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Principles of Designing and Developing an API Product

We are Caroline Hane-Weijman (Product Manager), David Edwards (Engineer), and Francisco Hui (Product Designer)—a cross-functional product development team that worked together at VMware Pivotal Labs. We work with our clients as an integrated team, sitting side by side to build and deploy digital products while enabling our clients to learn lean, user-centered, Agile software practices that they can use as key capabilities on an ongoing basis within their organizations (learn more about how we work here).

The genesis of this white paper was an internal customer engagement report that we’d written. As a company, we do this as a matter of course, never assuming that anyone besides our manager will read it. In this instance, and much to our surprise, many of our peers were referencing our report regularly and as a result we were encouraged to make this available to everyone. So here we are, sharing the experiences we encountered and the learnings we accumulated when designing and developing a product offering for a real company where the interface was a set of API for external developers to consume in order to meet the business and user needs of their company.

One last thought. We believe that one of the reasons that our original report was somewhat
popular was not so much due to the rise of microservices and the fact that APIs are the medium of communication between microservices, but rather the approach we took of bringing a balanced team to bear on this project (go here to learn more about Balanced Teams). Every word in API, Application Programming Interface, screams engineering, so “leave it to the engineers to figure it out” is the usual M.O. for these kind of projects. At VMware Pivotal Labs, we see things differently. Engineers are people too, with their preferences, frustrations, and needs. Applying Lean principles and user outcomes the same way we do with every project is how we work. That means that at the very minimum, a balanced team comprised of a product manager, a designer, and an engineer is as essential on a front-end application as it is on a project where the end product is a set of API.

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