As a data scientist & founder (aka THE product manager), Marty is in a unique postion. He has been building predictive models for longer than ten years at ANZ, credit bureaus like Equifax & international companies such as GE and The World Bank. He started northraine with the purpose to ‘ recondition the human condition’ and create the next version of consciousness. He’s looking to build innovative new models across any industry – if you have data, northraine can use it to help you make decisions.
We kicked off the year with ‘Building & Scaling Product Management Teams’ because it was one of the most requested topics in our year end survey and it’s something Rich Mironov knows a bit about as he often comes into a company to help them sort out their team (and of course product).
After a quick review of what a product manager’s role is, Rich got right into the team aspect. Both problem finding AND problem solving are team sports, not only for you THE product manager. When there isn’t someone within the business who is knowledgeable about product management, you will find someone is ‘playing’ product manager.
At a startup, the founder who has the passion for the problem & users will often be working on the product. A startup founder has a lot of other responsibilities so need to think about hiring a PM when the sales pressure is increasing, they need someone to help them FOCUS & scalability is needed – often this is somewhere between hitting 12-25 employees. Rich STRONGLY believes you need to bring in someone who with experience at this point – not someone with deep domain knowledge, not someone at the company in another role, not someone with a ‘scrum’ or ‘project’ word in their title but someone who’s been here & done that & has the scars.
At any company, when it comes to building the product team. Rich believes it’s better to reduce the distance between the customer/user, the product person & the development team. His favourite structure for a team is a product person & the dev/ux/design/etc team to be close (physically & collaboratively) with the users via frequent learning conversations. He is not a fan of the customer feedback/problems/conversation filtered via sales or a single product person or marketing, etc.
Which is when we hit the controversial part of the evening – Rich believes the ‘product owner’ job is setup for failure for several reasons including they don’t have time with customers to understand the problems before writing stories & they’re not focused on the end value but productivity focused. Instead of having the owner & manager roles as separate people, it should be the same person doing both roles.
Lastly, we talked a bit more about the different roles in a product team. The product manager should be shipping great individual products, thinking 2-4 quarters ahead & is a relentless communicator of truth. The Director of PM should be focusing on processes, resources & the team. Budget & Strategy, planning for the next 6 quarters & ‘keeping the trains running’ are the focus. A Head of Product/VP is part of the executive team, focusing on aligning strategy, products & the organisation.
We’re thrilled to have the wonderful Rich Mironov able to join us for the 1st Product Anon of 2018!
Rich spoke at one of our sessions back in 2014 and it’s awesome to have him back in town.
If you haven’t RSVP’d yet, you’re going direct to the waitlist. This is a very popular session so pop yourself on the list.
If you’ve RSVP’d and can’t attend, PLEASE update your attendance to a ‘no’ so someone on the waitlist (which is about 60 people ATM) can attend. We’ll have a packed house so this is much appreciated!!
In our annual survey, we asked what topics you are interested in & ‘building/scaling product teams’ was #1 so we’ll kick off the year with… How do you arrange the puzzle pieces of roles, responsibilities and people when building or scaling a product team?
Rich’s talk will help us explore:
– Division of labor: how do we grow from one to three to many product folks?
– End-to-end management of product elements/features, or product owner and business owner roles?
– What does a Head of Product do?
– When do startups need to hire a product person?
This will be interactive, there will be some book giveaways and Rich invites us to ‘call BS’ on anything. Hope to see you there!
Big thanks to Zendesk for hosting the evening!
Our Speaker: Rich Mironov is a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley tech companies. Rich coaches product executives, product management teams and agile/lean development organizations. He also parachutes into software companies as interim VP Products/CPO to address company-level product/market/leadership issues. Rich has been the “product guy” at six Silicon Valley start-ups including as CEO and VP Product Management. Since 2002, his long-running blog has covered software, start-ups, product strategies, and the inner life of product managers. Rich is the author of “The Art of Product Management” (2008), and founded the first Product Camp. He has a BS Physics from Yale and an MBA from Stanford.
For our last event of 2017, we’re going to talk about 2 product roles – owner vs manager.
This was a suggested Product Camp talks which we didn’t get to on the day so here we go! This is often a hot topic and we’re sure there will be a healthy debate about the definitions and how to navigate the roles and conversation about the roles.
Product people always have diverse backgrounds – our panelists included. Susan has a political science degree and accidentally fell into tech via project management. Rachel was studying Law & Arts degrees before getting enticed into this new thing called an ‘intranet’. Luke started in tech but realised it wasn’t for him. Fortunately he was in a company with opportunities that lead to product management.
How do you nurture product management teams? What do they need?
Rachel, Susan & Luke all mentioned that managing product folks can be challenging since PM requires such a broad spectrum of skills & interests. Susan & Rachel talked about how a great product team will have people across the spectrum and that diversity is a challenge to manage and help each individual grow in their career. Luke looks at how they can build their skills to be more holistic.
