October wrap: How to transform and optimise experiences

Our October event was all about transforming and optimising experiences for our users. – and both talks also included a healthy dose of tips for communicating value and change to your organisations.

We had two great speakers to delve into this topic – Kirsten Mann, Director for Global Design & Experience at Aconex and Leisa Reichelt, Head of Service Design and User Research at the Digital Transformation Office. Leisa brought quite a lot of insight having spent a number of years with the UK Government at the Government Digital Service (GOV.UK) and is now here to help the Australian government similarly improve their sites.


Kirsten started the evening telling us how Aconex brought down business costs by building a great support site.

It all started with the data – 4000 abandoned calls each month! The UX team thought this would be an easy thing to fix which could show measurable ROI – not always an easy relationship to draw. Aconex spends a lot of time & money on face-to-face training and travel so the UX team developed a vision statement to get rid of the cost heavy training approach …if they could provide a end-to-end online support system.

The team tried different ideas & prototypes – including some with aussie humour which didn’t translate across all cultures. 😉 After trial & error they came up with a new version of the support & training site. They saw a reduced cost as the need for F2F training was dramatically reduced.

The Aconex UX team had a great win by showing the organisation it could have real ROI impact. Being able to show this & have a win like this early will smooth the road for future plans – and save costs.

Part of the UX success at Aconex goes back to where UX fits into the organisational structure. Kirsten used a great metaphor of the 3 legged chair – you lose a leg and things will fall over! These legs consist of product management, tech and UX.



Our other special guest for the evening, Leisa Reichelt, has recently returned to Australia after a long time in the UK working at Government Digital Service (GOV.UK). Her focus is to transform public services with user centred service design. Why? Because in any 4 week period more than 1 in 8 Aussies, over 14, will use a government website. And 55% hit problems completing what they came to do.

[pullquote]I’m trying to stop people from crying[/pullquote]

Leisa took us though 4 learnings for user design at a gov’t organisation but the 4 are great for product managers as well.

  1. show don’t tell
  2. ask for less, simplify
  3. change the language
  4. plan to do more comms

show don’t tell

The show don’t tell principle is rather brilliant. In the product design world we talk ad nauseam about prototypes but what Leisa kindly reminded us about is the meetings we have telling people stuff are such a waste of time. We could be showing them something and having a discussion about what’s next instead of throwing out the “we’ve done that before” types of blockers.


Ask for less and simplify

This is a clever organisational navigation tip. We often despair when we cannot get the 1M we need for the whole project or the 3 resources we absolutely need to do all the projects. That’s when we give up and get nothing.

Why not ask for (& receive!) 20K, do something and then ask for more?!? Ask for 1 resource (or half a one) & use them brilliantly. Once you have something to show as a result of that resource, THEN ask for more.

Put a number in the request – don’t ask for lots of people or money as again this tends to leads to a no answer.

The approach of being specific with a figure led to some very clear guidelines on ensuring your purpose states what you are doing with measurable details. so you can show you are doing, but also so it is very clear how to get started!, how to keep going and prove you have used the resources you asked for.

[pullquote]Language is the medium through which culture is enacted – Gill Ereaut[/pullquote]

Change the language

This was an indulgently awesome moment as it is something I have been talking about at my companies for awhile now and appreciated Leisa being so forthright on the subject…

Any product manager will recognise this situation: that annoying moment when the nickname for a product suddenly becomes the language of the company & when you finally “announce” the real product name it is too late since it will forever be known as the nickname. < SIGH >

Leisa’s point is that language permeates even deeper than that. Her examples touched on the difference between calling yourself UX or UCD & then further on trying to put a nice interface over really terrible policy. If you want to get a different outcome you need to change the language.


Plan to do more comms

One cannot forget the need to communicate, communicate, communicate. When you think you said it enough, say it again!

You are not finished communicating until you are being told the story back to you as if it is fact. Make sure your message is clear (is it clear YET?) 🙂

She closed out the section stating that there isn’t any point doing the work if you aren’t going to share it.

So much wisdom from both these ladies on this wonderful night!!

Thanks to Aconex for their once again fantabulous hosting. A special thanks to Kirsten for pulling it all together! And awesome coordination/promotion with UX Melbourne and the UX Design Group of Melbourne! Let’s do it again guys!

