Most teams have gotten really good at delivering quickly, and measuring our results. However sometimes we can get a bit addicted to shipping fast rather than right, listen to our assumptions too much, and relying on A/B testing to validate if we’ve delivered value.
Hear about the struggle and joy of a journey of continuous discovery, and some examples of validating ideas before building anything.
Our presenter: Caitlin Blackwell is Acting Head of Product – Candidate Experience at SEEK. She’s previously been in Product Manager roles across many parts of SEEK over the past 7 years, and is currently focused on driving the candidate vision for all of SEEK’s jobseeking products.
Teresa Torres defines Continuous Discovery as weekly touch points with customers, by the team building the product, where they conduct small research activities, in pursuit of a desired product outcome.
That sounds easy but it is a lot of work to adopt if not already a habit. Some of the mindsets needed to do this well are:
A collaborative mindset: Do you have the right people involved in each decision?
A continuous mindset: Are you continuously discovering opportunities and solutions?
An experimental mindset: Are you prepared to be wrong?
Teresa Torres has another great video explaining the value of continuous discovery and where it fits in with the many other methods we may be using already. Join us this month to hear more about what it takes to implement and the benefits to be gained for you and your team. RSVP now
Thanks to our wonderful hosts RMIT Online.
Launching Australia’s first University program in Product Management on the 1st of June to help fulfil the emerging skills gap in product management! It’s a Graduate Certificate – Masters level, 4 subjects, and can be completed in 6-12 months.
Objectives & Key Results. Do they really deliver on the promise? Will they help you reach your goals?
We enlisted 3 product people to talk about their experience of using OKRs to see how they work in real life.
Andrew Knibbe, Head of Product – Direct Hirer at Seek – has over 10 years of product management experience – cutting his product teeth in the early days alongside the ThoughtWorks team at Sensis followed by stints at Carsales and Flippa before moving to SEEK where he has had Head of Product roles across both the Consumer and Business side of the employment marketplace. He remains excited about what OKRs can mean for product teams (and customers!).
Wayne Allan, Technical Product Manager, REA – A muso turned software engineer turned product manager, I love creating things people love! Currently solving problems at realestate.com.au
Brad Dunn, Co-founder and Product Director at OHNO. Before that, he was the executive for Product & Customer Experience at Geo. For 7 years, Brad was the CEO of Nazori, a mobile product development business, where they worked with clients in 12 countries around the world including Samsung, Airbnb and Aesop.
The OKR Process
Andrew let us know that every team at Seek manages their OKRs a little bit differently & they’re currently in their 4th or 5th quarter of doing OKRs.
Andrew described a very team based approach (which is what Wayne also talked to). About 6 weeks before the end of the quarter, the teams receive some context on where the business is going & what they’re seeing in the market. About 2 weeks before the end of the quarter, the team incorporates their own research & knowledge to create draft OKRs for the next quarter. Drafts are reviewed to ensure they are aligned across the portfolio.
Setting OKRs is only part of the process – you need to understand how they went & learn from them. At Seek, there’s check-ins during the quarter (even just emails) and at the end of the quarter, teams present how they went for each OKR, what that means for the roadmap & strategy going forward and what the next set of OKRs are. REA has a mid-quarter update to ensure you’re on the right path or if there’s roadblocks that need to be cleared.
Wayne reminded us that part of the process is needing to educate your team about OKRs. Some people might think they are tied to performance or compensation so you need explain how the OKRs work. As the acceptance of OKRs builds across the business, you need to keep educating different groups.
And Brad noted they do not follow the usual quarterly OKR cycle! They work to a 6 week plan because that’s what works for them.
What works well…
There was clear agreement between our speakers that OKRs can create alignment between teams & stakeholders. They set expectations on what to do, not how to do it. They force prioritisation early on. They help people understand why you did X and not Y. Brad believes they are great for helping people believe in something & getting people to rally behind something.
Wayne believes they help speed up decision making as the product manager doesn’t have to answer everything. People on the team know where they are headed which drives performance within the team.
