Product

The document below talks about how we do product at GitLab, not about what. For the what, see Product Direction.

Where to reach product managers

On this page

Which product manager should I contact?

Please see the Product Categories to know which product manager handles which category.

How do I share feedback?

If you have any product-related questions, comments, input, or otherwise, the product manager is the primary person you should talk to, if creating an issue does not suffice. Otherwise, read this section on how to create an issue.

This includes, but is not limited to, features, bugs, and other changes that need to be prioritized, changed, discussed, or need more attention.

Product managers will reach out to stakeholders when making or communicating any decision. The pressure of balancing priorities while ensuring we build excellent software is on the product managers and they need all the input they can get to achieve this.

Paid features fall under their respective PMs, not under one PM in particular. For instance, Service Desk falls under Victor, because it's part of our Issues.

A customer expressed interest in a feature

Whenever you're sharing feedback on an issue (e.g. "Customer X wants this"), please make sure to do the following:

If a customer expresses interest by simply mentioning an issue number or e.g. "an integration with X", that is not sufficient information. Make sure to ask them:

The product manager is responsible for figuring all of this out, but being one step ahead of them will speed things up.

You can use this feedback template to make this easier.

Good example

A customer with more than 1000 users mentioned they are interested in this feature to be able to do their sprint planning more effectively. They are using software X to do this today, but would be able to move to GitLab if we would do this.

@productmanager this issue doesn't have a milestone right now, are we planning to address this in the near term?

Bad example

salesforce.com/blabla

Feedback template

You can copy/paste this to make sure you don't miss anything:

- Link to request:
- Why interested:
- Current solution for this problem:
- How important to them:
- Questions:
- PM to mention:

Technical Writing

The Technical Writing team is responsible for:

We are there to assist developers in their documentation writing process by providing copy editing and reviewing services and are not responsible for writing the first draft of documentation for new or updated features.

We maintain and improve the overall health of documentation by creating topic index pages, improving organization, creating tutorials, etc.

We manage our documentation tasks for CE and EE on the following issues boards which track labels beginning with docs-:

Planning horizon

  1. Mission: generation
  2. Strategy: lustrum
  3. Vision: year
  4. Milestones: quarter (we have issues assigned to specific release milestone for a rolling 3 months)
  5. Release: month (we try to not change the release that is started)

Inspired by:

How to work as/with product

At GitLab, the PMs lead their specialization. That is, the Platform PM decides what the platform team works on, for which release, and makes sure this furthers our goals. This includes bugs, features, and architectural changes.

The PM can't be expected to parse every single bug or issue that comes by, so they have to rely heavily on the input of the various stakeholders. To be able to achieve this, both the PM and the stakeholders have to actively work together. It's a two-way street.

In general terms, if you require something to happen with the product or if you need engineering staff for a particular change, you approach a PM. Preferably through creating an issue (the GitLab way), and mentioning them there.

In the same vein, PMs are required to ask for feedback from the stakeholder of particular changes. If a change will affect GitLab.com and its maintenance, a PM should proactively reach out to infrastructure engineers to help with the scope, design, and decisions regarding this change.

It is then up to the PM to weigh all these inputs and decide on a prioritization. It is to be expected that they are the best equipped to make this prioritization, while also keeping in mind all goals of GitLab.

Examples: A customer has a feature request

If you hear a feature request from a customer, you should follow the normal procedure: create an issue and label it correctly. Let's say the customer requests an enhancement to Issues. You know by reading above that you'll have to label this with Discussion and you can mention or reach out to Victor to expedite this if warranted.

A salesperson for an organization asking for a paid-tier feature request shall work with the product manager to arrange conversations to further explore the feature request and desired outcome. The process will be:

Example: Many support requests come in about a bug with CI

Same as before, make sure an issue is made and make your case with Mark that this is becoming a problem and needs to be fixed. Mark will make sure that this is fixed or resolved in some other way.

Example: I think creating new files is slow

Everything in GitLab should be fast and creating files falls under the repository, so you create an issue and make James aware of it by mentioning it.

James in turn will investigate whether this is a general problem or one specific to GitLab.com, in collaboration with infrastructure and others and schedule any necessary changes for an upcoming release.

Product Process

Introducing changes requires a number of steps, with some overlap, that should be completed in order:

Prioritization: Ahead of kickoff

  1. Proper discovery has been done and requirements for the change are defined
  2. Engineering has been involved in the discovery process (FE, BE, UX, as needed)
  3. Technical architecture has been drafted and is agreed upon
  4. Scoping and splitting up into actionable issues has happened

Ambitious Planning

Here at GitLab, we are an ambitious company and this means we aim for big things with every release. The reality of taking chances and planning aspirationally means that we won't always be able to deliver everything that we wanted to try in every release, and similar to our OKRs, we believe this is a good thing. We don't want to shy away from challenging ourselves and always want to keep a sense of urgency, and aiming for more helps us do that. Also see the importance of velocity

Kickoff meeting

Preparation

  1. Relevant issues are added to the Kickoff doc
    1. Product managers should add any issue that is marked ~direction and ~Deliverable for the upcoming milestone (no ~Stretch issues)
    2. Issues should report the tier they will be included in
  2. Issue descriptions are updated to include an introduction to the underlying problem, use cases, and a complete proposal. It should be easy to understand the problem from reading the issue title and description without digging through comments.

Meeting

  1. We start the meeting by reminding anyone who may be watching the video/stream about how we plan ambitiously.
  2. Introduce the issues of your product category by explaining the problem and proposal of listed items.
  3. Share your screen to guide through the individual issues. If there is a UX design or mockup available, show it.

Execution

  1. Design
  2. Backend development
  3. Frontend development
  4. QA and feature assurance
  5. Deploy

QA RCs on staging and elsewhere

After the feature freeze, it's expected of each product manager to test their own features and perform quality assurance to the best of their ability and follow up where necessary.

Product managers can use the staging environment once the release managers have deployed a release candidate to staging. Release managers should post in the #product channel in Slack that a new release candidate is available. Product managers can also use other environments as needed, such as GitLab provisioned on Kubernetes with GKE.

