Empower Your Teams to Prioritize Product Safety at Every Stage

Empower Your Teams to Prioritize Product Safety at Every Stage

Eva PenzeyMoog
Eva PenzeyMoog

March 08, 2024

As a product manager, you’re uniquely positioned to shape the technology landscape by creating quality, usable products that are in constant pursuit. However, amidst the rush to launch and the drive for user satisfaction, one critical aspect often gets overshadowed: safety. Product managers have a crucial role to play in preventing and mitigating interpersonal harm facilitated through technology such as software, apps, and internet-connected devices.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but integrating safety as a core part of your product management practice fosters trust amongst users and contributes to a product's long-term success. In this article, we'll delve into how the principles from Design for Safety can be harnessed by product managers to contribute to the mission of preventing and mitigating tech-facilitated interpersonal harm.

Planning for the realities of interpersonal harm, such as domestic violence, means first acknowledging the reality that our users are having their tech turned against them by partners, parents, and even employers. A first-of-its-kind study in Australia found that 99% of victims of domestic violence have experienced technology-facilitated abuse. This harm ranges from well-documented issues such as using AirTags for stalking, installing stalker ware on a target’s devices, and accessing texts and emails, but also includes a nearly endless list of more insidious uses of technology, such as using the Amazon Echo drop-in feature to listen in on conversations, using IoT devices such as smart doorbells and thermostats to surveil, harass, and torment victims, and remotely taking control of modern Internet-connected cars. You can find more in-depth examples of technology-facilitated interpersonal harm in my book, Design For Safety.

Aspect Percentage
Users experiencing online harassment 41%
Forms of harassment leading to distress 66%
Users expecting companies to intervene 79%

The table above provides food for thought. A significant number of users have experienced online harassment, with a majority of these incidents causing real distress. Even more strikingly, the overwhelming expectation is for tech companies to play an active role in making their products safer.

Empower Teams With Safety Principles

Each company and company team (depending on the size and nature of the organization) can be well-served by defining their own set of safety principles. A product manager might set aside two hours for a workshop consisting of people from each department (design, engineering, QA, product, sales, marketing, and leadership) to co-create these principles. Some examples of safety principles might be ‘Location privacy as a default’ for a product with location-based features. ‘Make power imbalances transparent’ at a fintech company where banking software requires one user to be designated the admin user within a joint bank account. This guide about writing design principles is a helpful reference for writing your own set of principles.

Baking Safety into Every Stage of the Product Lifecycle

Once the realities of tech-facilitated interpersonal harm are acknowledged and safety principles have been established, product managers should integrate a practice of preventing and mitigating these harms within their products.

Product managers can support their teams in designing and developing safe products by building time into roadmaps for each team member to do the necessary work. Writing stories for each of the teams’ pieces of safety-focused work is a key part of baking safety into the process rather than making it an afterthought. Here’s a breakdown of what this looks like:

Safety in the Design Phase

Designers should have dedicated time (and stories in the roadmap) for:

  • Research into the harms of similar existing products

  • Novel abuse case brainstorming

  • Creation of archetypes

  • Designing solutions to identified harms

  • Testing those solutions

Safety in the Development Phase

Developers should be encouraged to learn about interpersonal harm perpetuated through tech, and product managers should make sure to keep up with the ongoing changes to regulations and standards, especially when it comes to emerging technologies such as AI. The people writing the code are often the ones who identify strange, exceptional edge cases and uncover safety and privacy issues through workarounds. “If the user sets themselves to private, doesn’t save, hits the back button … what should happen?” In my experience, developers are amazing resources for these nitty-gritty details that are difficult or outright impossible for a designer to anticipate.

Product managers play a pivotal role in promoting user safety and privacy among developers. They can achieve this by allocating sufficient time for developers to understand the intricacies of safety and privacy fully. Additionally, sharing stories related to user safety and privacy issues often found by developers can further highlight the importance of these concerns. These scenarios should be considered just as important as the other work developers do. Product managers treating it the same as other cards on a Jira board go a long way to legitimizing it.

Additionally, product managers can ensure that QA teammates are testing out safety features just as rigorously as they test core features. For example, suppose a fitness app has various sharing settings. In that case, the product manager might create a card for QA to thoroughly test that absolutely no data about a user who puts their sharing settings to the most private option available can be viewed by any other sort of user (those who follow them, those who don’t, etc.).

Similarly to protecting the time of developers to do this work, product managers can prioritize the time QA spends on this type of testing by making it a regular part of the process, with their own stories on the roadmap, instead of something that gets tacked onto other cards

Safety Post-Launch

Designing for safety goes beyond a single product iteration; it's an ongoing commitment. Product managers can ensure a process for gathering feedback on safety issues and the ability to identify new harms that weren’t previously considered, just like you ensure there’s a way to react to bugs and gather ongoing feedback from users. Although the ideal workflow involves anticipating harms and taking a proactive approach, there’s also enormous benefit to users in vulnerable situations when we set systems in place to learn about abuse that is currently being perpetuated with our tech. Ensure there’s a method for gathering this information and responding to it with updates to the product.

Many companies neglect ongoing safety monitoring only to find themselves scrambling when user harms come to light through viral posts or exposés; don’t let this become the story of your product.

Team Roles and Product Safety

Designing for safety is not a solitary endeavor; it thrives on integrated product-design teams. Product managers should actively engage with the designers, developers, and QA teammates to create a holistic safety strategy. Remember:


Designers — who hold the blueprint of the product — play a key role. They should always strive to incorporate safety functions into the initial graphical representation of the product itself. When this doesn't initially happen, make it a goal to systematically integrate safety mechanisms into the design, keeping in mind that simplicity can be synonymous with safety.


On the other hand, developers transform ideas into tangible, functional products. With their profound knowledge of coding and models, developers significantly reduce the risk of safety glitches by embedding safety provisions within the codes. Experience has shown that safety integrators — developers with a strong background and understanding of safety protocols — are valuable assets in improving project safety.


Quality assurance testers are the gatekeepers of user experience and must ensure that the final product is safe from inadvertent harm and malicious activity. Security should be as vital as functionality in a QA tester's checklist.

Product Safety as a Collaborative Priority

Collaboration has power, and you should always appreciate your team's insights. By continuously evaluating and iterating upon safety measures throughout the product development cycle, product managers can minimize the risks of interpersonal harm and launch safe and inclusive products, meaning that more people can use them.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build safer products for everyone.