June wrap up – Do customers and stakeholders EVER see eye to eye

Our session for June was about balancing the customer need and stakeholder demands. The session was run by Mat Vine who has a wealth of experience to draw on for this topic. Mat organised his presentation into the top 6 factors to look out for to keep the customer need in focus as stakeholder demands creep into the product design process.

A perennial business challenge is the balance between delivering customer value vs business success. Developing a new product is complex and as you begin to get into the details, sometimes you get too far away from the original customer need you were planning to solve! To keep from “diluting the proposition” you need to champion the need through the entire process.

6 Factors to Help Balance Customer Need & Stakeholder Demand

1. Pick your business outcome

The outcome can be a range of things but make sure it is what people actually strive for and not what your KPI is.  For example, it is quite common for profit share to be the KPI at a company, yet people will be drawn to a different measure such as growing market share. Examples of business outcomes you could use:

  • Profit
  • Revenue
  • Market Share
  • Sales volume
  • Revenue per sale

2. Be very clear on your customer need

[pullquote]You can never be too passionate on the customer need in the business[/pullquote]

An example Mat covered here was Adidas sponsorship of the London Olypmics. Adidas set up Adi-zones around London that had free use of sporting equipment. The intention was to help get young people, who might not otherwise have an opportunity, active and involved in sport. It worked out well for Adidas as they ended up with a 2% growth in market share, and £100M increase in apparel sales.

3. Choose your time horizon but never ignore the long term

One of the stories shared here was about the strategy of HR companies in the US going aggressively after market share. To gain customers they dramatically undercut the price of the software which meant in the short term they were not making profit at all. This approach eventually led to being able to sell the company off for a significant value due to the customer numbers they had to offer to whomever acquired them. The question in the back of the audiences mind however, is how much work the new company will have to do to be able to move those customers to a profitable state.

4. There are many levers to work with – choose wisely

There are many levers you can use to achieve balance in customer value and business outcome. If you don’t have enough customer value but doing ok with profit, then you are in a great position to add value/ features consistent with your CVP. If you are not delivering enough profit then it’s much more difficult because you need to remove features and value… you can replace with other features that cost less but have high perceived value, or remove features that aren’t highly valued by customers

5. Know your stakeholder and embrace stakeholder management

The image Mat used in his presentation did cause the audience to laugh. A reflection of the fact that we know this is such a critical part of a product managers job, but every now and then it isn’t always the favourite part. Anyway, the advice offered by Mat was to work towards you stakeholders being:

70% convinced, 100% committed

One of our audience asked Mat if he used this statement in front of people, and he said he did. He found that calling out clearly where people were at with their belief in an idea, could help with uncovering what was holding people back.

The other piece of advice was to start early with stakeholder management, the earlier they on the path with you the better. At this point, Mat wondered if perhaps he should have had time on his list. Time can give you many advantages but one key on is to allow you to work through all stakeholder concerns.

6. Decide what’s important with your Customer Value Proposition (CVP) – and champion it

Some good discussion occurred around this point, with some thoughts shared on how to help make sure the core vision isn’t lost and does get communicated and cascaded to everyone. The audience had very mixed experiences with how hard or easy this is to do, and at times astonishment that it even needs doing. This led us nicely into further conversations at the bar.

A fantastic night, newcomers, old faces and time to chat with each other afterwards as well. Join us for our next event on the 24th of July or coffee on June 26th.

Defining your Product & the Benefit of Not Having Much Money

Join us on Thursday evening July 24th for ‘Defining your Product and the Benefit of Not having Much Money’ or start-up product management.

Working on a product at a start-up is a lot different to working on one at an established company. Limited resourcing means you wear a lot of hats, things change quickly, spending a day working on the wrong thing makes a real difference and the budget (if there’s one at all) is probably smaller.