Communication

Goals of Product

Everyone at GitLab is involved with the product. It's the reason why we are working together.

With every release of GitLab, we want to achieve each of the following goals.

  1. Improve GitLab's existing tools.
  2. Achieve our vision of a complete toolset.
  3. Make our product more interesting for our customers through Products and EE exclusive features.

Scope of responsibilities

The product team is responsible for iteration on most of GitLab's products and projects:

This includes the entire stack and all its facets. The product team needs to weigh and prioritize not only bugs, features, regressions, performance, but also architectural changes and other changes required for ensuring GitLab's excellence.

Product at GitLab

GitLab is designed and developed in a unique way.

The direction for the GitLab product is spelled out on the Direction page. This document provides lessons and heuristics on how to design changes and new features. Our iterative process is demonstrated in a blog post.

Much of our product philosophies are inspired by the Ruby on Rails doctrine of 'Rails is omakase'. I highly suggest reading these.

TL;DR

  1. Minimally Viable Change: Work in iterations by implementing only the minimally viable change.
  2. Convention over Configuration: Avoid configuration and make it work out of the box.
  3. Be Ambitious: do things no one else is doing.
  4. Do not mess with Flow: frictionless from planning to monitoring. Avoid adding clicks.
  5. Embrace the single application: unlock the unique benefits of a single application in early iterations.

Product Principles

The Minimally Viable Change

Reduce every change proposal to its absolutely minimally viable form. This allows us to ship almost anything within a single release, get immediate feedback and avoid deep investments in ideas that might not work. Other advantages:

The minimally viable change should not be a broken feature.

mvc.png

Virtually every new feature must be maintained forever (the standard for sunsetting a feature is very high). Creating a new feature means that GitLab has to continually manage the technical costs of maintenance of that feature. Making small changes with quick feedback loops reduces the risk of introducing a new feature where the value doesn't justify the long-term costs.

A new feature also adds a tax on the user experience due to additional complexity in the product. Make sure that the benefits gained by users from the new feature more than cover the tax incurred, accounting for how frequently the new feature is used by users. In particular, the new feature should satisfy this inequality:

(benefits * frequency) / (tax * (1-frequency)) > 1

Despite its minimal form, the change

xkcd.com

Convention over Configuration

Prefer choices that are well thought out and based on current best practices. Avoid unnecessary configuration. Avoid configuration to support fragile workflows.

For example, when considering whether to add a checkbox or two radio boxes, think carefully about what users really want. Most of the time, you'll find you really only need one solution, so remove the other option. When two possible choices really are necessary, the best or most common one should be the default, and the other one should be available. If the non-default choices are significantly less common, then consider taking them out of the main workflow for making decisions, by putting them behind an Advanced configuration tab, for example.

Every configuration option in GitLab multiplies its complexity, which means the application is harder to use, harder to develop, and less friendly to users.

Requests for configuration can be a proxy for trying to support a fragile workflow. Rather than enabling bad habits and incurring product debt, effort should be spent helping customers adopt best practices.

Making features configurable is easy and lazy. It's a natural reaction to propose a big change to be configurable, as you worry it'll negatively affect certain users. However, by making a feature configurable, you've now created two problems.

xkcd.com

Work on solutions that work for everyone, and that replace all previous solutions.

Sometimes configuration is inevitable or preferable. GitLab should work perfectly right out of the box for most users. Your configuration must not make that experience worse and should always get out of the way of the user.

Encouraging behavior

Convention also implies that we're encouraging our customers to do things in a certain way. A very concrete example of this is the ability to disable pipelines. We believe that our integrated solution will give a superior user experience and we're motivated to encourage this behavior. For this reason, adding a configuration to allow disabling this permanently (be that in a template or instance-wide), is something that should be avoided.

Encourage favorable behaviors by limiting configuration.

Default to ON

In addition to encouraging behavior by limiting the ability to toggle features, new features, when introduced, should default to turning things ON (if they are configurable at all).

Deciding on configurations

Avoiding configurations is not always possible. When we have no choice, the secondary priority is to configure something in the GitLab interface. A configuration should only appear in a file (gitlab.rb or gitlab.yml) as a last resort.

Configuration in file

There are two major configuration files available in GitLab. Adding configurations to either should be avoided as much as possible.

When you have to add a new configuration, make sure that the features and services are on by default. Only add a configuration line to either of these configuration files if the feature or service cannot be fully disabled from the admin UI.

Convention over configuration is also listed in the CONTRIBUTING file in GitLab's repositories.

Be Ambitious

Many crazy, over-ambitious ideas sound like they are impossible just because no one else is doing them.

Since we have amazing engineers and a culture of shipping minimally viable changes, we are able to do a lot more 'impossible' things than others.

That's why we're shipping merge conflict resolution, why we shipped built-in CI before anyone else, why we built a better static pages solution, and why we're able to compete.

xkcd.com

Simplicity

Doing something simple in GitLab should BE simple and require no human cpu-cycles to do so. Things that are simple now should still be simple two years from now, ten years from now, and onwards.

This sounds obvious, but messing with flow is easily done. In most cases, flow is disrupted by adding another action, or another click.

For instance: You want users to be made aware of the rules of a project. Your proposal is a little popup that shows the rules before they create an issue. This means that every time that someone creates an issue they need to click once before resuming their normal action. This is unacceptable. A better solution is to add a link to the issue that points the user to this.

xkcd.com

It's very hard to maintain flow with a lot of configurations and options. In cases where you want to enforce a certain behaviour, the most obvious step may be to add another step or action. This can be avoided by making the action work in parallel (like a link in the issue), encouraging rather than enforcing certain behaviours.

Also, we don't want users to be able to construct workflows that break GitLab or make it work in unpredictable ways.

Discoverability Without Being Annoying

Feature discoverability is important for allowing new and existing users to access old and new features, thereby increasing the value for them. It also allows GitLab to get as much feedback as possible, as fast as possible, in order to quickly iterate.