Based on what our speakers said, it seems they can also help raise issues. Use the OKRs to help show when a deliverable (that’s been delivered) needs some help. If a senior stakeholder says to build X, use the OKRs to manage if that’s the right thing to build.
Brad uses a combination of focusing on outcomes and PIRATE metrics to drive OKR setting.
What’s not working…
Creating your OKRs can be tough. You need to provide enough context for the teams to make good OKRs. Don’t have too many – recognise that even 3 objectives can be too many and 26 KRs is definitely too many. Changing the objectives every quarter can be too much context switching with not enough time to make real progress. They should not be a task list.
Wayne said they realised during planning that they had 3 objectives that were exactly the same thing but had been written in 3 different ways. The team used 3 1-hr sessions to get all their ideas on post-its, all the concrete ideas out and used that to help think at a higher level (& get the entire team onboard).
Make your OKRs part of everyday life can be a struggle. What do you do if half way through the quarter you’ve smashed it? or realised it’s not something you should do.
Measuring your OKRs needs to happen. Wayne advised us NOT to have a set & forget attitude. He suggested setting up your measurement plans in the 1st week. AND not to use surveys to measure everything as there will be survey fatigue from customers & internal folks.
Don’t focus totally on the OKR. Brad finds it fascinating that people really focus on the OKR.. what’s a good one, what’s a bad one. He sets them and then focuses on the outcome.
Brad talked about the concept of ‘mental contrasting’ which consists of 4 items and the first 2 are tied to what an OKR is.
Wish – the inspiring thing you’re going for ie your objective
Outcome – your KR
With mental contrasting, you should take a little time to think about the obstacle. Just thinking about it, helps you act.
FYI, this is also called ‘WOOP‘ (easier to remember than mental contrasting!)
What’s the worse KR you’ve seen? Andrew: “TBC” Brad: putting in an OKR we knew we couldn’t meet – or vanity things.
How long does it take to pull together OKRs? Brad says it’s about 2 days (every 6 weeks). Andrew says it’s much less now that they have done this several times and they don’t change their objectives every time. Wayne has time boxed theirs to 3 hrs.
Wayne & Andrew also talked to the difference between old & new products. New products might need longer to work out the OKRs as opposed to tweaking existing products.
A massive thank you to Andrew, Wayne & Brad, our wonderful speakers for the evening! To our fantastic volunteers for the evening: Gwen, Steve C, Steve B, Rob, Neha, Nigel & Marija. To all attendees!!! And to Medibank for hosting!!!!
This month we will be talking about OKRs – aka Objectives & Key Results!
This is a follow on from our Roadmap discussion in February where some of the frustrations with roadmaps could potentially be addressed by working with OKRs.
OKR’s have been around awhile now, but are somewhat relatively new for product teams here in Oz. We have gathered a few folk who are actively using them, to share the pain and the success of getting started.
Our presenters will be:
Andrew Knibbe, Head of Product – Direct Hirer at Seek – has over 10 years of product management experience – cutting his product teeth in the early days alongside the ThoughtWorks team at Sensis followed by stints at Carsales and Flippa before moving to SEEK where he has had Head of Product roles across both the Consumer and Business side of the employment marketplace. He doesn’t miss the chevrons-on-a-page days of product roadmaps and remains excited about what OKRs can mean for product teams (and customers!).
Wayne Allan, Technical Product Manager, REA – A muso turned software engineer turned product manager, I love creating things people love! Currently solving problems at realestate.com.au
Brad Dunn is the Co-founder and Product Director at OHNO in Melbourne. Before that, he was the executive for Product & Customer Experience at Geo. For 7 years, Brad was the CEO of Nazori, a mobile product development business, where they worked with clients in 12 countries around the world including Samsung, Airbnb and Aesop.
For some pre-reading to get you across the area if you haven’t heard of them or used them yourself then try these resources:
Thanks to our sponsors Medibank for being our hosts this month. RSVP now.
We are Medibank – an integrated healthcare company providing private health insurance and health solutions to 3.7 million Australians through our Medibank and ahm brands, and complimentary health services.
