I recently had the pleasure of once again attending a Mind The Product conference.
For the uninitiated, Mind The Product is a product management community which, among other things, hosts the largest product focused conference in the world.
I’ve previously attended MTP Engage in Hamburg, but with roughly 1700 attendees, MTP London is definitely on another level of scale.
Apart from meeting new and old product management friends from around the world, and collecting cool shwag, I also learned a tonne from the product speakers who gave some amazing talks on stage.
Here are a couple of my key learnings, complemented by my own opinionated views.
Terminologies & Definitions
Throughout the conference, several speakers used new terms or offered updated definitions of existing concepts which I had not heard before. The below examples are the ones that stuck with me because they present a different point-of-view that can be practically applied in day-to-day work.
What I like about this approach is that it reflects a best-practice for interviewing users. It is usually better to ask someone to describe how they have accomplished a task in the past, rather than how they would accomplish it in the future. They already did the hard part of choosing what to do, now they just have to remember whether they did it or not. This reduces the cognitive load on the user and generally leads to a more accurate representation of the truth.
Growth & Onboarding
This learning also comes from Roan. He defines driving growth as “engaging users with our core value as quickly and frequently as possible” (echoing the ideas espoused by Hooked and Brian Balfour). He supplements this with a highly-measurable (and marketable) definition of onboarding, one of the early stages of growth. He says that onboarding is all about “reducing the time to wow“.
Maximum Viable Product
When expanding your product offering to enter new markets don’t just jump straight into new product development. Instead, think about how you could extend and combine your existing products to meet the needs of these markets. Sally Foote, the Director of Product Innovation at Photobox, calls this approach finding your Maximum Viable Product – “finding multiple market fit from a single product”.
Having an existing product automatically places constraints on product design – there’s legacy code, existing customers and ongoing processes which need to be supported. However, Sally argues that having constraints is not always a bad thing, since the limitations to what is [thought] possible force you to be innovative and keep you focused on what is most important. As the old saying goes – “necessity is the mother of invention”
HARKing is an acronym which stands for Hypothesizing After the Result is Known. Whilst he is not the inventor of the term, I have Rik Higham from Skyscanner to thank for sharing it at MTP London. Just like Maximum Viable Product, the concept of HARKing is not new, but having a catchy name for something makes it easier to communicate and remember.
HARKing should be avoided since it is pretty much just exercising your confirmation bias. Instead, you should always start with a hypothesis and test against it. This will likely lead to you seeing more failed tests, but as Rik puts it, a test “only failed if you fail to learn”.
The Power of Being Awkward
Martin Eriksson, the founder of Mind The Product and author of Product Leadership, started off the MTP London conference by telling us to embrace our awkwardness. He went on to explain that when you feel awkward, it means that you are out of your comfort zone. This will lead you to ask questions that challenge assumptions, ensuring that there is a shared understanding within the team.
Richard Banfield, Martin’s co-author, echoed this sentiment by telling us about his hiring process. He tries to employ as diverse a team as possible to create this initial awkwardness. When people with completely different backgrounds interact they are usually afraid of making incorrect assumptions and will, therefore, be forced to communicate.
Another useful piece of information from Richard Banfield was about how the best product companies are organising themselves these days.
Classically, companies have organised themselves into different departments such as Marketing, IT, Sales and so on. There’s always been a clear cut between cost and profit centres which ignored many parts of the value chain.
However, Richard observed how more modern companies are organising themselves around products instead of projects. Cross-functional teams are no longer limited to engineering but spreading throughout the entire company structure. This means that a so-called “Product Experience Team”, the people who are actually delivering new value for a product, can be made up of engineers, product management, marketing, BI etc.
This constellation ensures that everyone on a team is aligned towards the same goals and is empowered to decide and act on the best way forward to achieve them.
Such a structure is best combined with “communities of practice” – a term shared by Emily Webber – describing a knowledge sharing and support group that cuts horizontally across an organisation made up of vertical Product Experience Teams.
Better Decision Making
The last piece of wisdom comes from Janice Fraser, the CPO at Bionic. She shared her UBAD model, a framework for better decision making.
The idea is that in order for someone to take a decision they must:
- Understand the situation
- Believe in the solution
- Advocate in favour of the solution
She calls a decision without understanding or belief “vulnerable”.
Moreover, she suggests that any decision should involve at least 3 people; the person who can say yes, the person who has to live with the outcome, and the person who has the subject matter expertise.
A Change In Tone
My final insight was this – the importance of designing ethical products.
This learning didn’t stem from a single talk but was more of a feeling and underlying tone that pervaded the entire conference.
According to a number of speakers, the way many of the world’s leading products are being designed has led to them being used to the detriment of the user and society as a whole.
The most obvious example of this is the recent use of Facebook to spread fake news; facilitating election meddling in the US and wide-spread genocide in Myanmar. Lower profile examples include the (purposeful) addictive nature of apps like Candy Crush and Tinder.
This state of affairs has led Ryan Freitas, the Director of Product Design at Facebook, to call our current situation “The Age of Distrust”.
How did it come to this? Well, as Ryan puts it, “building consequential things tends to have consequences”. Technology, like any tool, can be used for good and for evil. The speed and scale of modern technology have just accelerated this process. And so, as we build ever bigger and faster things, the consequences also hit harder and faster.
Ryan went on to argue that as product leaders we are the ones who need to remedy the situation. We are responsible for the products we design and we should be judged by our advocacy for the vulnerable and to people at the margins.
How To Design Ethical Products
But what can we do in the face of such complex issues? Kim Goodwin, VP of Product at PatientsLikeMe & author of Designing for The Digital Age, offers us some tips for how to approach the design of ethical products.
For starters, we shouldn’t design our products just to move a metric. Instead, we should be goal driven, balanced by values and use metrics to inform our decisions. Goals are what we hope to achieve, metrics are how we measure success and values are what we won’t sacrifice to get there.
She goes on to suggest Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as an inspirational tool for a more human-centred design.
Our products should support at least one level of the pyramid for some humans, without negatively affecting any other level for all humans. Any ideas can then be vetted by applying the Nuremberg Code – a set of principles used in the design of medical experiments, but relevant to any ethically questionable decision.
Finally, Ivy Ross, VP of Design at Google Hardware shared the notion of “design feeling”. When designing products, she advises that we go beyond creating a product that solves a problem. We should consider how it makes people feel before, during and after they’ve used the product.
All in all, these points have given me a lot to think about. They are a reminder to always keep the big picture in mind. We need to spend less time optimizing for performance, and more time thinking about the consequences are decisions can have. To do this we need to apply some higher-order thinking to examine the psychological, economic, social and environmental effects of our
Until Next Time
My favourite conferences are those that deliver a good mix of actionable advice combined with a healthy dose of inspirational material that requires some reflection. Mind The Product London 2018 definitely delivered on both these counts and then some!