However, UI that purports to increase discoverability, but that is not carefully designed and implemented, may actually harm the overall experience by constantly shoving unwanted images and text in the face of the user. The end result is that the user loses trust in GitLab, and they no longer take the time to carefully parse text and other UI elements in the future. Even worse, they might leave GitLab because of this degraded experience. The following are a few illustrative examples and best practices.

Empty states

pipelines_empty_state.png

Banners

Think of this: Your co-worker is hard at work in front of their computer, and you suddenly tap their shoulder or yell at them to tell them about some new cool widget. You better have a good reason for that: that widget better be awesome.

Back to the analogy: Your co-worker said they don't care about that new cool widget. Never, ever, ever, bring it up again. They told you they don't care, and you need to respect that.

pipelines_empty_state.png

Leveraging navigation is an effective design paradigm to introduce a user to a new feature or area of GitLab.

Back to the analogy. We're not going to bother our co-worker with 5 different cool new widgets at the same time.

tooltip_boards.png

Single application

GitLab is a single application, rather than a set of loosely connected components. This is a big advantage, read why here.

Consider opportunities to take advantage of this unique attribute in early iterations. Integrating features with different parts of the application can increase the adoption of early iterations. Other advantages:

Although not every feature needs to be integrated with other parts of the application, you should consider if there are unique or powerful benefits for integrating the feature more deeply in the second or third iteration.

Flow One

Shipping only MVCs can result in a large set of loosely connected pieces that don't necessarily combine into a single, great user experience.

An obvious solution to this would be to plan out the future in detail, creating a long-term roadmap. However, this is unwanted as it can restrict your flexibility and ability to respond to changing needs or feedback.

Flow One offers an alternative. You draw out a workflow consisting of MVCs (that can be shipped individually). The workflow should only cover a specific, narrow use-case, and nothing more.

This means you:

Flow One should cover the first iteration of a particular workflow. After this, individual MVCs can be introduced to expand the use-cases or loosen the assumptions (e.g. from a feature that can only be used if you're using feature branches, to one that works for other git strategies).

Breadth over depth

See our thoughts on breadth over depth on our strategy page.

Prioritization

As this document and the direction page shows, there are a million things we want to do. So, how do we prioritize them and schedule things properly? Roughly speaking, we balance the following priorities:

  1. Security fixes and data-loss prevention
  2. Regression fixes (things that worked before including major performance regressions)
  3. New features, technical debt, community contributions, and all other improvements

Issues like security come in different severity levels. Lower severity means a lower priority, at ~S4/~P4 their priority is no different then other feature proposal.

Any new feature will have to meet the following requirements:

  1. It is technically viable
  2. The technical complexity is acceptable. We want to preserve our ability to make changes quickly in the future so we try to avoid complex code, complex data structures, and optional settings.
  3. It is orthogonal to other features (prevents overlap with current and future features).
  4. The requirements are clear.
  5. It can be achieved within the scheduled milestone. Larger issues should be split up, so that individual steps can be achieved within a single milestone.

New features are prioritized based on several factors:

Every release of GitLab has to be better than the last. This means that bugs, regressions, security issues, and necessary performance and architecture changes always take up whatever capacity they require to ensure GitLab remains stable, secure and fast.

We hope to realize our vision, while making sure we're building things that our customers want. In practice this means that we aim to ship features that align with our vision, but also solve problems our customers have. These features bring the product forward, and build value for the largest group of people possible. For example, issue relationships is a highly requested feature that also fits neatly within our vision. Everyone will benefit from this.

In practice, it is not possible to always ship things that only fall within our vision. Other changes are prioritized and scheduled based on demand. An example would be a specific form of authentication that is only used in particular organizations. This is not a big win to all our customers, but if it's not too much work, it can be a very big win to a subset of customers. Demand can also come internally, such as things that'll help GitLab achieve goals within a team or specifically drive business goals such as specific EE features.

We take all priorities in account when planning and scheduling larger initiatives across the teams (such as: "we're integrating CI, so everyone has to contribute to this in some way"). Still, most changes are scheduled at a team-level, like: "make issues faster", or "add a new way to schedule pipelines".

Example

To make it clear with an example, the CI/CD team might ask:

Milestones

We schedule an issue by assigning it a milestone; for more on this see Planning a Future Release.

Naming features

Naming new features or renaming existing features is notoriously hard and sensitive to many opinions.

Factors in picking a name

Process

Renaming

The bar for renaming existing features is extremely high, especially for long-time features with a lot of usage. Some valid but not exclusive reasons are:

No enforced workflows

Enforced workflows should be avoided in GitLab. For example, there are three issue states (Open, In Progress (as of 10.2), and Closed), and any issue should be allowed to transition from one state to any other state without workflow restrictions. (Roles and permissions is a separate concern.)

A comment on Hacker News perfectly details what can go wrong when enforcing workflows:

"The down side for the true end-users, those who actually use the software day-to-day, is that most business processes are awful. If your experience is the hellish existence that I see strolled about on threads where JIRA comes up …:

  1. Your admin(s) set it up once and hasn't bothered to iterate on those workflows.
  2. The business mapped their autonomy stripping processes onto JIRA intentionally. I'd guess that most of your work experience is similar. Process stifled nonsense."

But that comment also specifies the advantage:

"JIRA's most powerful feature is that it affords for mapping businesses processes onto software. This is incredibly compelling to enterprise customers. Software that enforces workflows, procedures and requirements can be an incredible lever and JIRA's price point makes build vs buy decisions an absolute no-brainer."

We should ensure that GitLab makes it easy to help with enterprise workflows:

Performance

Fast applications are better applications. Everything from the core user experience, to building integrations and using the API is better if every query is quick, and every page loads fast. When you're building new features, performance has to be top of mind.

We must strive to make every single page fast. That means it's not acceptable for new pages to add to performance debt. When they ship, they should be fast.

You must account for all cases, from someone with a single object, to thousands of objects.

Read the handbook page relating to performance of GitLab.com, and note the Speed Index target shown there (read it thoroughly if you need a detailed overview of performance). Then:

Of course, you must prioritize improvements according to their impact (per the availability & performance priority labels). Pages that are visited often should be prioritized over pages that rarely have any visitors. However, if page load time approaches 4 seconds or more, they are considered no longer usable and should be fixed at the earliest opportunity.