We also provide a range of integrated healthcare services to our private health insurance policyholders, government, corporate and other retail customers. With over 3,000 employees, our head office is located in Melbourne, Victoria, with operations nationally throughout Australia.
By delivering on our promise, for Better Health for Better Lives, we work better as individuals, better as a team and better as a business.
I first heard of Wardley Mapping about 2 months ago and then the name started popping up in a few places which got us investigating it as a potential topic. Coming at it from zero knowledge, it seemed like the sort of thing product folks should know more about as it concerned both strategy & decision making.
Kim Ballestrin, Principal Consultant at elabor8, talked us through the basics and got us creating a map by thinking through the user needs capturing & protecting their personal data when using social media.
The What of Wardley Maps
A Wardley Map is a representation of the landscape & environment a company operates in. Its creator, Simon Wardley, believes a leader should have a map of the terrain to help guide their strategy.
The map consists of the activities the user needs to accomplish their goal charted across lifecycle, supply & demand.
You can use this framework in several ways, such as:
To think about your ongoing product development – from USP to commodities
A way of looking at the market or competitor landscape
Process and value chains from understanding where you have no standard process to defining a highly standardised process
The Whys of Wardley Maps
The map is a great way to create discussion. Once created, scan your map from top to bottom and left to right to determine if there are specific decisions that need to be made. Look for assumptions you’re making on the map or within your existing thought process.
Bonus – The How of Wardley Maps!
There’s a few principles to keep in mind when creating a Wardley Map:
The user need is your starting point
Keep it simple and on a small scale – don’t try to map EVERYTHING!
Your map will be imperfect – and that is completely ok!
How to create a Wardley Map
Define your user’s needs.
What are the activities the user takes in order for those needs to be met?
Drill down into functions & features based on the visibility of the features to the end user.
Chart your functions & features from left to right along the evolutionary axes. The axes go from bespoke (genesis) on the left to generic (commodity) on the right.
Sketch in the linkages between the features & functions. This gives a good landscape of where you are right now.
Mapping out these connections and perhaps seeing where you may be too dominant in your commodity space & thus are at risk of disruption. Or understand that you’re too heavy in custom services, which bring high cost to serve & thus its time to consider streamlining the business by moving those to a product stage. These are some examples of ways a Wardley map helps you see the landscape and make better strategic decisions on what to do next as an organisation.
ProdAnon also had a bit of a surprise! The man himself, Simon Wardley, creator of this framework just happened to be in Melbourne Thursday evening and attended the session. Thank you Kim for inviting him!
Simon was kind enough to take some questions from the audience & talk through how he came up with his framework all those years ago.
A lot goes into creating a strategy – market data, competitor information, current performance evaluation, vision, mission, values and on and on.
The creator of Wardley Maps, Simon Wardley, argues we need a map, not a SWOT. Maps help us with situational awareness so we can see movement in the future and maps are important in deciding on actions.
Our speaker for the evening, Kim Ballestrin of elabor8, will run us through the concept of Wardley Mapping, how to use it for decision making and some examples of how others have used this type of mapping. The bulk of the evening will be workshop style as we will all create a Wardley map.
Kim Ballestrin is a passionate and highly skilled Principal Consultant at Elabor8 working on the Agile transformations of large enterprises.
She has over 20 years of diverse management (IT) experience, helping some of Australia’s most prominent organisations on their Agile change journey. Kim is an experienced technologist, having worked in roles from IT business analyst through to program and delivery centre management. She specialises in Lean, Cynefin, Agile, Systems Thinking, Design Thinking, DevOps and ideas to improve the ways that companies work and deliver value to customers.
Currently the organiser of the Melbourne Cynefin and Lean Coffee Meetups, Kim regularly presents and runs workshops at leading local and international conferences on the Cynefin Framework, Decision Mapping and Early Idea Feasibility.
