The Heartbeat of Product by Nate Walkingshaw

BY MARTIN ERIKSSON ON JULY 21, 2017

Nate Walkingshaw is the Chief Experience Officer for Pluralsight, where he is responsible for Product, User Experience, Engineering, and Content, and the co-author of Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams. But he started his career as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) at $7.14 an hour, and in this heartfelt talk from Mind the Product San Francisco 2017 he shares how his emergency medical experience and training set him up for success in building products and companies – and what we can learn from it too.

Arriving on Scene

You get the call and you show up at the scene of an emergency. You have to assess the scene, understand whether it’s safe to engage, understand the mechanism of injury or nature of the illness, and you have to empathise with the patient to really understand the problem. We all know empathy is key to building great products, but imagine how important it is to a paramedic. In minutes you have to be able to relate with the person immediately in order to be able to help them.

Nate Walkingshaw at #mtpcon SF 2017

The Morphology of a Healthy Product Team

Paramedics use electrocardiograms and the morphology of a heartbeat to help break apart and understand what’s happening with a patient. The six second strip from an electrocardiogram shows whether the heart is beating normally or not, and is an invaluable diagnostic tool. But what is the six-second strip in product?

Nate lays out his approach to understanding the heartbeat of a product team, and how to make sure it’s a healthy heartbeat – it’s a masterclass in how to build amazing products and the teams that deliver them.

Vision and Strategy

The vision should be aspirational and unattainable, but it allows everyone on the team to connect with a higher goal, a purpose they can believe in. The strategy is where the rubber meets the road, and sets out the path towards that vision. The trick is to set a strategy that acts as a roadmap from where you are today to that vision, showing each incremental step in product, customer segments, etc that is going to get you there.

Outputs and Outcomes

We want to focus on outcomes but the challenge is that we can’t always know the outcome right away – it can take time to understand the impact of new features, products, and customer segments. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The trick is to have an outcome goal in mind throughout the product design process and measure customer reactions at every step in the process. This measurement helps the team always understand the full weight of what they are working on, the difference it is making, and the role their work is playing in the broader business success.

Nate Walkingshaw at #mtpcon SF 2017

Workstyle

More important than process is understanding how to organise human beings to allow us to stay nimble in the marketplace. Nate does this by building cross-functional, autonomous, and accountable product experience teams that combine product management, design, engineering, and data science. These teams can continuously discover and deliver on their own, but also control the strategy and vision for their experience. Being mindful about how these teams work together and interact with others in the company is critical – from the language you use to how you relate with each other.

Collection and Transfer of Knowledge

Each product experience team does its own discovery, constantly measuring and talking to customers throughout the product creation process. But just as importantly they are mindful about knowledge transfer, ensuring that the other product teams and the go-to-market teams like sales and marketing get the same customer and market insights, demos of work-in-progress, and more.

Be the Paramedic of You

Watch this amazing talk for all the details and to get an insight into how Nate and his team works. And then ask yourself how you can be the paramedic of you, your product, and your company.

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 Chief Product Officer at large, advising and mentoring startups. He is also the author of best-seller Product Leadership, How Top Product Leaders Launch Great Products and Build Successful Teams (O'Reilly, 2017).

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