Video: Rochelle King on Managing Conflict

BY MARTIN ERIKSSON ON AUGUST 08 2015

We spend a lot of time and effort avoiding conflict but inevitably as product managers and designers we engage in conflict on a regular basis, whether it’s dealing with other teams, giving constructive criticism or simply while engaging divergent points of view.

As the leader of user experience at Netflix and now Spotify, Rochelle King has developed a keen sense of how to enrich (and prove) design concepts with quantitative user data, and managing the conflicts that often arise in this process. In this talk at Mind the Product San Francisco she argues that agitating the creative process through conflict can lead to some really rich discussions.

First of all, conflict is exhausting. So make sure you actually understand what it is you’re fighting for and that it is a worthy cause. This is not about being contrarian or picking a fight for the sake of it.

To know if the goal is worth figting for you need clearly identified success metrics. Make sure metrics are very closely aligned with what users are doing. For example, success at Spotify is measured by Daily Average Users / Monthly Average Users, but also by music plays – whether users are actually listening to music.

Once you know the goal is worth fighting for you need to make sure you can express your side. Netflix for example created a culture of debate. They would pick topics that were timely and controversial and debate them publicly. By asking people to debate against the things they believe in, you create a safe environment in which to have these arguments because it’s a staged environment. It’s also a great way to learn how to construct an argument, and the best way of winning debates is often being able to state the opposing view better than your opponent can. This is powerful because it shows your opponent that you can understand and emphasise with their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.

This act of being comfortable with engaging in debate around your ideas at an early stage in the process is really important, especially before you spend time and resources building them out.

Usually, whenever you have an idea you want to run out and share it with someone. Most often this is a kindred spirit who will agree with you, but in reality when these ideas are newly formed you need to run them past someone who has an opposing view – your enemy. Ask this person to debate these ideas with you, and you’ll get useful early feedback in a safe environment. And it helps you build a better relationship with your enemy.

Eventually you have to resolve the conflict. You can of course try for consensus, pick someone to make the decision but of course the best way is to validate the idea by opening your product up to users and letting the data help you decide.

What’s important to remember though is that behind every single data point is a person, and data allows you to have a conversation with that person. This conversation allows your users to articulate back to you what they want and what they like, so injecting different variations and choice in to these user situations will teach you more than just validating that your one idea is correct.

Finally, you should actively look for patterns in these conflicts – or their resolution, so that you can mitigate future conflicts.

To conclude, you should engage in conflict, not to focus on winning, but to focus on what you can learn. Even though you might not enjoy conflict embracing it will push you in the creative process and allow you to build better products.

Martin Eriksson

About MARTIN ERIKSSON

Martin Eriksson has 20 years experience building world-class online products in both corporate and start-up environments for global brands such as Monster, Financial Times, Huddle, and Covestor. He is the Founder of ProductTank, the Co-Founder and Curator of Mind the Product and currently a Product Manager at large, advising and mentoring startups while writing Product Leadership, How Top Product Leaders Launch Great Products and Build Successful Teams (O'Reilly, 2017).

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