We opened 2019 talking about roadmaps – a topic we had been asked in responses to our annual feedback to spend some more time on. We invited our speakers to share their different perspectives on roadmaps… and we heard come common themes to help understand how to keep a roadmap from controlling your life, and how to turn it into a fabulous communication and vision guide for inspiring your teams, plus some sage advice relevant to each organisation who took the stage that evening.
Below are some highlights from each talk plus the slides from each speaker – feel free to reach out to any of them if you would like to chat more. Plus we have added some references to other resources to read and explore at the end of this post.
David Bignall / Seek
David had much to share – ultimately not a fan but he did share some tips on how to help make them work for you rather than be a slave to them!
Roadmaps are a thing, every company has them so you will
encounter them. David used this deck at Seek over a year ago to his team and
people so proof they are a real thing, but after having the discussion has
helped wean the team/group he is on off them.
For David when sharing what he thinks a roadmap is showed a
map – because it is a journey to an unknown place.
“A document to capture and quickly convey a team’s big-picture goals, specific objectives and their imagined path to success” – Dave
“A company roadmap is a document to capture and quickly convey its big-picture plans and objectives” – prodplan.com
“The first purpose is because the management of a company wants to make sure that the teams are working on the highest value items first, relevant to the company strategy.
The second purpose is because businesses may have date-based commitments. The roadmap is where they see and track those commitments.” Marty Cagan, SVPG
They can be useful – but they can also be a big waste of
time – common issues:
Intended goals/purpose are not stated or are not clear
Often far to specific
You can’t have that much foresight 9 months away
They do not account for “time to value”. Iteration is almost always needed to realise the full value of a new product/feature – (David bravely shared an own example of a very bad roadmap!)
Put item on there and them immediately moving on to the next thing
Ignoring the process of iteration or things going wrong
Detail on roadmap can lead team to auto-pilot. They build what they put down on paper often months in advance
Team goes into auto-pilot. As if this is their job, rather than thinking of most value to be delivered for the customer
Distributed copies are out of date
Keeping stakeholders up to date can drain your time. You don’t want to feel like you work for the roadmap, and it is just sucking your time from doing real work.
“Many untested hypotheses, based on assumptions, plotted in an uncertain future, bearing no resemblance to reality” Jared Spool
Dave’s top tips for roadmaps
Show where you want to go
Choose granularity relative to the timeframe and
Avoid specificity (Show the problem or JTBD or
objectives as descriptors of intent rather than the solution)
Whitney opened with sharing a story about her experiences of
not liking roadmaps because she has never seen a roadmap, become reality. She
first got to know REA when working at a company in the US, and became a slave
to the roadmap as they committed to work they would deliver to this customer.
Then, she joined REA and was so excited about agile and thought, YES! I’ll get
away from roadmaps! But she was fooling herself – see the beautiful roadmap on
the wall at REA (pictured in slides). However, she soon found that REA was
using roadmaps and needed to due to the big size of the organisation and the
need to coordinate a lot across so many teams, groups etc.
However, in Whitney’s attempt to accept roadmaps and make peace with the need for them she started asking “Why do people ask for roadmaps?”.
Some of the things she learnt don’t work when using them:
Don’t work as a promise
Too much detail – just a list of lower level
Lose focus on what the customer needs.
REA owns a lot of companies and even just within
Realestate.com a dozen delivery teams.
“Satisfaction is a confirmation or dis-confirmation of expectations.”
Example of people waiting for train for 15 minutes but
dissatisfied, and others warned that train will come at 5:30 and apologies for
the delay, did not rate their travel experience as dissatisfying as compared to
the first group as their expectations were met/managed.
With that in mind let’s try to think what this artefact does
to satisfy our leaders.
So what are they currently doing with Whitney’s team – they
use a 90 day view – showing a commitment up to 90 days. No promises beyond that
– great for delivery teams. Not great for stakeholders.
For stakeholders they use a Discovery backlog (second 90 days) and an Opportunity backlog (all the rest – no priority) – people now satisfied that their idea is on there – somewhere. Others groups understand that stuff that comes out of Discovery will most likely make it to the committed version and the conversation is being moved to a different stage of team flow.