Our last event for the year is on the 26th of November so please join us to reflect on the year that was, share ideas for next year and just mingle and network. No formal talks this session, just conversation, and a drink to wish Product Anonymous happy 5th birthday.

October event: How to transform and optimise experiences

We are very fortunate to be working in conjunction with Aconex, UX Melbourne and the UX Design Group of Melbourne in order to bring you this session discussing how to transform and optimise experiences.
Our speakers will be:
  • Kirsten Mann – Applying UX Strategy to Optimize the Support Experience
  • Leisa Reichelt – My transformation mission: to bring great service design and user experience to government
Leisa Reichelt was the Head of User Research at the Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office and is now going to be doing a similar role with the Digital Transformation Office in Sydney. Leisa led a team of great researchers working in agile, multidisciplinary digital teams to help continuously connect the people who design products with the people who will use them and support experimentation and ongoing learning in product design. You can find her work on her blog Disambiguity.
Kirsten Mann as the GM of Global Design and Experience, Kirsten is responsible for leading the Aconex experience across all products and internal systems and online support. In addition to establishing and driving Aconex’s ongoing transformational journey, Kirsten’s a key member of the Aconex Leadership Team and a significant contributor toward driving Aconex’s growth agenda into the marketplace.
Aconex will again be the fabulous hosts and sponsors of the event. RSVP now.It may be a standing room only event, but get on the list to join us for this awesome topic.RSVP

September event: When to get serious about product management? (when should a start-up hire one?)

Continuing our start-up series, we get into startup product management. When does a startup need to hire their first product manager? And then how do you scale?

RSVP now for Thursday September 17th! 6pm for 6:30pm start

We will ask folk who have been there… at startups… when they knew they needed a product manager in their organisation. We have a great panel of speakers who will talk through this experience and then take questions from the audience, with a few juicy ones thrown in from myself (Liz). Join us at Flippa‘s offices in Collingwood (Thanks for hosting!!!)


Nick KennNick Kenn – General Manager at Flippa.com

Flippa is the #1 marketplace in the world for buying and selling websites, domains and apps, transacting USD$70m a year. Before serving as the General Manager for Flippa, Nick was the General Manager for SitePoint and prior to that, in the gaming space for 7 years in the UK and Australia at Betfair as Head of Customer Acquisition.
Megan Linton

Megan Linton – Flippa.com Product Manager

Megan has recently joined the Flippa product team after moving to Melbourne from Wellington, where she previously headed up product for Trade Me Property.
Trade Me is New Zealand’s biggest website with over 1 million registered members logging in each month. Trade Me’s family of sites includes the top motors, property and jobs boards in the country and has been listed on the NZX 50 Index since 2012.
Megan will talk about her time at Trade Me and their experiences with fitting product management into a start-up.


July Wrap: 7 things you need to know to work better with Sales

Our session this month got deep into the topic of working better with sales. Sometimes it can seem as if these two groups of people are from a different galaxy and luckily we had Shane Goldberg to help us navigate the topic. Shane has worked in both sales and product sides of the organisations, so certainly has some great experience to draw on to take us through this topic.

Shane got us thinking about how we see sales people and how sales people might see product managers.

How we see sales peeps:

  • cowboys
  • one trick ponies
  • sell vapourware
  • always want the product to be cheaper

How sales see the product manager:

  • someone who always says no
  • unresponsive
  • doing the wrong things
  • clueless
  • inflexible

Pretty tough description of the crowd! But they were the audience’s words!

Shane pointed out that both teams were right – but as both groups are trying to be successful they just misunderstand each other.

One of the reasons for having these different perspectives is due to how each group is paid or rewarded. While we decided not to go specifically into REM plans etc. the different motivations were important to remember as a way to help drive behaviour and aligned outcomes.

Shane had a great set of slides (with no words on them!) but a theme very quickly emerged for each one of his points – Make it easy to sell!

Make it easy – in their shoes

Product managers spend a lot of time creating great products for their customers and use various methods to understand how to do that, including HCD. Why not do the same for you Sales people? Design a sales journey map and put yourself in their shoes. What could be better or make this easier for your colleagues?

The top 6 areas to focus on to make things easier were:

1. Easy to explain products

If your product cannot be explained in under 30 seconds then your sales people can’t sell it. Too hard to explain = too hard to sell.

