After a three-year hiatus, this year’s #mtpEngage Hamburg brought together product people from Germany and further afield—this year it was packed into an exciting three days of product management expertise.
As it was the biggest product conference ever to take place in Germany, hundreds of people were eager to meet fellow product professionals in person and be involved in engaging conversations with attendees during the insightful talks.
Here’s what we learned from the amazing talks given by our line-up of renowned product experts.
Having great conversations all throughout the day
Arne Kittler and Petra Wille kicked off the opening session of the conference. Interactive training, leadership talks, and a day full of great conference speakers were what attendees had to look forward to across the three days, however, Arne and Petra reminded us that having these great conversations to gain new perspectives from our fellow attendees is just as important as the great day full of content ahead.
Utilising the decision stack
In the opening keynote, Martin Eriksson, Product Partner at EQT Ventures and Co-founder at Mind the Product, discussed his “Decision stack” concept, which he developed to help product managers prioritise workloads and make better decisions. He explained how it’s important to think about strategy and principles when choosing what decisions to make. “Strategy is hard – but it’s also everybody’s responsibility. Get out there, learn, take things back to your company and contribute,” he said. Martin closed by giving us four things to remember:
- Don’t offer too many choices *in* your product
- Alignment means fewer decisions, easier choices, and happier people
- Clarify what you do and what you do not do
- Ask why? and how? to find the gaps
Play Product Tetris to nail product leadership
In the second keynote, Georgie Smallwood, Chief Product Officer at Tier Mobility, taught us how to play the game of Product Tetris. What is the aim of this? To be a strong and confident leader; earn points by not letting things pile up on your work to-do list. The key is to own the strategy, build the team, and instil the culture and processes required. A leader is only ever as good as their team; people build products, and it’s the job of the leader to build the right team that is capable of building said product.
Georgie explained how product management is not formulaic – no one system, no single framework or book will solve this. It takes a growth mindset and constant assessment, and you have to work in the current game.
Surveillance Art, Dying Phones and Fake Likes with Dries Depoorter
#mtpEngage has always strived to bring presentations from people outside of the product bubble and this year was no different. Speaker and artist Dries Depoorter hosted a talk from left field for the third keynote. He showcased interactive apps in development and explained his interactive installation from the previous years such as The Flemish Scrollers and Die with Me. Dries also took the audience through the ‘Quick Fix’ app by giving our final keynote speaker, Christina Wodtke, and her dog, Nina, thousands of Instagram likes in a few seconds. Previously this year Dries made an interactive installation ‘The Lookout’ where you can physically control CCTV with a Playstation controller.
The thought-provoking combination of his session involving fun and seriousness left attendees with new perspectives on how they can use these product discoveries in their daily practices.
Ask better questions to build responsible products
Product ethics is now a big talking point for product managers. Cennydd Bowles and Roisi Proven gave us lessons on responsibility when building products in their sessions. Start creating habits—and build your ethical muscle repetition during the process, not as an afterthought. Ethics isn’t about infrastructure to slow you down, or ancient Greek philosophers—it’s about asking better questions and assessing the true impact of your work, in advance. That’s just good product practice. Embrace the diversity of users, but look beyond user-centricity.
Objective-focused product strategy
Nacho Bassino, Janna Bastow, and Chiedza Muguti gave us some practical tips on strategy, leadership and direction with a QnA to follow moderated by Mirja Bester. We learned that the value isn’t in the roadmap, it’s in the roadmapping. Janna gave us a guide on veering away from old-school features and data-driven roadmaps, and how to move your team on to a leaner, more objective-focused track of product management using OKRs. In addition, Chiedza explained that to get the best results from a product strategy, we must have clarity over where we are going, a focus on the boundaries that we set, trust that the strategy is communicated, and finally, the team must feel empowered to share their concerns.
The secret to product success is user-centricity
We also saw a number of speakers focus on user-centricity and product discovery. Andy Polaine, Michele Hansen and Aras Bilgen, provided many insights with practical takeaways. A QnA that was moderated by Tobias Freudenreich offered up additional product knowledge for attendees. Michele Hansen explained that one secret to success lies in the ability to get to the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. Get them in the room. Invite them to a usability test. Let them observe an interview. We learned from Andy that when you work on features, consider the rest of the garden. How does it connect, and what future changes might impact it. Consider negative spaces and transitionary gaps.
Leading with humility in product
Later in the day, Thor Mitchell and Holly Donohue led a session on product leadership and personality, followed by a Joint QnA moderated by Shaun Russell. In his session, Thor explained how humility is important in product management. Developing this trait can complement your leadership skills, and support your growth and impact as a product manager. Meanwhile, Holly provided tips on building resilience. We learned that step one to building resilience is to build awareness—have a conversation with your brain and write it down. Ask yourself: what are you thinking? Is this really true? Are these your thoughts or someone else’s? Holly also reminded us that resilience can become dysfunctional, too. Resilience isn’t something you are, it’s something you do. Sometimes quitting a toxic situation or environment is the only positive thing you can do.
Using data to drive product value
Throughout the day, we were able to gain useful insights from data platform Sisense. Uri Bahar, Director of Sales Engineering at Sisense, hosted a Spotlight session where we were able to learn about how analytics can drive product value.
Encourage a messy and collaborative culture
For the penultimate keynote, Matt LeMay, Partner at Sudden Compass, took the main stage. He said that as product leaders, we should encourage a culture where we share messy drafts, send incomplete work, and create a constructive feedback system which gives teams a platform in which to thrive. We should invite active collaboration, not just feedback. He suggested turning off document comments and sitting down with colleagues instead. If someone wants to take a word out then discuss its replacement, and don’t go back and forth in comments forever.
Aligning on misaligned frameworks
For the closing keynote of #mtpEngage Hamburg, Christina Wodtke, author of Radical Focus, talked about OKRs and Lean frameworks in product management.
Christina explained how the challenge of building an effective workplace to deliver innovative technology is hindered by fast-thinking, defensive cultures, conflict aversion and misaligned incentives. She shared how we can improve the situation:
- Focus more on the action and doing
- Use formal retrospectives
- Be comfortable with not knowing everything in public
- Practise giving feedback
It was an awesome and entertaining experience for all who participated in all the talks, workshops, and networking opportunities. Thank you to all speakers, volunteers, local organisers, and those who attended!
Write-ups of the conference keynote and session speaker talks will become available to members on the site in the coming weeks. We also look forward to hearing what you thought of this year’s #mtpEngage (you can send your own write-ups to email@example.com) and hope you’ll agree that it feels that, despite the difficulties of the past few years, our product community has never been stronger.