Alpha, Beta, GA

Occasionally we need to test large, complex features before we are confident that we'll be able to scale, support and maintain them as they are. In this case we have the option to release them as Alpha or Beta versions.

In general, we should avoid releasing Alpha or Beta versions of features. A minimally viable change should be viable and therefore should not need a pre-release. That said, if there is a situation where we have no valid alternative, the definitions of each stage is below.

It's never acceptable to make changes that risk any damage to existing production data accessed by our users.

Alpha

Closed Beta

Similar to Beta, but only available to selected users.

Beta

Generally Available (GA)

Passed the Production Readiness Review for GitLab.com, which means that it is:

Discouraging, deprecating and removing features

Deprecating features (changes) follows a particular pattern. Use the language Discouraged (maintained), Deprecated (not maintained) or Removed to specify the state of a feature that is going to be or is removed.

Features that are discouraged, deprecated or removed should be:

  1. Labelled accordingly in the documentation
  2. Labelled accordingly in the application

Features that are Deprecated or Removed should be removed from marketing pages.

Discouraged (maintained)

Deprecated (no longer maintained)

Removed

No artificial limits in Core

Per GitLab Stewardship, we will not introduce artificial limits in Core. Artificial means arbitrarily setting a small number (such as: 1) as a limit on a given GitLab object category, that would incur no additional effort or cost had we chosen a larger number. The additional effort includes product, design, and engineering effort to create the feature in the first place, and to maintain it over time.

For example, GitLab Core has the issue board feature in every project. In GitLab EE, each project supports multiple boards. This does not mean that Core has an artificial limit of one board per project, because there is additional effort to manage multiple boards such as supporting the navigation interface, and all the associated engineering work.

Data-driven work

Using data to learn from our users is important. Our users are spread across GitLab.com and self-managed instances, so we have to focus our efforts on learning and providing benefit to both when we decide to collect more data, or build and use additional analytics tools. If we do this, we can help make the rest of the company successful as well. This means that we should:

Working with (customer) feature proposals

When someone requests a particular feature, it is the duty of the PM to investigate and understand the need for this change. This means you focus on what is the problem that the proposed solution tries to solve. Doing this often allows you to find that:

  1. An existing solution already exists within GitLab
  2. Or: a better or more elegant solution exists

Do not take a feature request and just implement it. It is your job to find the underlying use case and address that in an elegant way that is orthogonal to existing functionality.

This prevents us from building an overly complex application.

Take this into consideration even when getting feedback or requests from colleagues. As a PM you are ultimately responsible for the quality of the solutions you ship, make sure they're the (first iteration of the) best possible solution.

Security Paradigm

Security is now part of SDLC.

You can read more about our approach in the Secure Vision page.

If you are interested in advanced technical details, you can find more in the Secure Team engineering page.

Statistics and performance data

Traditionally, applications only reveal valuable information about usage and performance to administrators. However, most GitLab instances only have a handful of admins and they might not sign in very often. This means interesting data is rarely seen, even though it can help to motivate teams to learn from other teams, identify issues or simply make people in the organisation aware of adoption.

To this end, performance data and usage statistics should be available to all users by default. It's equally important that this can be optionally restricted to admins-only, as laws in some countries require this, such as Germany.

Not all instance-data is available to all users in GitLab yet. This issue and the epic above should solve this.

How to work as a PM

If you follow the guidelines above, you won't be writing long, detailed specs for a part of the product for next year. So how should you be spending your time?

Invest the majority of your time (say 70%) in deeply understanding the problem. Then spend 10% of your time writing the spec for the first iteration only and handling comments, and use the remaining 20% to work on promoting it.

A problem you understand well should always have a (seemingly) simple or obvious solution. Reduce it to its simplest form (see above) and only ship that.

Once you've shipped your solution, both you and the community will have a much better idea of what can be improved and what should be prioritized for future iterations.

As a PM, you're the person that has to kick-off new initiatives. You're not responsible for shipping something on time, but you are responsible for taking action and setting the direction. Be active everywhere, over-communicate, and sell the things you think are important to the rest of the team and community.

As a PM, you need to set the bar for engineering. That is, to push engineering and the rest of the company. You almost want engineering to complain about the pace that product is setting. Our default instinct will be to slow down, but we can't give in to that.

As a PM you don't own the product; ask other people for feedback and give team members and the community the space to suggest and create things without your direct intervention. It's your job to make sure things are decided and planned, not come up with every idea or change.

Planning and roadmaps

As a PM, you must plan for the near term (more detailed) as well as for the long term (more broad). This will enable you to efficiently communicate both internally and externally how the team is planning to deliver on the product vision.

Near-term

In order to plan effectively around releases, as a PM you should have a detailed 3-month roadmap at all times. The issues contained in this near-term roadmap are the ones you should be spending the most energy on (fleshing them out, adding detail, discussing, etc). These issues will go through a refinement period where Product, Engineering, UX and other parties will discuss the proposal until a proper MVC proposal is reached (see Contents of an MVP for more detail). Most of the communication may happen within the issue comments, but some may happen offline (such as via Slack). Ensure that any relevant information that arise as part of an offline conversation is added to the issue title and issue description. As a PM you must ensure that issues have enough detail added to them before they become actionable as part of an iteration.

The near-term roadmap will also help planning for capacity with engineering and UX in order to commit to the contents of the next release.

Long-term

For longer term, you need to create and maintain a vision for your category and areas of responsibilities. This lives either on the [direction page][/direction] or is linked from there, e.g. /direction/create.

Your long-term vision should be more concrete for things that are closer in time, and vice versa. The format of the 2018 vision is a great way to structure your vision. You're free to do otherwise, just make sure it's easily consumable from the website.

The purpose of this page or addition to the direction page is to make it clear in what greater context individual changes fall. E.g. you might deliver a feature that allows admins to track username changes. That is not very interesting and hard to sell - but if it's clear that this is part of a greater push to improve auditing in GitLab, this becomes an enticing part of a greater whole.