Shane had us all turn around to a neighbour in the audience and have a go at explaining our own product in under 30 seconds – from the sounds in the room not everyone could. My partner in the exercise certainly struggled and I had to reset at least twice before I could nail the elevator pitch!

Can you explain your product in less than 30 seconds?

2. Marketing material that helps, not hinders

In the same style as above, ensure you can explain why you are better than the competitor(s) in under 30 seconds. Ensure you have materials that are easy for the customer to understand and collateral that assists the sales process.

These type of tools help ensure your sales people can stay focussed on selling. Another way of thinking about this is make sure your teams are not caught up in admin tasks, building their own prep materials or customer service.

Sometimes depending on the stage of your organisation (e.g. start-ups or early product lifecycle) or amount of customers, your sales teams may be able to support some of these activities, but as you grow it’s important you remove this workload to be scalable as a sales organisation.

If possible, start promoting the idea of sales support teams for pre- or post-sales activities.

3. Roadmaps

At the start of the evening, we mentioned one of the things product managers are most afraid of is their sales team selling stuff on the roadmap. This fear comes in when things on the roadmap might not get built and it has been promised to a customer. However, leaving your sales team out of building your roadmap is cutting yourself off from the customer.

Including Sales in your roadmap will help ensure they understand your product better which helps them sell it well. It also means they can sell some of the future to customers and ensure the pipeline remains healthy. If they understand it they will know when best to use it to seed future upsell options.

Sharing your roadmap will also help with access to customers to help form those future ideas. While you may be conducting customer interviews, research and other design sessions, your sales teams are always at the front of the market and can help guide you to new ideas from that market.

4. Customer experience

Just because you have freed up your sales people from being wholly responsible for the customer experience doesn’t mean they don’t care about it. A bad customer experience will hurt their cross-sell and upsell opportunities. It costs 5 times as much to acquire new customers than to keep existing so it is in everyone’s interest to focus on this area.

The end-to-end experience is the product managers responsibility – starting with being a potential customer becoming aware of your product through buying, using and even cancellation. You may engage different parts of your organisation to help you with this – but you are the lead on what this needs to look like.

If you aren’t sure what this looks like – it is time for a customer journey map!

5. Product Hierarchy

What is this? If there are a lot of products to sell, you need to make sure the hierarchy makes sense or your sales teams will sell no products well.

This is a potentially difficult area for a PM as their product is the (obviously 🙂 ) most important – however both your sales team and customers need to understand how the products fit together or all products will suffer.

Shane’s suggested product managers work with marketing to agree on the featured product and then explain how the other products augment the “hero”. Personally, I think this depends on your organisations structure – if your product strategy is clear then this direction can come from your Head of Product – and the product team will already understand how the products fit together. If your product groups are split across the organisation then another approach is needed.

Once this strategy is understood a playbook can be very helpful tool to make it easy for the sales consultant to understand how to navigate the hierarchy and respond appropriately to the customer and their needs.

6. Pricing & discounting

One of the biggest frustrations for sales is their perceived inability to win a sales due to being unable to change the pricing of a product. On the flipside, one of the biggest frustrations of a product manager. after all the hard work that does into defining your pricing strategy is then being asked to discount it!

There is a real need to give your sales teams freedom to move within the price options without hurting your profitability or entering into a price war. A discounting framework is one way to support this need and the other, similar to the roadmap, is be involved in the approval process for discounts. This will help you be a better product manager and understand the factors putting stress on your pricing approach.

A discounting framework can cover:

  • options for prices if the customer meets certain conditions
  • a discount amount that can be offered without approval
  • a discount amount that requires approval

Remember the theme – make it easy! A framework done well can actually be an excellent tool for your sales teams to negotiate with their customer. If it’s too complicated, this just becomes another barrier to selling.

7. Mystery Item

While we originally talked of covering 7 items – we realised we only published 6! Hence the idea of the mystery item that the audience would determine. After covering quite a lot of really useful options to improve the sales experience and the relationship between product and sales, Shane asked the group if there was anything he’d missed.

A couple of additional points that came up:

  • Incentives
  • Skills for good sales people

Alignment is important. Make sure the product management and sales teams have the same goals and incentives are aligned (ie paid on profit margin not revenue).

