting with–whether that is growth, engineering, marketing, or working with external customers. The number of hats a PM wears can get exhausting–so having that email that quickly consolidates all discoverable conversations around the API design with direct links and comments is hugely valuable for product managers.

The discoverability improves when others can be a part of that design process without forcing all stakeholders to log into a Workspace. We often call this approach of involving all stakeholders during the design phase a design-first development approach, which is a standard best practice.

"With more voices and brainpower, you end up with a better result. We like to think around design and inclusiveness and making sure that voices that aren't always a part of the discussion can fill in pieces of information where they're needed," shares Kirwan.

Integrations Improve PM Quality of Life

How else do Discussions improve the quality of life for Product Managers? Discussions integrate with other standard workplace tools developers will often use, including Jira, Linear, and Slack, as we already mentioned. Now, developers in Stoplight can create an issue in Jira straight from their Stoplight Workspace, allowing them to track their discussions on the API design.

"Having the tools, PMs usually use anyways being integrated throughout our Discussions ultimately makes it so that Stoplight is your source truth for your API design. Then you have the outside tools like Jira and Asana as well to help with that. I always say–it is not done until you document it. Now, that step is made easier with these integrations," shares Kirwan.

Documenting activities and managing the overall product are significant portions of the API Product Manager role. Having integration tools that can save you time and keep all notes in sync makes it much easier to succeed as a PM. Kirwan emphasizes that most PMs are dealing with disparate sets of tools, with multiple varieties of places where work gets tracked one way or another–and that is why as many integrations as possible will make their lives easier.

"Every integration you have is just one less place where you have to write the same thing repeatedly. It makes product manager quality-of-life so much better, having a single source of truth on everything," shares Kirwan. "Being able to say you had a discussion and you logged it in Stoplight, then we can pull up our API design, and I can see the steps that came into making a particular decision."

API PMs often have to document the thinking process and bring back all stakeholders on the design into a meeting to discuss what changes were made and why. Discussions in Stoplight save the PM from having to have that meeting, which gets pretty expensive when you consider the five, six, or more engineers that need to weigh in on the design.

"What we've heard from many large customers is this notion of 'the stoplight meeting,' where previously PMs would get everyone working on the API in Stoplight on one meeting call to go over all the changes, conversations, and API endpoints in person. That gets pricey," shares Kirwan. "Discussions eliminate that need and lead to well-designed APIs that end up being adopted more quickly by your user base with lower cost development."

Having that full stakeholder buy-in and what went into the design upfront leads to greeted symmetry and better decisions down the line because those conversations are documented, and all information is available without having to pay the high cost of getting everyone in the same room.

What If I am not a Product Manager?

Not to worry, Discussions benefit developers and API program leaders as well. We cannot let API Product Managers have all the fun!

"As someone who spent their first four years early on in their career as a software developer, the biggest frustration to me was the lack of communication around breaking changes when designing APIs," shares Kirwan.

Other developers can probably relate to this frustration. Previously, when APIs would come out, one could just make changes whenever they wanted without communicating that to the rest of the team; it gets old after a while. However, with Discussions–breaking changes are no more because all design work can be captured, shared, and commented on as a collaborative effort. Discussions improve the developer experience, not just the Product manager's life!

But–what about those leading the API Program? Discussions are great for them too! Instead of previously having to deal with going in and finding info program leaders are seeking, they can easily tag other users and invite them to come into Stoplight to check it out for themselves.

Adding multiple email addresses and getting multiple individuals into your Stoplight Workspace was often a hassle for many program leaders. However, now, adding all the people you need into the Workspace to weigh in on the API design is made easy.

Now, program managers can share discussions with someone who's not in that Workplace, and they will get an email with a comment thread, bringing them directly into Stoplight. They are then automatically tagged as a new user in the Workplace.

Program leaders no longer need to be concerned about barriers to getting someone engaged with the API Design; it is a straightforward comment and tag step!

Regardless of if you are a product manager seeking to make collaboration and discoverability easier for your team—or you are a developer/program leader just trying to get through your next API design, Discussions are for you.

You can try out Discussions today by logging into your Workspace or checking out the docs to learn more. Product Managers--your life just got a whole lot easier in Stoplight!

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You can try Discussions today by logging into your Stoplight workspace or checking out our docs. For a demo, watch our webinar about Discussions.
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