Confluence is a system that provides an extensible platform for team to capture information in one place while emphasizing collaboration, sharing, and content. While useful in many arenas, Confluence has all ingredients to build a knowledge base for your organization. Extensiblity is supported by an robust plugin ecosystem that is backed up by a strong, centralized marketplace. If Confluence doesn’t have a built in feature for a particular user need, there is likely a ready made solution waiting in the marketplace. Moreover, if you are building a software product and want an integrated solution for PdMs, Engineering, Service or Quality Assurance, Confluence is part of the Atlassian Application Lifecycle Management Suite, which is comprised of JIRA, Stash (GIT), Bamboo, Fisheye, and Crucible. The Atlassian ALM suite gives teams an integrated environment so that everyone can focus on their core activities instead of spending time finding or copying information from different systems. This not only makes Confluence a powerful collaboration system, but an integrated and context based navigable knowledge management system.
Irrespective of methodologies, collaboration is key. In Confluence, users can collaborate on not only documents but even presentations, keynotes, images, artwork, mockups and sketches, all of which are supported by an in-line, contextual commenting system. In short, Confluence makes users’ day to day work a lot more effective.
Let’s divide Product Management into 3 phases: Pre-Development, Development, and Post-Development.
The Product Manager spends significant time in Pre-Development performing a lot of tasks like capturing the voice of the customer, performing Market Research (Qualitative, Quantitative, Total Available Market, Market Segmentation), Persona creation, Competitive Analysis, Business Case development and approval. In general, they capture a lot of data either by talking to potential customers, through internet search, and via internal teams. They synthesize that data into information that is useful not only for the product they are working on but for their organization’s knowledge base and innovation pipeline.
In talking to many Product Managers, it became apparent that most of them have templates (on top off MSOffice) to structure PdM information. Consolidating the results (from different sources) and Collaborating with MSOffice based information is very tedious. It’s easy to overcome a lot of these challenges by dropping your own templates into Confluence. However, in order to maximize results, there are a few recommended plugins that deliver a more complete experience.
- Canvas: Visualizes content into boards. It helps users to get visual fast, and take ideas from concept to delivery in a flash. SWOT Analysis, KANBAN or Product Experience board, and Risk Matrix Management are built in. Users can define your own boards.
- EasyForms: The fastest, easiest way to create forms in Confluence. Drag and drop your fields, arrange their layout and a team is good to go! This helps when maintain structure when doing surveys / competitive analysis.
- Polls : The Polls plugin lets users create simple polls to capture audience choices. Use this to measure how new products should be structured or to survey user satisfaction. It can even used for scheduling events within Confluence.
- Send Email: For teams who would like collaboration with email. Allows communication with external users like customers / partners. With a single email account, allows users to send emails to any page on the server. Those emails can optionally create new pages, add comments to existing pages, add attachments, and even append content to existing pages.
After a business case is approved, PdMs need to create the product strategy and roadmap for execution. Confluence has built in features that can help, as well as few few good plugins. For sharing the development requirements with Engineering, pre-loaded templates are the way to go. Users can customize them based on organization needs and requirements. A common recommendation is to create a new document for each feature. Please refer to Addteq’s blog and webinar on Requirement Management for more details.
The real challenge with a text based requirement is that teams have to wait until product/ feature development is complete in order to consider its place within the context of the product. Using a user experience (UX) based requirement decreases this challenge. There are a few plugins that can deal with this directly:
- Gliffy: Used more than any other diagramming or drawing plugin, Gliffy is a great alternative to expensive desktop diagramming tools. Crowd favorite Gliffy uses include Flowcharts, Business Process Model and Notation ( BPMN ) / Workflow Processes, Decision Models, UI Wireframes, and Product Roadmaps. By using Gliffy, Product managers, developers, project managers, system administrators, and others can improve their Confluence documentation, collaborate effectively, and improve productivity.
- Balsamiq Mockups: In the UX world, Balsamiq is quite popular, and helps teams design interfaces. Balsamiq is a rapid wireframing tool that reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard, but on a computer. Sketch-style wireframes help focus the conversation on content and interaction, not minute details. Need to present your work? Switch to the clean wireframe skin, and impress your audience!
- Protoshare : Go Beyond Wireframes. Use ProtoShare to rapidly create, edit and view interactive mockups within Confluence pages. Drag and drop items from your computer or the wireframe stencils library onto your canvas. Embed fully functioning interactive mockups. Engagement produces understanding. Mockups enhance engagement. Higher-fidelity mockups (rather than sketches) allow your stakeholders to really understand what you’re proposing. Please refer to Addteq’s detailed blog on this.
The post-development, or go to market phase, is probably the most overlooked in terms of collaboration. This is unfortunate, because collaboration is just as important at this point as in the development cycle. For example, Marketing and sales strategy along with expected leads or orders figures needs to be shared by Product manager; also documents like Market positioning statement and Value Proposition are very critical and probably overlooked. Using Confluence to capture and collaborate these artefacts increases transparency and idea sharing during product strategy building and also later during execution by respective sales and marketing teams.
Two plugins which can be used to manage and support sales and marketing campaigns:
- Comala Workflow: Provides workflows, approvals, tasks, and notifications. Users can set customized workflows to create, review, approve and publish team content, while enforcing quality management, standards compliance, technical documentation needs, and editorial publishing standards.
- PDF Export: Export one or many Confluence pages to PDF, use the template designer to style the output, and merge metadata into exported documents. Scroll PDF Exporter helps users create great documentation. With Scroll PDF Exporter users can collaborate and author all the content in Confluence, and generate a properly-formatted PDF document to store, exchange, and print the information. Scroll PDF Exporter uses a built-in template designer to style PDF documents with a specific look and feel.
As readers can see above, low hanging fruit is abound in Confluence. Furthermore a lot more can be achieved if the Confluence is integrated with JIRA for issue tracking and Salesforce for business development. Give teams Confluence and configure the solution as per their needs considering above recommendations, and product management function effectiveness will skyrocket.
Thanks to David Fradin from Spice Catalyst for his constant guidance on my research towards Product Management Process and Information System.