The other aspect is to be clear on the difference between good sales people and those not equipped for the job. Providing a lot of tools will only take you so far – a couple of times the statement “good sales people can just sell”, or “good sales people know how to navigate a product hierarchy” or “good sales people build their own playbook” crept into the discussion.

Here is where the product manager should partner closely with their best sales people and show them as the model for others to follow. It doesn’t mean you don’t need all the tools we spoke about so far as the rest of the team will need those to become great.

Thank you!

Thank you to Shane for sharing your wisdom! Shane can be contacted at CustCore, a management consultancy which helps businesses unlock hidden growth through a focus on measuring and improving end-to-end customer and employee experience, as well as sales, product management and go to market.

Thanks again to Collective Campus for providing the venue.

Coll Campus

Our next evening meetup will be in September as we have a whole day of discussions at Product Camp Melbourne 2015 on the 22nd of August. RSVP now.

June wrap: Innovation at Large Companies

We gathered this month to talk about innovation at large companies. What makes it hard to keep innovation happening? What options do you have to encourage it at a large organisations? We finished with some good news stories as well.

Our panel for the evening have large company experience at Sensis, Tatts, Victorian Government, AFL, Lonely Planet & others. We’d like to thank Jamie Skella, Andrew Niere and Mark Andrew for sharing their experiences & knowledge.

More thanks go to our facilitator of the evening, Daniel Kinal, whose passion for the topic got him the gig! Thank you to our host for the evening – Nintex.

I have tried to capture the spirit of the evening and give credit where credit is due. I may have missed some so … the words were said by someone at some point of the evening….

We opened with the “worst” experience the panel had had in their innovation careers ….

Jamie: Tatts Group spent years and many millions creating a one-stop websites and apps, combining lotteries and wagering products. Ultimately that didn’t actually make a lot of sense because of the varied customer base, so it is now being undone at additional cost.

Mark: Got an innovation hub up and running at Telstra to build the first online call centre technology. They had good UX engagement and endorsement from senior leadership. Turns out having so much good support can be an issue because many people wanted to get involved and Mark spent most of his time fending them off. Multiple vendors/consultants could all “help” but had different approaches to UCD + innovation so there was constant conflict between them.

Andrew: Gave an example from his first day of work to give us an idea of what the environment is like in government. While using his work email, he tried to search for an email but could only use subject and sender criteria to search. Very limiting! He then noticed an index option within the application so he rang IT and asked them why that hadn’t been enabled. They said it would add size to the files + why would anyone want to search their email?

Andrew also shared a story to highlight the opportunity that exists for innovation but needing to work in the existing system. They needed iPads in order to to test software. To get those iPads, they had to download a form which had to be sent by fax. While they could do cool new things for their customers, process was still stuck in the past.

We’re all here, probably, because we believe that that innovation is important to larger organisations. How important is it really? Is it important in its own right? Or is it more just a function of trying to stay relevant in a dynamic marketplace?

Mark: Preventing innovation comes from the top down. If you stop ideas it breeds a nasty culture and sub-culture of staff trying to work around it. Inclusion in the company creates empowerment and encouragement to share ideas and fostering them is really important for building that positive environment.

Jamie: Someone talked about having an “innovation unit” at one organisation but Jamie’s approach was to set up open sessions were anyone could come along and offer up ideas. However, his experience at the organisation was all started well but if actions don’t follow through to show innovation is truly supported by actually progressing ideas – things stall.

Mark: Has seen great initiatives at companies that have hack days but often those ideas don’t get a chance beyond those days. The moment for creation is short lived unless you do “things” to encourage continuation.

Companies inherently don’t like failure and yet at its heart many of this work requires embracing failure and knowing you tried something and it won’t work (for now).

Andrew – had a great example of a fabulous innovation that failed – perhaps because it was ahead of its time but also the process ended up bogging it down and killing it. Ultranet was an education innovation with really great experts involved in the work so it had great content and intentions – plus millions of dollars of funding behind it. But the procurement process of government killed it because this system that normally builds roads & hospitals had a long process. By the time you had found people to do the work, the idea was dead.

Everyone is busy with “business as usual”, if you don’t make space for things above BAU then new ideas will stall.