To further communicate the plans we have, you should present your vision to anyone that is interested in listening, record it, publish it on YouTube and add that to the top of your vision. This will make it much easier to consume the content.

It's okay if your vision changes over time. Ideally, what you'll change are minor things: links, issues, smaller features. Large, strategic initiatives are unlikely to change frequently - when they do, it's probably worth talking about (i.e. redoing the video).

Special consideration

The roadmap should also delimit which items will be delivered prior to the next summit, as well as prior to the end of the current calendar year. These delimitations will help determine both the internal and external communication for both product and marketing.

Important dates PMs should keep in mind

(current release = published this month, upcoming release = published next month)

Dogfood everything

The best way to understand what pains users experience is to go through what we ask them to do to set up or use GitLab. As a PM, you should go through every feature, at the minimum the ones you are responsible for. All of them. That includes features that are not in GitLab's UI directly but require server configuration. If you, as a PM, can't understand the documentation, or if you struggle to install something, would anyone else bother to do it too? Going through this is not only beneficial for understanding what the pain points are, it will also tell you what can be enhanced, such as a better flow or better documentation.

As a Product function, it is our responsibility to ensure that the entire company is dogfooding.

Example: configuring GitLab

Most of GitLab is configured through the file gitlab.rb. It's tempting to add a new parameter in this file - it's easy, fast to do, and won't require adding a new UI element to allow the configuration of this new setting. However, changing this file requires you to reconfigure GitLab. To do that, you have to login to your server and type in commands to reconfigure your instance, possibly multiple times if you have more than one server.

This is not something that we can ask our customers to do. Only by using your own product and features will you realize that some practices should be avoided as much as possible.

Product Workflow

Almost everything that we do is documented in issues.

How to submit a new issue

  1. If you have time, the first thing you should do is search both CE and EE projects to see if a similar issue already exists. We shouldn't create duplicates if we can avoid them.
  2. Identify if the issue is about GitLab Community Edition (CE) or GitLab Enterprise Edition (EE), although this can easily be changed later.
  3. You should clearly state what the current pain point is, what we are trying to solve, what the benefits will be, what it should do, how to accomplish that and the next steps.
  4. The body of the issue should be written in a clear way, without ambiguity.
  5. The initial issue should be about the problem we are solving. If a separate product discovery issue is needed for additional research and design work, it will be created by a PM or UX person.
  6. If the body contains too many paragraphs, it can surely be rewritten to be shorter.
  7. Do not use acronyms or abbreviations. Everyone should be able to jump on the issue and participate without needing a glossary.
  8. Choose labels which are relevant to the issue. If you are unsure about what certain labels are for, check the labels pages (CE or EE), and read the descriptions. The contributing doc provides a breakdown of the label types and how to choose the right label.
  9. Unless you know what you are doing, do not
    • assign someone to the issue
    • assign a milestone
    • set a due date
    • add weight - weight represents the technical complexity and should be defined by our developers
  10. Mention the different stakeholders in the body of your issue. In most product related issues, we usually mention the product manager, the design, frontend, and backend managers as appropriate. Some teams have experts or liaisons that can be mentioned instead of the managers. Mentioning the people in the body of the issue will trigger the notification mechanisms chosen by the people who are mentioned - therefore there is no need to notify people in another channel after the issue has been created (Slack, email).

How to use epics

Issues related to the same feature should be bundled together into an into an epic.

Epics for a single iteration

Features may include multiple issues even if we are just targeting an MVC. In this case, we should use an epic to collect all of them in one single place. This epic should have a start and an end date, and it should not span more than 3 releases, otherwise we run the risk of having epics drag on indefinitely. When these issues are finished and closed, we should have successfully achieved the epic's goal. A good example of this kind of epic is the first iteration on a new feature. Epics representing MVCs should clearly state MVC at the end of the title.

Epics for a long-term plan

We use epics to track many issues related to a specific topic, even if there isn't a specific timeline for shipping. These epics should be marked as ~meta and they may not have a specific start or end date. This is useful to have an overview of the future so participants and observers can understand how the pieces fit together. It can be really useful to understand the context of where we think we’re going so we can do a good job with the MVC. Also, it conveys confidence internally and externally that we understand what we need to do when the MVC is particularly minimal. But don't get too caught up in long-term epics as you risk making proposals too complex, and overrepresenting certainty in the solution. Don't work too far in the future; we'll know better once we ship something small. A good example of this kind of epic is to collect all the changes for a post-MVC of a given feature, in order to bring it to be feature complete. If these epics represent the future vision of a feature, they should clearly state Vision at the end of the title.

When creating a vision epic, there's a natural tendency to capture it as quickly as possible and then move on, but we must always strive to create a more specific epic for the first iteration, or the next iteration if something already exists. Describing an MVC means that the community can contribute more easily. Also, after distilling things down to a first iteration, you might realize it’s a lot easier than you thought, and prioritize it earlier. You can have an MVC without a Vision. But you can't have a Vision without an MVC.

Product Discovery Issues

When a product discovery step is needed to design a feature, PMs should create a separate issue (linked to the epic and implementation issue) for that research and design work to occur. We should not repurpose or otherwise reuse the existing implementation issue; doing so creates a risk of the issue being closed when the design work is complete and thereby losing track of the actual delivery of the item.

It's also important to ensure that product discovery issue is really even needed. It's possible in many situations to simply use the initial ticket for any design discussions - this will ensure all of the back and forth is in one place, avoiding the risk of losing track of parts of the discussion. If you find you are creating a issue simply to reserve time or people on the roadmap, consider trying to secure the capacity in another way.

In certain cases a product discovery issue can be worked ahead of time, but a best-practice for good product development is to plan for and do this sort of research and development work within the milestone, including engineering and other stakeholders directly. Doing product discovery ahead of time, without the full group is generally not an effective approach.. Because we aim to deliver MVC features, there should almost always be enough time in a single release to both research and deliver a feature that adds value for our customers.

Be sure to follow the CE contribution guidelines on correct labeling practices for the product discovery label.