Ensuring the team of product folks are working consistently across the business was a theme both Luke & Rachel raised. That includes making sure they’re in sync with the company’s vision
What’s it really like managing product folk? Rachel finds it’s sometimes it’s like looking after a bunch of cats that scatter when they see you. While Luke compared us to managing racehorses who are strong willed leaders with a range of skills and experience.
Tips? Show them respect. Nurture the diversity. Encouraging communication with their peers and other teams.
A post shared by Product Anonymous (@product_anon) on Jun 22, 2017 at 1:50am PDT
What does the business expect of the product management team? What do you ask of your team?
As with much in product management… it depends!
REA is mature in understanding what it wants from a product management team but at previous roles Rachel needed to champion the value of a product management team. These days she focuses on creating the best opportunities for work relationships, establishing those relationships between people & creating harmony.
Luke is helping his team understand their boundaries & show them how to have space to do their job.
Susan asks for a focus on their goals. Are they focusing on the root problem? How do you expect to achieve your goals if you are using your energy on the wrong things. Unfortunately, that attention to detail and passion that serves product folks so well can also distract us.
Cue the conversation about product people fighting fires versus keeping an eye on the long game.
The greatest thing a leader can do is to set two people up to love each other (labels be damned) says @rnmile#productanon
Going from product manager to product director – what is it like? Are you still working on the product?
Luke is relatively new to the role and learning – while still influencing all of the products. Rachel added that doing actual work on the product depends on the size of the team. If you have more than 8 people, you’re in a true leadership role & need to love helping people rather than the products. Susan thinks it can differ depending on how you define success and what it means to you. Being successful doesn’t always have to mean managing people so you should decide what is meaningful to you. Liz brought up the difference between rock stars & superstars which come from the Radical Candor framework – TED talk or check out the book and site.
How do you keep the alignment with product managers and their development teams?
Lots of consensus on making sure there is a product vision across all teams, making sure there’s clear alignment on the objectives and measures on how they will achieve the objectives. Rachel facilitate the teams in conversation about the goals as she wants them to be autonomous and self sufficient.
Product managers have broad & different skills sets. What are the detailed or deep skills product managers need?
Susan – It’s human nature to have a variety of skills. The trick is finding out if the person prefers one over the other – are they into firefighting or strategy? You can help to realign them to be balanced. Tracking them back to their goals through empowerment & teach product managers to live with the fires. There is always a point where things don’t have to be perfect.
Having a range of skills yes but being able to go deeper within 1 discipline is great – it could be UX, data, marketing or other.
Rachel – Always talks about goals. Rachel gives them time to look at their goals & sends the prioritisation list to the executive team. Being able to focus on the goal and prioritize the things that will bring you closer to the goal is important. Being busy and getting lost in the detail can be a distraction.
Luke – Something to watch for is product managers who work on what they’re good at and avoiding goals that might not play to their strengths. Bring the product folk together to talk through this – make sure the team talks about strategy and doesn’t only talk about the tactical.
What are the top three things that makes a good product manager?
Rachel – Start at hiring and look for attitude, aptitude and empathy. If someone is committed and enthusiastic, that’s a great start!
Susan – Smarts/ intellectual horsepower, humility (realise there is the likelihood of working for no individual credit but all reflecting back on the team), judgement/decision making/ instinct
Luke – Switched on/ thinking ahead/ inquisitive, passionate/ excited about releasing products, emotional resilience
Using Experience Sampling for Rapid Insights into User Needs
George Cockerill started the evening off with a discussion about how his team approached gathering user research in a project building a smart assistant for students at Deakin University.
The team decided to use the Experience Sampling method. Other methods like interviews & diary studies have participants recall their past whereas experience sampling gave them access to detailed immediate needs.
With experience sampling, you ask short, easy to answer questions throughout the day. For this project, the same two questions were sent to participants eight times a day over a week. Occasionally the team would add an optional question. Experience sampling allowed the team to get to very recent needs & the student’s behaviour.
To collect the data, George used PACO, a free app that builds experiments quickly. It’s great for experience sampling and since it’s an app on participants’ phones they can take photos to include with their answers.
Tips for success
Get maximum value for the method – be clear about the research goal
Don’t rush, plan meticulously & plan to be flexible. Plan even when you need to go fast (it actually helps you move quickly!)
It’s a complex set up – test it; test your questions and mechanics
Get the most from people – recruit and onboard carefully. Establish how much data points you need to help determine how many participants you should have. When you screen them, ask questions along the lines of what you’ll be asking during the research. If they can’t answer in the screener, they probably won’t provide good data during the research. Your onboarding needs to have very clear instructions. George made a video to help explain the app and expectations of the participant (including what they needed to do /when they’d get paid).
Monitor it! Experience sampling is not a ‘set it & forget it’ method. You can be encouraging to the participants or ask them to tell you more about a specific thing. It’s awesome if you can instill a shared purpose of what’s going to happen with the data they provide.
