During five minutes with three product people, how much can you learn? Quite a lot as it turns out! Find out here as we chat to product pros Lucy Spence, Shaun Russell, and Joe Leech.
Lucy Spence has a career in product that’s something to envy. She’s worked for some great brands including, Amazon, LoveFilm, TUI, M&S, Department of Health, Compare The Market and more. So, what is it about product management that makes this product pro tick?
What parts of your character and personality scream product manager?
The chaos in my head? Or perhaps the desire to stick my nose in where it’s not necessarily wanted? Or the odd mix of being a relaxed control freak? I suspect it’s my ability to waffle and try to explain things to anyone in the nearby vicinity!
You’ve worked at some very different companies. What was it about these companies that made you want to work there?
My career has been more accidental than deliberate – two of those companies I ended up working for through acquisition or merger. Early in my career, I was trying to work out what I wanted to do and what I was good at, then it became about doing bigger, more complex things. Now I look for people, the nature of the challenge and the culture.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on during your career, which one taught you the most and why?
For condensed learning experience, the one that stands out is when I once had to step into a project at Amazon for a week to help prepare a strategy doc. I spent most of the night before the final review working closely with a senior leader rewriting the doc.
Seeing his process and the level of deliberation over every sentence completely reset my benchmark for what good looked like, and the effort good took. Entertainingly (now, not at the time), having had only three hours of sleep, we got crucified in the review because we failed to articulate one particular principle in a six-page doc. That also taught me a lot about framing the problem in the right way.
You volunteer at #mtpcon, thanks! What makes you want to give up your time to do this?
It’s a heap of fun! Generally speaking, product managers are interesting people to be around. They all think differently, they get curious about weird stuff, and they often to try things without fully thinking them through. What’s not to like?
Shaun Russell is a respected product coach based in Berlin. He says he bases his work on years of building products and shaking up organisations from the inside. Sounds interesting…
When coaching at organisations, what tends to be the thing you have to shake up most?
There’s a theory I borrow from psychology, called learned helplessness. People who were exposed to being powerless in the past, often believe that they have no control over outcomes in the present. I see this in teams all the time.
These individuals focus on the authority they don’t have. But invariably product managers were hired to create change, and build the right product. They have a mandate, a voice, and resource at their disposal.
You’ve spoken at ProductTank London – how do the product communities and audiences in London and Berlin compare?
It’s interesting. Relatively speaking, London is the more mature audience. Product is more consistently understood there. But Berlin (and I don’t speak just of product but life here in general) it’s wonderfully open. People listen to others with fewer preconceptions. There is more room for different perspectives.
Joe Leech is an expert in product design strategy, UX and applying psychology in design but he’s also had some other very different jobs.
You’ve worked as a neuroscientist and an elementary school teacher – what, from these experiences, has transferred into your work as a Product and UX coach?
Being a teacher means you learn a lot about how to put people at ease and how to create a comfortable environment for learners. A big part of that is being comfortable yourself in-front of a big group of people getting them to work together on something.
It’s all about making sure everyone is listened to and that everyone has a voice. It’s also useful in crowd control during hectic workshops! CEOs have more in common with 5-year-olds than you’d think.
Neuroscience and most notably the psychology aspect of my career has been invaluable in building products people love to use. I’ve shared much of what I learned in a book, Psychology for Designers, which despite the title, is a great primer for product managers too. MTP Engage readers are welcome to download a free copy here!
You regularly lead workshops – why is this work important to you?
You never truly understand a subject well until you have to teach it to others. Breaking it down into easy to understand, simple concepts and then taking the learners on a journey to build that up into something they can use to be better at their job. It’s really rewarding.
I run workshops with many of the teams I coach, helping to make better decisions with regard to the product, the user and the wider organisation. A shared vision, understanding and steps towards a goal are the signs of a successful product team. I help facilitate that.
What do you get out of being a speaker at conferences like MTP Engage?
I learn so much from chatting to product managers – just as much as I learn from watching the talks. I pick up all sorts of tips about running product in large, complex organisations through to small, bootstrapped start-ups.
Attendees have got so much practical experience that they are always happy to share, often over a very well made coffee. There’s always good coffee at MTP Engage!
As an attendee how can people make the most of their experience at a Mind the Product conference?
My advice is to chat to as many people as you can. Attendees are always open and always willing to share. Also, include as many people in the conversation as possible and listen to what others have to say.
You should also go armed with questions about the challenges you’re facing, be that with stakeholders, teams, tech, process, tools – ask your questions and ask for help. On the day you will literally have hundreds of product managers on your side!
Share your contact details with others so that you can offer to help them and to ask for help from them long after the day has finished.
Take some business cards, connect on LinkedIn while you’re there and stay in touch. That goes for me too. I’m always happy to share and ask for help!
Lucy, Shaun, and Joe all gave talks at MTP Engage Manchester 2020. For videos and write-ups visit our 2020 conference page.