Andrew: if it takes 5 years to get something to “market” then it is no longer fit for purpose by the time you deliver.

How to you stop discouraging innovation?

Mark: Sometimes you have to move people out of the organisation to create the change. If they are the ones holding on to a process or governance that is preventing new ideas then it isn’t always about altering the process, you have to change the people.

Jamie: Had a product council and you could get great ideas submitted and then reviewed by the council but BAU would keep getting in the way. The ideas would constantly be pushed down in preference to continuing with BAU activities. This action started to kill the ideas because nothing got through.

Andrew: Sometimes you have to keep your head down and just do it without asking first. A particular initiative with cystic fibrosis patients and telehealth got off the ground by a entrepreneur clinician who just tried it, had connections and pushed it through. Even though something has been proved, there is still the issue and concern that bringing it back into the larger organisation won’t work because the traditional bureaucracy will pull you under again and kill the initiative.

Mark: This is where you get skunkworks and underground teams and groups and that sounds cool, but it can also be destructive.

Andrew: We wanted to give our volunteers iPads to do data entry on location. This would save precious time as they would not have to collect and enter information from paper forms. When this approach was found out by the IT guy, he became all stressed about having to support the iPads. This one person could block innovation for many.

“nothing kills innovation faster than the IT department”.

Question from the audience: Is a skunkworks approach better?

Jamie: at Tatts Online, the innovation can also be killed by those who are most afraid of change for themselves, and thus the only way to get something done was to be a separate group/team and run independently of everyone else. We need to get digital or else, but at the same time “this will kill us” because their seemed as if there would be conflict between the online site and the retail outlets would hurt retail. Of course if the company didn’t go online someone else would grab the spot and kill both. Seems obvious but the only way sometimes to be innovative is to keep it small and separate from the larger org and the culture (of resistance).

Mark: Don’t ask for permission. You hear this said a lot, but what does it actually mean and how do you use it well?

Andrew: Test what works best – perhaps you should have a crack team that is breaking all the rules and then helping push out change. Once you try to embed that it can get ignored or you have a champion in each team and help move things along across an organisation as a more embedded approach.

Jamie: Believes company growth can stifle innovations because as you get size you get process, structure and silos. Culture is easy to hold and cultivate at 20-30 and then becomes a thing you have to be very conscious of as you get larger.

He called out the example of Basecamp who have made a conscious choice to NOT grow. They are making money, maybe not the out of control money making that others go after. They want to keep the culture they have, which they find manageable with the number of people they have to today and thus are satisfied with what they can do at that size. They can stay focused on building the products they want for the community/customers they have and any new customers that join, have to sign up for that as well.

Continuous improvement is not true innovation and in some ways once you set yourself up for that i.e. embed a great agile process, then you are laying a foundation for status quo over an innovation culture.

Question from the audience: what is innovation exactly in your mind?

Jamie: Finding an edge not easily copied.
Mark: without precedent
Andrew: New way to do business, new way to do process, new ways of doing things.

Last one: What is your best innovation experience?

Jamie: His most recent was working toward getting buy-in and the ball rolling for virtual reality (stereoscopic 360 degree video) initiatives at the AFL. It was initially met with lukewarm reception, but after buying and demonstrating the hardware, it gained traction. He’s no longer at the AFL, but has left the company in a great position, who are continuing with VR opportunity exploration and real experiments, which should keep them ahead of local competition.

Mark: Loved his time at Lonely Planet when they built an iPad app for the inaugural launch of the iPad. They got it done in 6 weeks and built a beautiful product in that time frame.

Andrew: (I can’t remember! Andrew, please remind me of your story!)

Daniel: is loving what Microsoft are doing lately. By bringing in a new CEO, they have change happening and have instigated a new era instead of being one of the behemoths that you might predict are stuck.

Thanks again to our panelists and facilitator for such a great conversation.

Thank you to Nintex for hosting us and I look forward to you joining us for our July session on how to work better with your Sales teams.



July event: 7 things you need to know to work well with Sales

Do you work with a sales team? What is your relationship like with them? A bit frustrating at times?

This month, Shane Goldberg, a former product manager who moved into sales support, will help us understand how to successfully work with Sales.