Wireframes

When relevant, you can include a wireframe in your issues in order to illustrate your point. You don't need to include wireframes on your own; our UX/design team can help us on that matter. Simply ping them if you need their help. We like Balsamiq for its simplicity and its sketch-style approach. If are struggling for inspiration, you can also paste screenshots of similar features in other products.

What is a Meta issue?

We assign the Meta label to issues that contain a large list of todos. If you are familiar with the Agile methodology, it's similar to an epic. At GitLab we have a short release cycle: the 22nd of every month. In some cases we won't be able to tackle all the tasks of a meta issue in a single release. This is why we centralize everything that we need to do in a meta issue, then break it down to issues small enough that they will fit into one release. Most of the time, meta issues generate lots of comments and passionate discussions. As a consequence, they always lead to something great.

Meta issues themselves generally should not be assigned to a milestone as the actual work is covered in sub-issues. Sometimes, for example if you want a meta issue to show up in our direction page for a given release, you may add a milestone, but only if you know for sure that all sub-issues will be completed by that milestone. Don't assign a milestone for when you're going to start a meta issue.

Long-lasting issues

A general guideline is that an issue should only span one release. If we know an issue is going to span multiple releases, split it up into multiple issues.

Meta/epic issues are the exception to this rule, but should be kept to a minimum and only serve to guide broader subjects, not a single feature over multiple releases. This is to make sure we stick to our values of the minimally viable change. This means that feature issues should be closed after the first iteration whenever possible. We'll know more in the future and this keeps any remaining issues short and actionable.

In addition, it's often a good idea to throw away an original plan and start fresh. Try to do this more often, even more than you're comfortable with. Close the issue and create a new one.

Which issue should you be working on?

When you don't have any specific tasks assigned, you should work on issues that are labeled Product work, in both the EE and CE projects. These are issues that need our attention the most.

Feature assurance

Before a new features is shipped, the PM should test it out to make sure it solves the original problem effectively. This is not about quality assurance (QA), as developers are responsible for the quality of their code. This is about feature assurance (FA). Feature assurance is necessary because sometimes there are misunderstandings between the original issue proposal and the final implementation. Sometimes features don't actually solve the intended problem, even though it seemed like it would, and sometimes solutions just don't feel as useful as intended when actually implemented.

If you can test out the feature during development, pulling down branches locally (or with a review app!), that's great. But sometimes it's not feasible to test a feature until it's bundled into a release candidate and deployed to GitLab.com. If so, make sure to test out features as soon as possible so any new issues can be addressed before final release. Also, take the FA cycle into account when scheduling new milestone work.

If you are looking to test code that has not been merged to GitLab.com or is not yet part of an RC, you can pull the branch down locally and test it using the GitLab Development Kit (GDK).

Managing Upcoming Releases

Refer to the Product Development Timeline for details on how Product works with UX and Engineering to schedule and work on issues in upcoming releases.

Planning for Future Releases

Product Managers assign milestones to issues to indicate when an issue is likely to be scheduled and worked on. As we consider more distant milestones, the certainty of the scope of their assigned issues and their implementation timelines is increasingly vague. In particular, issues may be moved to another project, disassembled, or merged with other issues over time as they bounce between different milestones.

The milestone of an issue can be changed at any moment. The current assigned milestone reflects the current planning, so if the plan changes, the milestone should be updated as soon as possible to reflect the changed plan. We make sure to do this ahead of starting work on a release. Capacity is discussed between the PMs and the engineering managers.

In general, closer-to-current-time milestones are assigned to issues that are higher priority. The timing also reflects an approximate product roadmap, with more distant milestones reflecting increasing uncertainty.

The milestones are:

These assigned milestones should be used as a signal for GitLab stakeholders and collaborators, to help them with their own respective workflows.

In addition, we have two special milestones: Backlog and Awaiting further demand. Product Managers assign these issues to milestones that they have reviewed and make sense, but do not fit within the upcoming release milestones due to either a lack of comparitive urgency or because we have not yet seen enough user demand to prioritize the item yet. The best way to demonstrate urgency on either of these items is to vote on them and, if possible, add comments explaining your use case and why this is important to you.

Again, the milestone of an issue can be changed at any moment, including for both of these special milestones.

For a detailed timeline, see the product development timeline.

Content of an MVP

We only ship in a Minimally Viable Product style. Here are some guidelines about it:

When to create or close an issue

You should create an issue if:

You should consider not creating an issue when:

Close issues that are either:

  1. duplicated elsewhere.
  2. no longer relevant due to other reasons.
  3. 'not the next iteration': an iteration on a proposed feature that is unlikely to ship in the next few months.

When closing an issue, leave a comment explaining why you're closing the issue and link to anything of relevance (the other duplicate, the original feature that this is an iteration on, etc).

The 'not the next iteration' issues are the most important ones to resolve. It is very easy to create a big plan with meta issues and lots of improvements, <– this sentence was incomplete, so this is a guess –> but it is essential that we iterate and ship the minimum viable change. We have to ship the iteration, wait for it to be used, and look for the feedback. As a product manager you must think about the bigger picture when making a proposal to improve the product. It's important to avoid writing this down as a bunch of issues. Come up with a plan but only record the first step. This way we can preserve the efficiency of our value of iteration. Closing issues whenever possible is an important part of your job and helps to keep a clear view of what is next. Consider using the following template to close an issue:

Closing this because XXX is something we should do first. When that feature is finished, we can learn from observing it in use. If we learn that this issue is still relevant, we can then reopen it. See /handbook/product/#when-to-create-or-close-an-issue for more detail about this policy.

Competition Channel

When someone posts information in the #competition channel that warrants creating an issue and/or a change in features.yml, follow this procedure:

Shifting commitment mid-iteration

From time to time, there may be circumstances that change the ability for a team to ship the features/issues they committed to at the beginning of the iteration. When this happens, as a PM you must ensure the related issues and the roadmap are updated to reflect the new plan (for example, remove deliverable tag, update milestone, etc.). Additionally, notify your manager of the shift and update the kick-off document to reflect the status of the item within the iteration (merged, not merged).

