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ATLS 4519-90/91; ATLS 5519-90/91: Product Management Studio

Course Description

So you’ve got a great idea, an idea that is going to change the world. You’ve got a great prototype, maybe not much more than that. What do you do next? In this studio, we’ll look at what it really takes to move that idea into production.

This is a practically oriented studio where students will learn by doing; we will focus on the practical complexities of preparing a software product for launch and bringing it into the world for the first time. We’ll do that from the perspective of “Product Management”, one of the most valuable but poorly understood roles on a software development team. On a software product team, the Product Manager is an important role but also among the most complex to learn how to do effectively. Product Managers are often referred to as the “CEO of the product”, responsible for determining what the product is, who it is for, how it should work, how to get it successfully to market and how to keep it growing and developing over time. We will explore the role and function of product management with a practical, studio-oriented method. In other words, you’ll build a real product and get it to market over the course of the semester. There’s no better way to learn than by actually doing. The studio will be led by John Bacus, Director of Product Management for the Architecture & Design division of Trimble, Inc. and long-time leader of the SketchUp product management team. Over the last fifteen years, he has built a half dozen successful software products, including SketchUp— the most widely used 3D modeling program in the world. As a member of SketchUp’s Boulder local startup company (@Last Software), John has seen startup cultures, grown with those to a sale and six-year career at Google followed by an unusual divestiture from there to Trimble- where he and the SketchUp team still work today.

Course Objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will design, build and launch a complete software product. Along the way, students will:

Critical Thinking & Theory / History:
  • Apply standards and practices common to Product Management; design thinking, persona analysis, agile software development methodologies.
  • In an effort to understand how successful software products work, students will “Teardown” existing products and the design, technology and business practices that made them thrive… or fail… in the world.
  • Particular attention will be paid to the development (and application) of formal user Personas and Walkabouts. We will learn to use these design tools to build “empathy for the user”- the most important skill behind every successful product.
  • The focus of this studio will be the practical application of design thinking to solve real world problems.
  • Students in this studio will design a complete software product and prepare it for a formal launch.
  • We will learn how to build effective UI/UX mocks for use at all stages of the development process, from the earliest wireframes to pixel-perfects ready for implementation.
  • We will learn about the importance of setting and tracking progress towards measurable goals and objectives. Rudimentary performance metrics will be built and tracked using Google Analytics.
  • We will survey common “Agile” development practices and some of the tools commonly used to manage them. (Aha!, Jira, Git)
  • We will learn how to build effective UX mocks and how to use them to test ideas/concepts with potential users.
  • Primarily, we will be working collaboratively using Google Docs, Hangouts and other similar cloud-based tools specific to the Product Management process.

Credit Hours

  • 3 hours


  • Students should have some prior experience building or designing simple software apps, or should be willing to learn that independently along the way. Programming will not be a focus of the class, though it is obviously relevant. Our work together will focus on design, strategy, market, vision, roadmap and… execution!
  • A rudimentary understanding of basic business practices, particularly practical prior experience with software startups will give you a leg up in this studio, but it is not required.