Co-founders Morgan Ranieri & Francisco Trindade will share their experience of YourGrocer – a Melbourne based start-up working on making local shopping convenient. They’ll discuss examples & learnings from the past year including successes and failures. And they welcome your feedback.

Morgan & Francisco will discuss:

  • How they make product decisions
  • Defining the value proposition as you build
  • How they get user feedback & what they do with it
  • Feature definition
  • How they use MVP – & that the concept is usually trickier in practice than it sounds

Please join us and RSVP now for this event.

6pm for a 6:30pm start at Royal Melbourne Hotel on Bourke St



Essential steps to building great products + services

Last Friday, Brainmates brought together an impressive line-up to talk about creating great products. The talks were linked through 4 steps of product creation:

  • idea selection
  • product design
  • product team
  • launch

The 4 speakers shared their experience in that area for the audience to walk away with a holistic inspiration for building great products.

Warren Wan kicked us off talking about idea selection and opportunity assessment steps at MyFitnessPal. His perspective is from building a start-up, which is often different to working on products at a large corporate, but in a short half-hour he shared a number of insights, including:

Three things are needed for a start-up to succeed:

  1. something the founder needs or believes in
  2. something they can build
  3. something few others think has value in it

MyFitnessPal’s founder, Mike, started out this way – with a need to lose weight in time for a wedding and frustrated by the standard calorie counter books that were handed out at that time. The available products didn’t match or suit the moment when you were actually at the supermarket needing to assess the calories in food and they certainly didn’t help with the calorie count at a restaurant. Mike went on to teach himself programming so he could build the solution himself.

MyFitnessPal are now in the growth phase and they still focus on the core use case – which for MyFitnessPal is the best in class experience and the food database. With a start-up, over-extending your limited resources is not something you can afford to do so this focus is incredibly important.

They choose to work on ideas that increase the user funnel (overall traffic), that assist with app store placement (currently top 3 app in over 65 countries) and funnel optimisation.

Warren had some important points to add regarding funnel optimisation.  Registration is thought of as something that needs to be fast but MyFitnessPal they found this is not an area to shortcut. The more information they can get about their user, the more they can do to support the users’ goals and journey. While that will see fewer sign-ups, the value the user feels by continuing through the process, the better job MyFitnessPal can do with calorie guidance and thus a better value relationship is created.

warren presenting

Other important concepts in idea selection are to iterate quickly & listen to the user. It’s important not to overbuild. It’s more important to ship. Every employee listens to support queries so the whole company feels the mission – and understands what the user needs.

Now in the growth phase with the option to hire and go beyond a one-man start-up, there is room to think about hard problems (with big returns). Warren described this as a “widen the moat” strategy – to focus on efforts that drive differentiation between competitors.

The culture at a company needs to support everyone having a voice, and MyFitnessPal concur. Warren explained the “amazon two pizza rule” which is a way to think about team sizes. The analogy is a helpful way to think about how to organise teams – the optimal number of people in a team can be fed with 2 pizzas. MyFitnessPal have sorted their teams around feature groups, to help with purpose and focus and knowing the number of pizzas to order 🙂

Next Lisa Wong took us through the next step in creation of a great product – the design stage. Lisa is director of product and user experience at eBay, Australia. Lisa pulled no punches:

“a product designer and a product manager are not the same thing”

If product managers aren’t designing what are we doing, what are we doing? We are defining the vision. Lisa asks her product team to define the product plan which is made up of just three things:

  1. What do you want to deliver
  2. Vision/product approach
  3. Roadmap

Easy right? Never underestimate/misunderstand the probability of miscommunication. What does this mean? It means the PM’s job is to over-describe and over-explain what is needed. A PM can get sucked into getting feedback, prioritisation and the tactical steps.

