On Friday, we gathered with 1,700 of our closest friends from over 50 countries to spend a day sharing with each other, hearing from amazing speakers, and taking time out to focus on our craft. Following a day of focused workshops and leadership discussions, we came together at London’s Barbican Centre to talk product. Here’s what we heard:
We are all Imposters
Mind the Product co-Founder and co-Author of Product Leadership Martin Eriksson opened the world’s largest conference for passionate product people. He started by telling us that despite all he’s achieved, he still feels like a fraud and got most of the audience to admit that they do too. This Imposter Syndrome is a deep fear of being exposed as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, despite the external evidence of their achievements.
Martin argued that we product people suffer from this more than most as we’re generalists in a world of specialists. We work with developers, user researchers, data scientists and a host of other experts every day – so it’s only natural that we feel like the dumbest people in the room. But for Martin, this feeling like the odd one out is a strength that we need to embrace. We are still working out this new world we’re building and to do so, knowing that we don’t know everything is incredibly valuable. We need to come together with other awkward imposters to be creative, disrupt the status quo, and ask why. Be awkward. Bridge the disciplines. Build products people love.
Put Humanity Back Into our Products
Kim Goodwin, Author of Designing for the Digital Age, reminded us that everybody is trying to create products that make people’s lives better. However, by simply focusing on metrics, rather than the humans behind them, we risk making bad decisions that have unintended consequences for people and society. To be better, Kim explained how we need to focus on creating features that meet some of people’s needs, as defined by Maslow. Once we do this, we can ensure our teams become goal-focused, values-guided and data-informed, rather than trying to steer the ship just by looking at the speed dials.
Keep Your Strategy in Balance
Roan Lavery, co-Founder and CPO of FreeAgent showed us that product managers always find themselves in the middle of conversations where they’re trying to make disparate groups of people, with what seems like competing needs, happy. FreeAgent has created a three-step process to help manage this across an organisation. It starts by defining the core value of the product, in a way that everybody can understand. After this it maps the full user journeys, at varying points in the user’s lifecycle. Finally it creates a scorecard looking at a variety of KPIs and prioritising teams’ time according to what most needs attention. This keeps the team from optimising one metric at the expense of all others, and gives the information needed to know where to focus next.
We Need to Build Resilience
Ryan Freitas, Director of Product Design at Facebook got everyone to realise that we are the people who are going to solve the problems of our time. But in living in a time where we are consistently told we’re leaving the world worse than we started can be tough. To be effective, we need to focus on building the resilience of ourselves and our teams. By doing so we can then take the feedback and criticism we need to understand perspectives that are not our own and avoid making bad decisions that hurt people at the margins.
Don’t Sink Alone – Swim Together
Emily Webber, author of Building Successful Communities of Practice, explained how they can be powerful tools for individuals and organisations to increase their effectiveness. By bringing together people that share a common interest or passion, learning happens and skills are developed. At the same time confidence is increased whilst creating the setting for collaboration and creative problem solving.
Innovate in the Mental Model
Product Strategy Consultant Joe Leech showed us how to supercharge our products with psychology. He started by explaining that people have two types of knowledge – declarative facts and procedural sequences. The first is very hard to remember but the second is easy because the first step reminds people of the second, and so on. As such, to design products that people love, we need to create experiences that fit into the what people’s mental models predict for them.
Inspiring Hardware Design
When VP of Design Ivy Ross was given the mission to help Google decide how to make physical products, she approached it in the most Googly way possible. She decided what made the company special and doubled down on testing how this made people feel. Smart use of materials to give user information, the bold use of colour to stand out and light patterns that mimic human behaviour have all seen Google create award-winning designs for products that have never been built before.
Get Comfortable Breaking Your Product
Rik Higham, Principal Product Manager at Skyscanner showed us that experimentation can be a strategic capability of our organisations. It helps us decide what opportunities to pursue and what to ignore whilst resolving arguments for all parts of the company. To be successful, we need to change our mindsets to believe that it doesn’t matter if we’re wrong. From here, we can create systems of hypotheses that are scalable and proveable so we don’t create chaos for the whole organisation.
Don’t let Your Legacy get you Down
Sally Foote, Director of Product Innovation at Photobox had us consider that most product managers are not working on greenfield products without any constraints. The majority are working with legacy services and technologies that they didn’t design and which don’t, on the surface, meet their or their users’ needs. It is still possible to create quality products in this situation – you just have to think a little differently from a West Coast startup. Sally’s approach of Maximum Possible Products makes the most of these constraints to build lots of solutions for existing users. These provide value for both them and the organisation without forcing you to invest heavily aspects such as legacy technology.
Learn From the Best
The co-author of Product Leadership, Richard Banfield, has spent the last few years visiting innovative organisations to work out what they have in common. He’s noticed that they do what they do because they can’t think of anything else that they would fill their time with. Their environments are safe spaces where ideas can be shared between diverse groups of people. The culture is set by small signals which leadership focus on and help people understand what’s expected of them to work towards solving a big, exciting, complex challenge.
A Reflection on Truth
Janice Fraser, Chief Product Officer at Bionic, smashed the final session of the day by looking at three ways we can uncover, accept and act on what is true in our worlds. Start by focusing on “radical acceptance”. Radical candour is about giving truth with love, for the benefit of others. Radical acceptance is the same idea, but for the benefit of ourselves. Next, if we can improve the ways that decisions are made to be less driven by cognitive biases, then our organisations will be more resilient and based in fact. Finally, we need to focus on understanding and driving genuine buy-in for our ideas.
The Conversation Continues
As we all return to our work this week, we hope you’ll take some time to reflect on what what you heard. Share your learnings with your teams and talk about what you can put into practice. And as always, you can continue the conversations in our Slack group or at your local ProductTank meetup. We look forward to seeing you next year!