Shane has put together the top 7 things you need to know and has kindly offered to dig deep on specific ones. We’ll vote during the session to determine which items need more exploration.

He’ll cover topics including:

  • How to make it easy for sales people to sell
  • Involving sales in the development cycle & roadmap creation
  • Pricing & discounting

RSVP for Thursday July 16th

Our presenter for the evening is Shane Goldberg, who has strong customer experience, strategy and business improvement background from his 12+ years working with Telstra in a range of different areas.

Shane started as a product manager in the company, transitioned through business planning and program management roles and finished up running a team of 60 or so professionals in a sales support group accountable for NPS, process management and knowledge support across the sales areas of Telstra.

During his time at Telstra, Shane led both small and large teams, managed products with revenue of $100M+ and led projects delivering NPS improvements of 10+ points and greater than $10M cost savings per annum.

By utilising the knowledge gained in these many different roles along with Shane’s experience gained in undertaking his MBA, he has established CustCore Consulting, a boutique consultancy practice specialising in helping companies measure and improve customer experience, sales performance and go-to-market.

RSVP for Thursday the 16th of July and join us as Collective Campus are our wonderful sponsors and hosts for the evening.

Coll Campus

Collective Campus is an Enterprise Innovation School. Through high-impact workshops and classes, CC helps enterprise companies and their employees to remain competitive in an era of rapid disruption. Some of our initial streams include topics in Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Agile Methodologies, CX/UX, Organisational Capability, and Growth Strategies. For more information, please visit – www.collectivecamp.us

May Wrap: Startup Session: xLabs – What are your users actually paying attention to?

For our 2nd startup product management session, local Melbourne company, xLabs, shared their MVP story as two of the co-founders, Joe Hanna and Steve Roberts, took us from idea to paying customers.

What is xLabs?

With a unique technical ability, xLabs, provides valuable UX data via continuous real time tracking of eye & head movements using only a webcam instead of complex technical equipment.

The head tracking component does not require calibration so it’s easy for the end user involved in the testing and while the eye tracking does require calibration – having good lighting is the hardest part.

Getting to MVP

The technology behind xLabs was built by 2 additional co-founders – the scientists – Alan Zhang and David Rawlinson – who thought it would only take 3 months to build the algorithm. In reality, it was 18 months until they had a working prototype and were ready to launch an MVP.

Research & Choosing a Market

There are many applications for the technology including the ability for people without the use of their hands to control a computer using their eyes & head. Of course, Joe & Steve needed to choose which market to go after.

In conducting user research, they realised the technology could be really useful for UX research and began down the road of SaaS eye tracking heatmaps.

The research also held two important findings – privacy concerns & ease of use.

It was important that they were ‘privacy by design’ and the end user explicitly turning on the camera. They are very careful to store only the output of the analysis (not the camera data). Everything is either discarded or left on the local machine.

They also found users hated downloading the software to their desktop and so they very quickly switched to a Chrome extension with a much lower barrier to use.

How to go to market?

In a ‘build it & they will come’ moment, they thought users would flock to them once they launched the SDK – but nothing happened.

It turned out they needed to be able to show people how the software worked instead of just describe it. This is when they began working with a proof of concept model.

They built enough tools to show the features & functionality & then partnered with organisations like Loop11 who could benefit from the technology learnings.

It was during this time they found out that their key persona – the UX person – was not an adopter because external UX studies were seen as a more ‘formal research event’ conducted post ideation by which time ownership had passed to the business. There was also resistance to change based on a perception of, ‘what can I learn here that I don’t get from mouse/click tracking’ that Joe & Steve need to explain.

This is when Joe and Steve got more heavily involved in the next evolution of the product and the design to pivot on this first approach.

In tackling these two aspects Joe and Steve used some early adopters to reveal both the advantages of eye-tracking over click-tracking and remove the biases of previous design methods.

Eye-tracking technology reveals there is much to learn about how users engage with their computer screen without relying on their mouse any more. Changes to our behaviour driven both by touch technology and the increased density of information applied to websites has moved us away from pairing our hands/mouse with our consumption of the page.

We finished up the evening with questions & a chance for everyone to try the software themselves. For those of you who couln’t make it please check out what xLabs are all about via their Chrome extension or Developer SDK.

Thanks so much to Xero who hosted this month!