If one is so “execution focussed that they are not interested in the reason behind it, then success is a gamble”

Lisa’s guidance for her team to help rise above this is:

  • Articulate what you want to achieve
  • Establish a frame of reference (common ideas)
      For eBay, this was using a store or a warehouse as a metaphor for the digital landscape
  • Over-describe and over-explain what you mean
      You can never do this too much! There are lots of available tools so use all of them or whichever you need at the time. Use personas, mental models, customer journeys, mood boards, click path analysis, create mental dialoges, etc. Make sure they are are built from observation and data – not from asking.

A theme starts to emerge at this point as Lisa also reiterates comments that Warren has made.

“if you never execute and get out to market you never make money”, so “done better is better than done perfect”.

The focus naturally now shifts to the team and people you need for building great products and this was nicely covered by Henry Ruiz, Chief Product Officer at REA Group.

When looking for people at REA, they look for core skills that include product marketing, conceptual skills, ability to get into the market, ability to predict the market and to be authentic people that influence without authority. This last one is about hiring nice people 🙂

Henry said REA not only looks for high competency but high self-esteem and low ego. Refreshing to hear this articulated about your product management people and hiring process.

The way in which REA frames their work is the 3C’s:

  • Context
    • The problem statement
    • What is it the customer is trying to achieve
  • Concept
    • The success criteria
  • Content
    • The product idea
    • Where a lot of people get stuck and lost in without having defined the previous two.

The power of the product manager is in helping others see the context and the concept before they get lost in their product idea and thus ensuring when they do, it will be to work on the right component that needs solving at that time.

Henry presenting

Henry took us on a journey through the “co-creation approach to develop product concepts” at REA. Like most companies, REA have more than one stakeholder to consider – the real estate agent, the seller and the consumer.

In order to ensure they never tug too strongly for one stakeholder and end up hurting another, they ensure a balanced score card is in place for all 3. This helps them build solutions that bring value across that market. Such a disciplined approach leads them to create “sweetspot” concepts repeatedly.

Last, but by no means least, Jane Huxley, currently at Pandora internet radio, led us through launching a product. With experience across many products and industries, from Microsoft, to Vodafone, to Fairfax and now Pandora, Jane shared her experiences with a great deal of humour.

Launch success criteria have changed over time and certainly since Jane’s time at Microsoft. Jane was quite clear that now a launch is “not a date on the calendar” that you can get to and be done. One of those reasons for change is due to the types of products of that time when you would know how well you were doing by the simple(r) maths of the number of products shipping out the door. Now, your parameters for success have changed and Pandora understood that by giving Jane a year to plan for launch.

The support that she had by working with Pandora allowed for options that might not have otherwise been available – Jane called this standing on the shoulders of giants. One needs to make sure it is clear what you do and why you exist – for Pandora that is about being clear that they are targeting the 80% of the market of that are passive listeners of music, they are not after the active listeners that Rdio, iTunes, and MOG etc are after. This is how Pandora stands out from the rest.

The ambiguity that one has to be comfortable with and is necessary to launch and manage products now is something she guides her people on as she recruits them. Jane’s advice is to focus – remember what you said you were going to do in the 1st place. Pull out that napkin or beer mat where you wrote the idea down and as the noise of a launch tries to suck you in, pick up that napkin and remember why you are here. Spend the time beforehand to stave off the biggest risks before pulling the trigger.

Lastly, the viral secret sauce! When someone adds 2 personalised station, they 8 other users within a week. When we discover something new we are compelled to share, so Pandora’s secret is their personalisation + discovery.

And there was one final piece of advice, which I think wasn’t just about launching products – keep calm and play the long game. Jane wrapped up the entire talk with this statement as it rose above all the valuable tactical advice she had provided and essentially reminded us all not to sweat the small stuff.

The summary of advice from Jane to launch successfully:

  • Stand on the shoulders of giants
  • Stand out from the pack
  • Focus
  • Go viral
  • Keep calm and play the long game

It was a fabulous afternoon of product management goodness from all the speakers with much to learn and a fantastic view of the two great Sydney icons from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thank you Brainmates for organising a fantastic event!  If you want to check out more from the day, see the Storify.