Dealing with UX as bottleneck

If UX is holding up an issue from being scheduled for a particular milestone, schedule it anyway. Through the design system it should be possible to bring an issue to a reasonable state within a first iteration.

Subsequent iterations can then address the UX/UI shortcomings the feature might have.

Where should you look when you need help?

Shipping

Internal and external evangelization

Before shipping a new or updated feature, you are responsible for championing it, both internally and externally. When something is released, the following teams need to be aware of it as they will all need to do something about it:

You can promote your work in several ways:

GitLab University

To promote a major new feature internally, you can ask to host a GitLab <– internal promotion, but GitLab University is external? –> University, a company wide demo session. This is a great opportunity to make sure every one is on the same page.

Major feature rollout

Major features deserve proper attention from Product and Marketing. With a proper rollout, we'll have ample marketing opportunities and receive more feedback ahead of, during, and after the release.

Here is the ideal rollout schedule. For each step there is an indication for who is responsible for it.

  1. Feature is drafted in an issue (PM)
  2. Feature is planned in an upcoming release (PM)
  3. A feature proposal blog post is made (PM or Dev), which includes:
    • What we are planning on doing.
    • How people will be able to get it: CE or any EE Editions.
    • A link to the issue.
    • When it'll be available, if possible.
    • Anything else that is interesting to share in order to fuel the discussion.
  4. Feature is implemented, and documentation is written (Dev).
  5. Feature should appear on the website (Marketing)
    • For very significant features: Feature page on the website is made and pushed, with the mention "Available from X.X"
    • For other features: Feature should be listed on some page (/devops-tools, Enterprise page, /features page).
  6. Feature is launched with the release (Marketing)
    • "Available from X.X" is removed
    • Documentation and other resources are linked
    • Pricing page is updated if needed
  7. Feature is highlighted in a blog post (Marketing)
    • This post is linked from the feature page on the website (if applicable)

Communicating product vision

Occasionally, we rally around a product vision, a direction to aim towards, to improve alignment internally and externally. We usually start out with a clear, simple concept like going faster from idea to production, or shipping complete DevOps. We announced our first Master Plan as part of our Series B funding announcement, and our second master plan with our Series C announcement. While the first iterations and presentations are great for aligning the product team and announcing the vision to the world, the text and slides only go so far to convey the depth of the vision. So, we usually iterate on the vision by fleshing it out more in various stages and communicating it in different ways, usually increasing fidelity over time.

This iteration may look like this, for example:

The interactive prototype video is a good time to reiterate the vision with a blog post.

Additionally, the direction page contains the specific vision for each devops stage along with links to the epics that contain the work to be done. We aim to use these epics and issues as the single source of truth for our plans, and as such we strive to maintain them up-to-date with the latest developments and plans.

How and when to reject a feature request

Rejecting a feature request or a merge request is not an easy thing. People can feel quite protective of their ideas. They might have invested a lot of time and energy in writing those ideas. You can be tempted to accept a feature only to avoid hurting the people who thought of it. Even Worse, if you reject an idea too harshly, you might discourage other people to contribute, which is something we should strive to avoid.

However, as the number of issues and merge requests grows incessantly, we should be diligent about rejecting features we are sure will not work out. It's better for everyone: for the product team, so we don't maintain a huge backlog of things we will never do anyway, and for the users who won't have to wait for our feedback indefinitely.

Note: it's fine to not respond to issues that we think have potential until they gather momentum.

Feature requests and merge requests can be rejected for the following reasons:

Don't forget to thank the authors for the time and effort taken to submit the feature request/merge request. In all cases and without exception, you should be nice and polite when interacting with users and customers.

Responsibilities and Expectations

As a PM you're expected to:

Customer meetings

It's important to get direct feedback from our customers on things we've built, are building or should be building.

As a PM you should have regular meetings with customers that are using the things you've been working on, and also with customers that are not in order to get an idea of why they're not switching to our solution.

Set up a meeting

To set up a customer meeting, identify what you're interested in learning and prepare appropriately.

You can find information about how customers are using GitLab through Sales and version.gitlab.com. Sales and support should also be able to bring you into contact with customers.

There is no formal internal process to schedule a customer meeting, but if the need arises, we can formulate one.

During and after

During the meeting, spend most of your time listening and obtaining information. It's not your job to sell GitLab, but it should be obvious when it's the time to give more information about our products.

After the meeting, make sure all your notes and feedback land in issues.

Marketing materials

As a PM you're responsible for making sure changes you've shipped are well represented throughout GitLab's documentation and marketing materials. This means that on release, features.yml is updated, documentation is merged and deployed, and any existing content is updated where necessary.

It's not acceptable to do this after the release. GitLab is very complex, and features and functions are easily missed, even those that provide significant value to customers (e.g. the many ways you can authenticate with GitLab).

You can recruit the help of the marketing and technical writing team if needed, but it's highly recommended to do small updates yourself. This takes less time and overhead than communicating what needs to be done to someone else.

Release posts

As a PM, you are accountable for adding new features (under your umbrella) to the monthly release post, respecting the guidelines defined in the release posts handbook and its due dates. Be sure to go over all the details.

Every month, a PM will take the leadership of the release post, and will be responsible for delivering it in time.

Communication guidelines for product managers

As a product manager, you're vastly more knowledgeable about GitLab than others. This means that you have the responsibility to always provide a balanced and complete view when discussing anything related to product. Other people won't have the same background and context you might have.

For example, when someone involved in sales asks you about upcoming issues in a particular area, you would respond with:

This seems obvious, but a slight misunderstanding can have big consequences, for example: promising a customer that something will be done by a certain date is very different than indicating that we're working on something and hope to have a first iteration in the near future.

Issue state

<– This section seems to repeat a lot of the "When to create or close an issue" section –>

When an issue is open, this signals that we're intending or considering implementing that change. It's important to close issues that we're not considering implementing in the near future, so that we avoid creating uncertainty with customers, and colleagues.

When closing an issue for this reason, make sure to update the issue body and leave a comment explaining why the issue is being closed. Issues can be reopened if we change our stance on them.

