Product

Table of contents

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

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.

As everything at GitLab, this document is forever in draft. Merge requests are very welcome.

Infographics from xkcd.

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 idea to production. Avoid adding clicks.

The Minimally Viable Change

Reduce every change proposal to its very 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:

Convention over Configuration

Prefer choices that are well thought out, based on current best practices. Avoid unnecessary configuration.

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

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

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.

Work on solutions that work for everyone, 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 can't make that experience worse and should always get out of the way of the user.

Be Ambitious

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

Because we have amazing engineers and a culture of shipping a minimally viable change, we are able to do a lot more 'impossible' things than other people.

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

Do not mess with Flow

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

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

It's very hard to maintain flow with a lot of configurations and options. In cases where you want to enforce certain behavior, the most obvious step is 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 behaviors.

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

Alignment

Balancing our great ambition with our dedication to customer success is tough. Add in a growing number of dedicated teams focusing on areas of the product, and it becomes challenging to make sure everything we work on is truly the right thing to work on, right now. To help with that, it's good to keep a few things in mind. To ask a few questions to keep us all aligned.

At a high level, you can think of aligning along these dimensions (not necessarily in priority order):

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

CI/CD

For more insights into our vision on Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment & Delivery, see the CI/CD page.

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 the next year. So how should you be spending your time?

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

A problem you understand well will 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 on 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 don't own the product: ask other people for feedback and give team members and the community the space to suggest and create without your direct intervention. It's your job to make sure something is decided and planned, not to come up with every idea or change.

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