This month - hosted by Xero

And a copy of the slides and videos can be found here:

April wrap: How do *you* manage products?

How we manage products can differ from company to company & we always like to hear how other firms do things. With that in mind, Product Anonymous last week got together to talk about how things are the same but different for product managers – even at the same company- as well as different workplaces.

Our panelists from Redbubble, Envato & Zendesk shared their backgrounds, personal experiences and how each of their companies are figuring out the best product management approach for them.

How do you manage products?


Nick Cust, Product Director and Vicki Stirling, Physical Product Director from Redbubble shared their areas of contention that arise working on product types that have a different life cycle.

Vicki and Nick have alot of overlapping similarities in their approaches – the customer always comes first, need to fit with business strategy & build their product strategy from there, metrics to target & to build a financial plan, product launch and learning from each delivery. All sounding good so far!

Some of the differences that stand out between the two are:

  1. Speed to market
    • Physical – must put more time into planning, development, sampling, because the product must work for 13M artworks
    • Digital – Instant feedback is a key difference and advantage here. To be able to use AB tests, or quick and dirty versions.
  2. Validation of opportunity
    • Physical – Based heavily on external market, trends and insights (Macro)
    • Digital – Analytics, effect on user behaviours (Micro)
  3. Data/Measurements
    • Physical – Sales & Profit
    • Digital – Numerous KPIs, different ways to cut data can be paralyzing


Aaron Cottrell, Product Manager (Customer Engagement) talked us through the spaghetti problem at Zendesk :-).

At Zendesk, product development occurs in 5 different countries across 4 continents with 17 product managers & 22 scrum teams. Some of the areas that make it difficult to keep product humming is how quickly the engineering teams are growing, getting the right priority alignment across teams and getting access to limited resources like infrastructure.

Collaboration can be tough considering the team’s geographical challenges & sometimes in-person sessions are the easier way to find synergy. Aaron shared with us some of the ways the company helps to overcome that including using Yammer as a tool for sharing and collaborating.

Sometimes it’s not just the differences in work practice that make it challenging to get product management done effectively. Zendesk has a wide range of customer needs – from SMBs to large enterprise customers. The very different needs of these opposite ends of the spectrum challenge the PM teams all the time – and even more so when the customer who was previously SMB gets to enterprise scale (i.e. Uber) as they experience growth. Adjusting the product approach as the customer market changes is an area Zendesk works on to continue to support all their customers yet stick to their beautifully simple philosophy.

A summary of some of challenges facing a PM at Zendesk:

  • Communicating internally – educate/excite (globally – sales and support as well as product and engineering), building key relationships, staying in touch
  • Maintaining ‘beautifully simple’ product philosophy – growing product footprint, need to carefully consider feature additions and lifecycle (from birth to end of life)
  • Serving SMB & Enterprise – Zendesk grew from SMB’s and now also has to meet the needs of Enterprise customers
  • Passionate, vocal customers – Understand their needs, engage with the community and take them on the produce development journey with you


Luke Meehan, Product Manager and Stewart Boon, Product Director talked us through the experience at Envato.

At Envato (as was true for all the PM’s talking tonight) product managers speak directly with the community. The advantages of this approach were clear, but Luke did share with us some of the difficulties with such an engaged community. If changes to the product are not shared early and with detail this can make it a lot harder to deliver updates as the community does not feel engaged. While this might seem obvious, it certainly keeps the team on their toes to remember that everything they are working on is of interest to their customers, not just the big ticket items.

Stewart explained that the company had gone through really rapid growth and thus had gone from not having or really needing governance and process. Areas of responsibility were unclear and they were lacking analytics functions to make good sense of their data. A good organisational understanding of “Product function” was distinctly missing and there was not an agreed way in which to interact and engage with community.

So how have they fixed it? Having all the necessary functions embedded in the same stream (i.e. Prod Mgr and UX), clarity about the role and value of product, and improved engagement and relationships within the Community through research, testing and the use of the forums. Luke believes the Envato values helped here. Any decision or call is linked back to community success which will lead to Envato success. This company value keeps the debate neutral not personal. Another Envato value is to tell it like it is – or as Luke put it – to be clear and honest about what is needed which helps get the work done.


Great sketchnote from Lisa!

