Leading with Vision is Product Management

No matter what you build, it's going to be wrong the first time. The question is, does it take you two weeks to figure that out or does it take you two years?”

Alex Bilmes, Vice President of User Experience at Puppet, shares why establishing a vision is so important for innovation and how teams can successfully incorporate design to improve collaboration.


Alex had an unorthodox introduction to design. As a kid, he loved graphic design but gave it up in favor of law school. After realizing that wasn’t the right career for him, he experimented with different paths like design work, front-end development, flash work, and UX design. At the start of his career, he founded and worked for several early stage startups to feed a singular ambition: “I was super passionate about building experiences for people,” he says.

In this interview, Alex provides his perspective on how to start with a vision when innovating and the difference between innovating at a large organization and innovating at a start-up.

As an organization grows, the focus becomes incremental innovation and it’s challenging to test completely new concepts. “I think the hardest thing is really just size,” he says. “One of the things I’ve seen work really well over the years as you move from a startup to a large organization, is to still act like a startup.” To shift from incremental to big innovations, Alex recommends keeping team sizes small and shortening iteration cycles.

Alex also shares unique insights into how his team at Puppet is structured and the techniques they use to craft a vision. For them, it starts with visual work and design concepts before development work begins. This allows them to get input from customers and iterate quickly based on their feedback.

“We test concepts, we build vision decks, and validate them with customers ahead of when the engineering work starts,” Alex shares. “We’re putting high fidelity mockups in front of our customers and getting feedback on it before it ever actually hits a sprint in terms of implementation work.”

Testing and learning, iterating, and design work can often be foreign concepts at organizations, which can negatively affect collaboration. That’s why Alex recommends being a strong negotiator. “It’s really a conversation,” he says. “You’re getting to a place where everybody’s comfortable with the first step.”

Know what’s important to each person who has a stake in the product, from product development and engineering to developers and customers, and communicate a message that will resonate with them. “If you’re talking to a customer, you can say, ‘Hey, this some vision work. This is about a year out.’ When you’re talking to developers, it’s really important to speak in a language that directly applies to the work that they’re doing.”

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about corporate innovation, UX design work, and testing and learning.

Here are the highlights:

Alex Bilmes

Vice President of User Experience

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