I encourage you to seek to understand with genuine curiosity, the needs of anyone who has a problem and thinks that a roadmap is the solution. Whitney
Keith Swann / Origin Engery
Keith brought to us a more positive upside to the roadmap
His beliefs are that they help with:
Alignment – up or down
Influence – rarely based on dollars
Leadership – how do we inspire people and rally
them to our cause
Everyone will scrutinize it to their own
beliefs, so do it carefully – target on your back
Strategic – Financial, PMOs, GMs, etc. etc.
interpret the stuff and then try to manage up and down.
Cultural – make sure it talks to your audience
Influence Record – Successful record of moving
things along. Better record = less scrutiny
A road map is a Story telling device and the aspects Keith uses are MUM, Problems, Position, Opportunity, Value. How do you tell the story, “up or down” the organisation. Think of the “Cone of influence” – below people can make lots of small decision but not big decisions. As you move up you get spun out if you aren’t managing those stakeholders.
Eisenhower: Plans are useless, but planning is
Every day the plan can change – the second your
plan is finished it is out of date.
Roadmap = Vision.
Don’t put in too much detail
Think of your audience – Working Tested Feature
Don’t muddle the Project Mindset – Delivery
Planning – Bookending with a roadmap
Don’t become vague in your horizon 2 and 3 –
don’t over promise
Make it easily editable and manageable
Post Its on the wall and photos
Over invested time of effort – working with
visual designers. 5 days work and 6/7000$ and printed in colour. Thus, you deliver
to the roadmap even though you don’t want it anymore because too much effort
went into the artefact.
Don’t clearly show values
Don’t focus on the feature – focus on the
problem or opportunity.
Roadmaps may very well be a necessary evil, especially in a big organisation when you have many teams and people to motivate, inspire and align. However, our speakers have shared some great tips to help keep you from being a slave to them as well. For some more references and reading on steering clear of them and/or leaning into making them work for you check out some of the links below:
For our 1st session of the year, we are focusing on the #1 requested topic in our annual survey – roadmaps!
Our speakers will be taking you through their perspective on roadmaps… we won’t give it all away just yet but you will hear that not every roadmap is f**ked, tips on how to unf**k your roadmap, and of course when to tell a roadmap to go f**k itself.
Our speakers will include examples from both personal experience and the way their current organisation navigates their use. Our three great speakers will be:
Product Lead at SEEK, currently focused on improving the eCommerce space across the APAC region.
Picked up most of my craft from stuffing things up at least once.
Current ‘product passion’ would be trying to describe things in verbs and not nouns. Gives an interesting perspective!
GM Product, Audience & Experience, REA Group
As REA Group’s GM – Product, Audience & Experience, Whitney Cali is responsible for creating smart and compelling experiences in realestate.com.au’s desktop & mobile apps to help change the way the world experiences property. She leads a team of product managers, designers and UX researchers to create intuitive and personalised experiences that help individuals make great property decisions.
Lead Product Manager, Origin Energy
There will be lots of time for Q&A and you can submit questions via Sli.do or vote on the questions of others. Details will be shared on the night.
Thanks to our sponsors! Without them these events would not happen!
Thank you to Gather for hosting us. Gather is a brand within United Co. and exists to connect and inspire a community of Melbourne’s bright-minded and open-hearted, exploring complex questions, expanding perspectives and building skills for a thriving future.
Trust came up very early in our discussion. For CultureAmp, trust is part of their company values and differences of opinion is a good thing. When you challenge things, it’s from a good place. Karista has 1 product person & Danielle was super impressed by the research and prep the PM did before their 1st meeting – which quickly earned her trust. Linus talked about the differences people have in the way they think of earning trust. Some people start from a place of trust while others need to build it up.
When did they realise they needed a product manager?
Rod went to the rest of the founders & said he needed to start hiring because he was getting slammed. Some of the other teams at Culture Amp, including technology, had scaled up previously so it wasn’t a surprise when he came to the realisation. Danielle brought on the 1st PM shortly after launch. As a solo founder, she needed someone she could hand stuff over to and know it will be done.