Use the data to help refine the problem. Start finding themes, create categories, map answers to categories to find patterns, map data to graphs and examine categories to fine tune them. Look for trends. With participants using their phones, images will pick up detail the users might not think to say like how they solve their problems, their hacks, etc. You can combine the data with other research (both qual & quant). For this project, George combined experience sampling, resonance testing, journey maps from user interviews and ‘day in life’ models.
Onboarding your user as part of the experiment. Motivate & respect their time even with an incentive #prodanon
— Sarah Pan (@sarahpannz) a href=”https://twitter.com/sarahpannz/status/867665408962084864″>May 25, 2017
Currently the student smart assistant is in a pilot with a set of students. We’re looking forward to hearing how it goes!
Why is marathon running important when introducing user research to an organisation?
Electronic Arts operates 8 research labs across 4 countries but it’s still early days for the games industry to embrace user research. In the APAC region, Kostas Kazakosis the 1st UX researcher at EA and thus needed to help communicate the value & importance of UX research.
Using ‘The Reflective Practioner‘ by Donald A Schon, Kostas reflected on his journey as a marathon runner and introducing UX research to a company – both ongoing!
Kostas finds there’s 8 stages to long distance running
Excitement where anything is possible! The organisation has no prior exposure to formalised UX research.
Denial when doubt starts to creep in. Here Kostas realised he didn’t know much about the FireMonkeys’ development process.
Shock where everything seemed to be really difficult. Kostas had to show the value of UX research, create a research space and creating research protocols to suit the games industry. Kostas’s plan was relying on the importance of dialogue: talking to people, understand what they do, and showing UX research helps them. This is where empathy is important but how do you do this? You empathise with the data and people and match it to research question.
Talk to everyone. From the junior to GM. If you don’t understand the context you work in, how can you prove #ux value? #prodanon
Isolation or the fear you’re not going to make it. Having talked to as many people as possible, you need to accept the feedback and adjust your approach
Despair usually happens about mile 19 in a marathon. When you start to question if you really can do this, if you’re ready to do this and will it be ok?
The wall at mile 22 is when your brain doesn’t talk to your body anymore. You need to take one step at a time to keep going & identify mistakes and address them quickly. At EA, this meant all that earlier work to establish relationships with the team enabled collaboration. He had helped educate them & gave them ownership. The teams had begun the process of seeing the importance of data & value of user research.
Affirmation at mile 23 is feeling like you have a break thru. This is the stage Kostas is currently at work. He’s seeing people want to get involved in the UX research and wants to be able to sustain that team participation.
Elation at the finish line of mile 26 is when you’ve achieved the goal and need to shift your mindset towards the future. At work, this is what Kostas is working towards.
In summary, the DECEMA frame of reference that Kostas described – Dialogue, Empathy, Collaboration, Empowerment, Mutual respect and Advocacy – can take you a long way when introducing user research to your organization!
First of all, it’s been 3 years in the making. The 4 founders already have their own UX consulting business, Navy Design, and always had the ambition to start their own product business so back in 2014 they dedicated a week to working through potential product ideas. Ideas like a weather app and a hydration coaster were investigated then ditched (the coaster was referred to as a gimmicky Xmas present…).
They started working on a product which would solve a need their team had. Previously they had used post-its, a wiki, and other note keeping software but they all lacked a way to make connections and share.
During 2015, they began doing research with designers & other digital creatives and found there was a gap in the market for the product they had in mind. They build a (crappy) prototype & started using it in-house. They knew they were onto something when they found it worked better than any of their previous tools – whiteboards, Evernote, Trello, etc.
It later clicked that what they’d built wasn’t just a tool that could be applied to the UX design process, it was a tool that could be applied to any creative process. This insight broadened their market significantly and gave them the confidence to then break out the product from an internal project within the consultancy, to a product business in its own right.
It wasn’t until 2016 the focus changed to execution and as a result the hours of effort went up! They hired a small full-time team and ran a closed beta program for 6 months. Until then they were seeing where it would take them but those days were over.
They began granting early access when you referred friends and adding people to the waitlist by writing articles on Medium like ‘Why Using Evernote is Making You Less Creative‘ to get the word out (that article drove a lot of signups!)
Milanote can’t see your content due to privacy reasons. They have no idea what you are doing with their product or how you are using it which makes deciding on what features to build and understanding customers somewhat difficult.
To overcome this challenge, the Milanote team are using a mix of quantitative & qualitative methods to draw out data and feedback from their users along the different points in their product journey. The most obvious tactic is talking to its customers.
A post shared by Product Anonymous (@product_anon) on Apr 20, 2017 at 1:53am PDT
They are continuing to evolve their thinking on pricing & looking at different models to help align the value of the product with the price.
The articles at launch including Product Hunt, #1 for the week on Designer News and word of mouth helped greatly with new customers. They need to experiment with other methods now to find scalable and repeatable ways of driving acquisition long-term.