I’m a product manager and you are my tribe. This tribe keeps growing and it’s amazing to see. Next year we’ll probably have to move to the Wembly stadium. Dave Wascha, Chief product officer at Moo.com.
Around 1000 product managers gathered at the Barbican centre for the third Mind the Product conference.
“We want to show that Britain can be at the centre of product development”, MTP co-founder Martin Eriksson said as he opened the conference. “When we started out five years ago we would have been happy if we managed to get 30 people together in a room to talk about products, look at us now!”
It was a sentiment echoed by many of the attendees at the conference.
“This conference has showed me that everything we’re doing is right, it’s showing me I’ve chosen the right path. I’m really glad I came,” said Anna Ronkainen who had travelled to the conference from Finland.
Another attendee, David Wright who works for SiteMinder, had travelled even further. He booked a flight to London from Sydney after a colleague recommended Mind the Product.
“It’s been really nice to be reminded of the user again,” Wright said. “This is a re-affirmation that we’re doing the right things.”
There were two key messages, or threads, running through the conference. The first was practical advice for business and product development, the second, how to think about a product in terms of your customers. But often the two messages went hand in hand. Both customer and product are equally important.
The philosophy of creating great products
The first speaker, Kathy Sierra, set the tone for the philosophical side of product development, talking about how to build badass users – not just badass products.
“People don’t want to be amazing at our tool, they want to be amazing at the context. They don’t want to think I’m amazing at using this camera, instead – I’m amazing at taking photos.
According to her it’s all about making sure the user keeps paying attention to your product – and the best way to do that is to minimise cognitive drain, things that will distract and tire out the user.
Next up was Dave Wascha, Chief product officer at Moo.com, who talked about the product management anti-pattern (recognisable patterns that will produce a sub-optimal outcome). Things like the tyranny of inertia (“we’ve always done it this way”), groupthink and self-censorship.
“Don’t be a journalist,” Wascha said. “Don’t be a by-stander in the decision-making process. Don’t simply record what is happening. You have to participate.”
Rockstar VC Fred Destin, partner at Accel Partners, gave a fast-paced talk about why we all need to embrace the chaos.
“We live in a world of chaos. We’ve seen terror, we’ve seen a financial crisis, the whole system went out of control, the whole thing was collapsing around us. It was kind of scary for everybody. We love living in this exciting, fast-paced world, but it is also killing us.”
So what can we do? According to Destin, we all need to accept the chaos and allow it to wash over us.
“When you understand who you are and stop caring what others think of you, then you might achieve happiness. Then you’re content in a world you can’t control. You’re living in systems you didn’t design. Write your own fucking rules about how you should live your life. Write your own story.”
The last speaker of the day was anthropologist Genevieve Bell, Director of Interaction and Experience research at Intel Labs, who talked about what it means to be human in a digital world – the things that stay the same and the things that change for us humans.
“The stories we tell about the future suggest that things will be different, but things don’t move that quickly. So how quickly do things really change? And what does change really look like? Take TV, the technology has changed, the delivery has changed, the business model has changed – but as human beings what we want is to watch a good story.”
According to Bell we get seduced by changes in technology and think that we as human beings are also changing. But what makes us human actually changes very slowly.
The practicalities of creating great products
Author and entrepreneur Nir Eyal talked about how to build habit-forming products, such as Facebook and Twitter. What do these products have and do in order to make them so addictive? According to Eyal that secret ingredient is a hook that consists of a chain of events – trigger – action – reward – investment.
Eyal also talked about the responsibility of creating addictive products.
“Remember habit forming products is a form of manipulation. They’re becoming the cigarettes of this century. So what is our responsibility? Find one of the world’s problems and fix it by using habit design”
Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom, talked about product strategy in a growing company.
“To make a product simple you have to say no to anything that isn’t your core. There are in fact only a few situations when you should say yes. There are long and short term implications for every product decision you make. Don’t swap the long term “ow” for a short term “wow”.”
In the end customers only care about the value your product can provide. And according to Traynor the parameters for what customers regard valuable are constantly changing. The “new magic” as he calls it doesn’t have anything to do with how easy the product is to use (which is now a basic requirement). The new magic is:
- Uber-fication = the slimming down of an entire app into a push button. You live your life one tap at a time.
- Automated inputs = sign in with Facebook etc. You authorize a source of data and then you’re done.
- Ambient insight = living next to a library doesn’t make you smart. Today reports and insights come to you.
Irene Au, who has worked at both Yahoo and Google and is now an operating partner at Khosla Ventures, took to the stage to talk about why design is as important as technology – mainly looking at her two former employers and how their view of design took the companies in different directions.
“Both companies started with the same intention, but had very different outcomes. Yahoo ended up as a house of brands, vertical focused and sales driven. Google has always been a branded house (one Google, many products), the platform focused and focuses on product development. The design hints at the state of a company. You can’t fix your design without fixing the issues within a company or a team.”
Leisa Reichelt, head of user research at the UK government’s digital services, talked about how good design and good team work can create great and innovative products, even within slow moving and conservative organisations. She gave the audience some great practical advice on how to change organisational behaviour to improve products.
One top tip was to ask for less.
“Just get people to do stuff. That is the largest problem for any organisation – people aren’t doing enough. Come up with strategies that will get people to do stuff. Eventually you might be the person who gets multinational corporations to do stuff. It doesn’t matter what they do, just get them to do something.”
Start small in other words and eventually you’ll get there.
“Ask for things that are harder to say no to. Simpler, smaller things. Try to dream in increments,” said Reichelt.
Author & entrepreneur, Alex Osterwalder talked about how to design a value proposition. He also lead the audience through an exercise to help identify the jobs their product should do and the gains and pains of the ideal customer.
“Put yourself into your customer’s shoes. We can understand him or her by describing three things.
- What are the jobs our customers are trying to get done?
- What are their pains (obstacles and risks)?
- What are their gains (expectations)?
If you map these out you can then base your user research on it.”
In the end it always comes back to how we’re offering value to our customers.
For a full re-cap of the day, check out our liveblog from the event, and stay tuned for more video content from the day tomorrow.