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This week on the API Intersection podcast, we chatted with Ikenna Nwaiwu, API Product Owner at 10x Future Technologies. What helped Ikenna Nwaiwu become a better product manager, a more well-rounded developer, and craft a stronger API strategy was focusing on creating APIs with a product mindset and a design-first approach. Below, we cover his tips and insights to help you become a better product manager too!
Using a Strong Development Framework & The Design-First Approach
"At 10X Technologies, we have a product development framework we call 6321 that has four stages," shares Ikenna.
The first stage starts with problem definition, where his team works to define the problem and better understand what issues customers are facing. This stage focuses on how that same problem is solved across different providers, what the key value to what a potential solution would look like, and incorporating a 'jobs to be done' framework.
"During this stage, we run a few workshops called problem workshops. These are where we really explain these things and produce artifacts from this to make sure that everyone involved understands what's the problem being solved and why," shares Ikenna.
The Design-First Approach
In this 'defining the problem' stage, the important thing is to consider who is in the room for these discussions. Who do you bring together across clients, developers, product managers, and leadership? It involves many different stakeholders (we like to call this the design-first approach.)
"It's good to see how many teams engage the consumers and other stakeholders with those specifications, with those API designs and get real consumer feedback from them to help improve the API," shares Ikenna. "Because that's one of the big benefits of design-first. It allows us to prototype quickly, get quality feedback, and iterate quickly to improve that design."
From there, his team enters the diving lower stage, focused on accepting the problem they want to solve and conducting a high-level solution design. Those artifacts are produced from the high-level solution design and are then tested through customer journeys to understand how they'll play out.
Treating Your APIs as Products
"Next, that's where the API side now comes in. Now, you're building a platform, and the API is obviously your interface to your platform. So we must understand how the API interface fits into the service journeys," shares Ikenna.
During this stage, APIs are covered at a high level; then, his team dives in further on the steps of the framework of API activities, endpoints, and what will be required of the API.
"You know that the product is going to be an API. From my experience, I think that's been one of the challenges of APIs because people treat APIs as if they're not a product and it's all just technology. It's just a technology interface, so it's kind of left for the technology function. I don't think that's right," shares Ikenna.
Instead, Ikenna advised that the product team should lead the API design to apply all the excellent product management principles to the API. This includes understanding the value, understanding the product roadmap, and clearly defining the product (the API). Treating your APIs with a product mindset ensures that the API interface is built properly, incorporating the ability to try them out with the consumers, get their feedback, and create a superior product.
A Few Other Tips to be a Better Product Manager
Regular Reading of Support Tickets & Feedback Loops
"How can you get and build in as many feedback loops into this value stream, into this product, this API development value stream, as much as possible? Figure out how you can get all the value streams and all the feedback to the people who need to have it," shares Ikenna.
Having user feedback on the frontlines gives valuable insight into developing your API and how end-users consume it. Direct feedback exposes you to the pain that the consumers have and where to put your focus. Ikenna advises regularly reading the support tickets that come through, even if you're not on the support team. That way, all designers and product managers will have a common understanding of what customers are dealing with in real time and how to solve for it in future developments.
Add feedback-gathering loops into your API development stream as much as possible. Creating that stream between your consumers, engineers, and business-minded counterparts can keep everyone on the same page regarding handling your API product.
Use a Systems Thinking Approach:
"Especially for me in my role as an API product owner, it's important to consider the system-level issues. Applying systems thinking often will actually stop most problems from coming up in the first place," shares Ikenna.
In addition to cultivating the design-first approach throughout your API development process, consider incorporating some systems thinking into that as well. Think about the systemic level factors that could stop a problem from coming up in the first place. Ask yourself the critical questions when you encounter an issue with your new API program:
- How can you make sure issues don't even come up?
- What's the underlying issue?
- What can you change in your product discovery process to ensure that you don't even have this problem in the first place?
And when you have an answer, test it out! Testing is one of the easiest ways to see what resonates and what works with your API.
It was a pleasure having Ikenna on the show, and if you want to learn more about the design-first approach or how to treat your APIs as products, check out the linked resources. As always, subscribe to the API Design blog or our podcast for more insights.