Working with Product Marketing (PMM)

Product marketers and managers should be joined at the hip. Just as a feature without documentation should not be considered shipped, benefits of GitLab that we're not actively talking about might as well not exist.

Product marketers rely on product managers to be guided to what is important and high impact. In general, you should:

Permissions in GitLab

Use this section as guidance for using existing features and developing new ones.

  1. Guests are not active contributors in private projects. They can only see, and leave comments and issues.
  2. Reporters are read-only contributors: they can't write to the repository, but can on issues.
  3. Developers are direct contributors, and have access to everything to go from idea to production, unless something has been explicitly restricted (e.g. through branch protection).
  4. Masters are super-developers: they are able to push to master, deploy to production. This role is often held by maintainers and engineering managers.
  5. Admin-only features can only be found in /admin. Outside of that, admins are the same as the highest possible permission (owner).
  6. Owners are essentially group-admins. They can give access to groups and have destructive capabilities.

To keep the permissions system clear and consistent we should improve our roles to match common flows instead of introducing more and more permission configurations on each resource.

For big instances with many users, having one role for creating projects, doing code review and managing teams may be insufficient. So, in the long term, we want our permission system to explicitly cover the next roles:

  1. An owner. A role with destructive and workflow enforcing permissions.
  2. A manager. A role to keep a project running, add new team members etc.
  3. A higher development role to do code review, approve contributions, and other development related tasks.

All the above can be achieved by iteratively improving existing roles and maybe adding one more.

Documentation on permissions

Internationalisation

GitLab is developed in English, but supports the contribution of other languages.

GitLab will always default to English. We will not infer the language / location / nationality of the user and change the language based on that. You can't safely infer user preferences from their system settings either. Technical users are used to this, usually writing software in English, even though their language in the office is different.

Talking about Paid-only decisions

When talking about why a certain change goes into a Paid tier instead of Core, mention the stewardship page in the handbook directly and link to it.

Stewardship

Our stewardship of the open source project that is GitLab Community Edition is incredibly important. We are expected to act as good stewards and have to work hard to maintain that right, which is documented on the stewardship page.

If you want to make any changes to this page, create a merge request and assign it to the CEO.

What goes in what paid tier

Please see The likely type of buyer determines what features go in what tier.

Starter, Premium, and Ultimate requirements

All Starter, Premium, and Ultimate features must:

Pricing plans

For more information about how we think about pricing, please see the pricing page in the handbook.

Designing features for paid tiers

To make it possible to ship a feature for paid tiers, ideally the code is completely separate. For example, the frontend and backend of the feature only exist in the gitlab-ee project. However, this is not always possible.

In cases where it's preferable to have the backend code live in the gitlab-ce repository, it's acceptable to only ship the frontend for the feature in EE. In practice this makes the feature paid-only.

Bringing features to lower tiers

If you are considering bringing a feature that exists in Premium to Core, for example, follow this process:

After appropriate consideration, update all stakeholders on the decision that you've made and move forward with making that change (or simply close the issue with the reasoning for why not).

GitLab.com

GitLab.com runs GitLab Enterprise Edition.

To keep our code easy to maintain and to make sure everyone reaps the benefits of all our efforts, we will not separate GitLab.com codebase from the Enterprise Edition codebase.

To avoid complexity, GitLab.com tiers and GitLab self-managed tiers have a 1:1 match. No exceptions to this rule are acceptable.

Since we are not able to give admin access and do not yet have full feature parity between self-managed instances and GitLab.com, we avoid saying that there is a one to one match between subscription levels and tiers in marketing materials. This has been a source of confusion in the past for customers.

Restriction of closed source Javascript

In addition, to meet the ethical criteria of GNU, all our javascript code on GitLab.com has to be free as in freedom. Read more about this on GNU's website.

Private tools and dashboards for monitoring and KPI tracking

Feature usage

EE usage: dev.gitlab.org account

Grafana: Google gitlab.com account

Kibana: dev.gitlab.org account

S3stat: GitLab 1Password account

Sentry: dev.gitlab.org account

Writing about features

As PM we need to constantly write about the features we ship: in a blog post, internally to promote something, and in emails sent to customers.

While we want every PM to have a unique voice and style, there are some guidelines that one should take into account when writing about features. Let's highlight them with a concrete example, Preventing Secrets in your repositories, that we shipped in 8.12.

It's a bad idea to commit secrets (such as keys and certificates) to your repositories: they'll be cloned to the machines of anyone that has access to the repository. If just a single one is insecure, the information will be compromised. Unfortunately, it can happen quite easily. You write git commit -am 'quickfix' && git push and suddenly you've committed files that were meant to stay local!

GitLab now has a new push rule that will prevent commits with secrets from entering the repository.

Just check the checkbox in the repository settings, under push rules and GitLab will prevent common unsafe files such as .pem and .key from being committed.

Writing release blog posts

For every monthly release, there is a blog post announcing features. The blog post should contain everything exciting or disruptive. All new features should appear in the blog post. We want to help people understand exciting features (which are often new), and increase adoption. Disruptive features may change workflows or even introduce unavoidable inconveniences. We want to anticipate questions and avoid confusion by communicating these changes through the blog post. Smaller tweaks and bug fixes don't necessarily need to be mentioned, but if interesting, can be included at the bottom of the post.

Areas

There is a hierarchy of bundling features: <– hierarchy? In general, this whole section is unclear. What is an area, exactly? –>

  1. DevOps lifecycle stages (stages), see SDLC
  2. Product categories (categories), see SDLC
  3. Feature areas (areas), see end of 'Plan Positioning' Google Doc
  4. Individual features (features), see Features

The areas are used to position the plans (CE, Starter, Premium, Ultimate). Each plan has a maximum of 7 areas.

When we introduce a new feature we look for each plan if it matches an area. We start at Ultimate and go down to CE, the first area that matches is the plan for the feature. For CE the areas are equal to the 7 stages of the DevOps lifecycle. This is because if areas of non-CE plans don't match it ends up in CE, so it has to cover everyone.