Most of what you release at launch will be wrong. What matters is how quickly you can iterate to get it right. – @rodjhamilton#prodanon
Danielle laughingly said she doesn’t know what a product manager does (as in what the job description should include) but she knows the only product manager at Karista gets stuff done!
One of the reasons Linus realised they needed a product manager was no one was paying attention to trends of the market & what opportunities were out there. They had a product owner who was internally focused & worked closely with the dev team but only he & his business partner ever talked to customers. He sees the product manager as being visionary as in really knowing customer needs, not just what the customer says they need.
The ‘special’ deals
Startups often have the ‘special’. That thing(or multiple things!) that was built for the 1 customer so the business can get the revenue or a specific client or (insert reason). It’s completely sales led, isn’t validated as a customer need and often ends up with code that says ‘if customer X, do this’. Saying yes to a special for 1 customer is saying no to all the others so if you’re going to do this, you need to put it in context – communicate clearly with the team why you’re doing this.
Later Rod reminded us that it’s the product manager role to ‘win the market not the client’ & quoted Gibson Biddle’s definition where our job is to delight customers, in margin-enhancing, hard-to-copy ways (from Gibson’s Leading the Product talk )
Scaling the product team
Beyond the 1st PM, you will need to scale your own team. Culture Amp now has ~ 9 product people and is continuing to grow. They are creating product rituals like a Monday catchup to review the week’s goals and one on Friday for the team to talk about what went well/not well during the week (a bit of a therapy session).
Now that there are several PMs & Rod isn’t involved at the same level as previously, he sometimes wonders why X was prioritised and knows he would have done X differently but has to let go of those decisions. The team has built trust amongst themselves so when Rod does challenge something – it’s a positive thing & discussion to follow.
Rod from @CultureAmp talking about the weirdness of sometimes not seeing a feature til launch (as a founder) and making sure his folks know him asking about a decision is a good thing. #prodanon
If you’re a product manager at a startup, considering a role as the 1st product person at a company or a founder, come along to hear from our panel of founders – what’s their experience been, why did they decide they needed a product person, etc.
Danielle Bodinnar, CEO of Karista
Danielle is a passionate entrepreneur and mother of two, who has held senior management positions in sales, marketing, supply chain and project management in large corporations for over 20 years. She founded Karista after being inspired by the changes emerging in the healthcare industry.
We know people are at the core of what we do. Yet, our best developers, designers, and product managers are rarely able to talk about people with as much confidence and nuance as they talk about ruby, typefaces or commercial strategy.
Using several clips of music, Gin had us mark how each music clip made us feel on the graph & compare with others sitting at our table. There was definitely differences in what made us happy or sad and how energised (or not) it made us feel. Though apparently I’m the only person who gets annoyed by the Lion King soundtrack! To contrast, one attendee recounted how the Lion King brings up memories & great feelings of her daughter based on past experiences and you could see how happy she was as she told us about this. Imagine the 2 of us in a workshop where the Lion King soundtrack was playing in the background… she’d be in a great frame of mind where I’d be feeling agitated. Could that affect the results of the workshop?
Think about how music affects you. Consider a song you hate vs one you love vs one that is unoffensive. To bring this back to the office, how do the meeting rooms make you feel? Does your research participant or client feel comfortable?
This combines how a product looks & makes us feel when we engage with it (initially & ongoing) with our conscious thought about the product (for example – does it represent what I want to project to the world?)
Gin likes to use Jobs to be Done instead of User Stories to capture these elements. She feels there’s too many assumptions in the ‘As a…’ and ‘I want to…’ of user stories. A JTBD statement focuses on the situation, motivation & expected outcome – ‘when (situation), i want to (motivation) so I can (expected outcome)’.
Using the classic MP3 player example, Gin showed how using emotional design changes what you build.
functional description – When I’m listening to music I want a device that holds all my music so I can listen to anything at any time.
emotional – When I’m listening to music I want a device that looks good so I feel as cool as the artists I’m listening to