3 Product Management lessons from Comcast’s new sign-in pages

As a Product Manager, I understand the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept, decisions to de-scope rather than delay, etc.  But too often MVP’s go out into the wild missing that all-important middle “V”, so you end up with, well, minimum products.

An example I came across recently is the sign-in process on Comcast.com.  First, a little background.  Comcast recently deployed a product they call mySIGN-IN.  According to their FAQ page:

mySIGN-IN is a unified sign-in system that lets you use your existing email address and password to access participating Comcast sites. When you sign in to any participating Comcast site, you’ll be conveniently signed in to the other sites that you use.

That all seems well and good, but the actual sign-in experience shows what happens when features go out without proper integration.  The sign-in process now happens on two separate pages:

Step 1: Enter email address

Step 2: Enter password

Two things struck me immediately about this experience:

  • There is no reason to split the sign-in process into two screens.
  • The visual design of the two pages are completely different.

Wanting to give Comcast the benefit of the doubt, I started looking into this a little more (because, you know, what else am I going to do on a Sunday afternoon apart from listening to Amos Lee on vinyl).  I thought that maybe this was an acquisition, and they are just taking some time on the integration.  But no, as far as I can tell, mySIGN-IN is not an acquisition — it is an internally developed product.  So I think this is what happened:

  • A separate Comcast division designed and developed the mySIGN-IN feature
  • The different Comcast properties started implementing the feature onto their sign-in pages
  • Due to technical reasons, the pages had to be split for Comcast.com
  • There was no UX oversight to ensure design consistency (or no resources available to make necessary changes)

Now, it does appear that someone at Comcast realized that this is not an ideal experience, and decided that explaining the changes to users is in order.  It’s a noble idea, but as we know, most users don’t read anything that’s not inside or next to a text box.  Either way, here are some of the tool tips that were added:

That first tool tip really bugs me:

Due to some recent security improvements, we now require you to enter your user name and password in two separate steps.

That just doesn’t seem right to me.  Due to “security improvements”?  I may be missing something from a security perspective, but I just don’t see why the sign-in information can’t be passed through securely without splitting up the pages.

What this means for product managers

I don’t mean to pick on Comcast.  This type of thing is very common, and I’m sure I’ve made similar decisions in the past that results in a user experience that’s not ideal.  But I do think this example can teach us a few things about product management:

  1. Product owners (those responsible for individual features) need Product Strategists to ensure UX consistency (see this article from Pragmatic Marketing about different Product Management roles).  mySIGN-IN was clearly design in a vacuum, which could have been ok if there was someone who made sure the user experience stayed consistent across properties.
  2. Don’t leave out the “V” in the MVP.  I believe that Comcast didn’t launch a minimum viable product.  Splitting the login pages into two screens is unnecessary and confusing to users.  The MVP might be an incomplete product, but it should never feel incomplete to users.  Users shouldn’t be able to notice that something is missing.  There is clearly something missing here.
  3. Tool tips won’t solve everything.  If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase “We’ll just add some content to explain that to users…”  As a general rule, if you need a tool tip which links to an FAQ page to explain something to users, your design is probably not intuitive enough.  It cannot be stressed enough that users really don’t pay attention to a lot of text.  The average user sees a form field, and starts typing.  Your user experience should support that behavior, not try to change it.

I have no doubt that Comcast had the best of intentions here, and that mySIGN-in is probably a cool feature.  But without proper product management, even inherently cool features can become frustrating user experiences.  Let’s be the users’ champions when it comes to launching new features.