Some of the similarities we heard from each of the teams:

  • ood communication is required! Your colleagues or customers or both could be global – this emphasises the need for good communication
  • High engagement with your customers/communities helps build beautiful products for them, increases the importance of keeping the community informed vs. taking on every request as a new item on the backlog
  • Growth was a key theme for everyone and certainly forces the conversation about how to do product management (and dev, agile, marketing etc,). Everyone was obviously still on a journey of improvement, but it was great to get some insight into the things that were working well so far
  • Lastly, all three companies still have their founders very much involved in the day to day but all talked very positively about the position the product team has in the company to drive direction but ensure they are matched to the leaders’s vision.

Thanks once again to Redbubble for being such fabulous hosts – and to providing a great little door prize which was well received by Gemma Sherwood on the night.



Startup Session: xLabs – What are your users actually paying attention to?

Product Management at a Startup – Startup Sessions

This month we invite local startup xLabs to share their MVP story.

After considerable time in the R&D stage & working with 1st adopter customers – the co-founders Joe Hanna and Steve Roberts – are looking to get their product into the market & continue working with an MVP mindset. xLabs are keen to share their experience, curious about how to keep focused on the launch & interested in hearing feedback from the product management & UX community.

With a unique technical ability, xLabs, provides valuable UX data via continuous real time tracking of eye & head movements using only a webcam instead of complex technical equipment. You can check out what xLabs are all about before the event via their Chrome extension or Developer SDK

The is the 2nd in a series of sharing stories across the start-up space and the seasoned product manager perspective. Startups usually don’t have a product manager as the founders take on that responsibility – although eventually they’ll need a product manager.

Join us for this session, and if you’re a start-up & interested in having your company featured, please get in touch with Liz & Jen. We plan to get a 3rd product management at startups session in this year.

Xero will be our fabulous hosts for the evening so RSVP now!

March wrap: Enhance your communication skills with sketching

This month, Rebecca Jackson, sketchnoter extraordinaire helped us communicate more visually and Brainmates very kindly sponsored the evening!

Our brains are wired to understand and remember images more than words, so how can we put forward our ideas visually to take advantage of the way our brains work? The premise was that if we learn to draw what we are hearing rather than writing a long diatribe of words, not only will we remember better what we heard, we will have an easier reference tool to explain and share what we have learnt with others.

Rebecca focused on the sketchnote approach as a discipline one can practise to get better at forming ideas into visual memes and thus expanding our skills to prepare us to use this in any forum. What often limits people is their notion of “I cannot draw” and thus revert back to words and traditional formats. What sketchnoting showed us, first of all, you can use alot of words and still be sketching! This example has NO drawings at all 🙂

Then Rebecca showed us how we can practice (without too much social ridicule) to allow us to build confidence to use drawing and sketching publicly.

The second thing to consider with sketchnoting, although we didn’t get to talk about this as much due to time, was what it offered as a presentation tool itself. Instead of preparing a powerpoint with lots of bullet points and words, a sketchnote could be used to be the communication tool. The power of the sketchnote for this purpose is you are still needed to provide a verbal presentation – which is often forgotten in presentations these days – but you have a much better cue card for yourself to do the talking!

The structure of the session did give us a bit of an overview of why it can be valuable to use visual tools to remember things, and once upon time was a fundamental approach to memory retention before we could quickly look it up on the internet or rely on presentation notes. Rebecca had us try using two Ted talks – this allowed us to give it a go and appreciate how “hard” it is and then have another go and notice it already gets a bit easier the second time around.

A couple of comments from the group after their first effort – was it seemed hard and “the speaker was talking too fast” – which might be easy to interpret as bad choice of video. However, in having to draw to take notes, the brain was definitely being challenged to do something new while listening at the same time. It is important to remember that riding a bike the first time isn’t easy, and practice really is important to build a habit.

My personal observation was that even by the second attempt, it was easier to listen and sketch. And I certainly observed that I retained more information from the two talks than I would have if I had just sat there and listened or wrote my usual scrappy style. Lastly, I have an immediate visual tool to share what I learnt from those sessions than I would if I had just taken notes. The memory jogger style of the sketchnote is something I had not appreciated until I had tried it

Try it yourself with Rebecca’s presentation below and the links to the TED talks we used then take a pix & tweet it out to us!