Continuous Discovery IRL – June Wrap

More companies are realising that the path to success includes knowing their customers better. As they commence their journeys towards continuous discovery to deeply understand their customer and their problems, there can be some lofty expectations. However, the reality is often very different, and can be fragmented, chaotic and full of barriers. 

In June, we caught up with Ben Ryan who shared 3 lessons from his experiences at FatSecret.

Lesson 1: Challenging the Status Quo

How well do we really know our customers? Just a little, ie. at a surface level? Perhaps it’s as little as reading the feedback or complaints that actually make their way to us. Or possibly even less than that. 

Recognising this as a problem and the need for change is only the first step. However, making the case can be another story. 

Resistance can coming in various forms:

  • Sacred cows – firmly held beliefs that are rarely questioned and/or exempt from criticism or opposition, even in the face of contradictory evidence;
  • Brittle foundations – legacy systems which are too hard to change;
  • Sunk cost fallacy – ‘we’ve already invested so much in this direction/system/platform, so it’s too late to change now’;
  • Or just being comfortable – changes require effort and moving towards the unknown.

Teresa Torres talks about having weekly conversations with your customers.

However, FatSecret was far from that. They had convoluted pathways for customers to make contact, and a small team (of 3 people) already inundated with 200-300 emails per week. This drove a fear of scaling, and not being able to handle additional volumes if the floodgates were opened. Furthermore, a dispersed customer base, with less than 1% within Australia, introduced additional geographical, cultural and linguistic challenges.

As an app, the other option for your customers is to leave public (1 star) reviews on the app store for others to read. Not a great alternative.

Even though there was no clear line to customers, they got scrappy and improvised. They also kicked off a longer process of a qualitative and quantitative research project with an external agency. Its brief was to gather insights, and begin co-designing the future vision. Once they started to build things that customers were vocalising as their pain points, retention started to improve, and there was an increase in active usage and engagement.

Lesson 2: Revisit old ideas with fresh eyes

There will always be some ideas that don’t work out. But it is also good practice to revisit those ideas later. What was wrong with those ideas, and what were the conditions the first time around? Are those conditions still in play, or has the environment changed? Do you have new lessons or understand things differently now? With a different perspective, you may find elements worth pursuing or that can be repurposed. And other times, they may turn out to still be bad ideas.

To try and place customer experience at the forefront of decisions, FatSecret introduced a discovery phase at the start of projects. Surely doing discovery about a business objective would help them identify customer needs earlier, to ensure they were solving customer problems?

Unfortunately not. 

In reality, Project Discovery was unsuccessful as:

  • Discovery didn’t begin until the project had been incepted around a business goal;
  • Having a big deliverable at the start of the project, required time to do the customer discovery;
  • There was high overhead (and difficulty) finding target users with the problems that aligned with the business goal;
  • Discovery became a reflection of the customer experience, producing only a limited and blinkered view of the customer problems, and not going deep enough into the wider customer journey to understand the context of the problems.

Lesson 3: Continuous Improvement

Invest in the time for reflection.

Similar to re-evaluating past ideas, it can also be beneficial to circle back to past decisions and assumptions, and challenge your original thinking. Were the assumptions correct? Would the potential outcome be different from what you know now? Are you pursuing the best options, or are there better opportunities available?

Four years on, FatSecret has started moving towards Continuous Discovery to generate insights. Customers are interviewed on a regular basis, and then mapped to overarching archetypes, to understand their various drivers and how they will respond to different types of obstacles.

There’s still a long way to go, but FatSecret have progressively put distance between what used to be their status quo, and where they are now.

Resources and further reading

Some of the resources mentioned during this session (and a few bonus ones too):

Thank you

Thank you to Ben Ryan (Head of Product at FatSecret) for sharing, our volunteers Gwen and Nosh, and to our generous host and Zoom sponsor, A Cloud Guru – they’re on a mission to teach the world to cloud.

Slides and video

Being Objective is Hard: Product from the Agency Side – April Wrap

Between snap lockdowns and restrictions, we were lucky to be able to sneak in another face to face meetup to talk all things product. 

Even with all the various frameworks available, design thinking, lean methodologies and agile practices, product should be a piece of cake, right? Well, we all know that it rarely is. But what about when we add an agency lens on top as well? In April, Jim O’Malley and Su Lim from Isobar Australia shared some of their perspectives from the other side.

Some Common Challenges

  • Lack of customer focus: The product team may believe they own the product, but it is vital to remember our customers, because they’re the ones that will use our product. Often the product team may get it, however, sometimes the rest of the organisation may not.
  • Fixed solutions: where the team or organisation doesn’t apply an hypothesis-driven approach. Remember, ultimately, until it goes out in the market, we actually don’t know. We’re just guessing. 
  • Lack of autonomy: Teams are given a bunch of features to build, instead of problems to solve.
  • Hippos: Although often well meaning, having the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) driving the direction, rather than underlying data can be a recipe for disaster. This can also cause a lack of communication or alignment to vision, and tends to drive the wrong focus.
  • Data derailers: Whether it is too much, or too little, or even the wrong sort of data. These all have the risk of slowing things down and grinding progress to a halt.

What To Do – an Agency Approach

Although working with an agency comes with a price tag, there are plenty of benefits too. From access to senior leadership, being impartial and baggage free, and disconnected from internal politics. 

To help pull this all together, the team at Isobar utilises their Diagnostic session framework, bringing key people (including senior stakeholders) together and co-designing an approach forward through a guided conversation. 

01. The Intro

Setting up the context and creating an environment with psychological safety, so that red flags can be raised early. This can be especially important in larger organisations. 

02. Past

Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of knowledge and experience already within the teams. But possibly also battle scars. Have an open conversation, and recognise how we got here, and what’s been tried before. Are there any prior learnings or research that can be leveraged? 

03. Present

Understand the current state. What are the hurdles and complexities that will need to be addressed? Are there any unknown or unexpected factors that need to be unpacked?

04. Future

Do we agree on the problem and proposition? Can we land on a product vision to guide future decisions? 

What is the desired future reality? What would need to change to enable this view? What are the barriers, enablers and quirks which may be unique to the business.

The group may have differing views, but find the common ground to start building a shared mental model and alignment.

05. Wrap

It is important to always end with clear next steps. What is required to move forward, by whom and by when. 

Final tips:

  • The setup: Be thoughtful of who should attend. Do your research and gather any pertinent information.
  • Be flexible: allow the conversation to flow, and don’t be too rigid with the structure of the workshop.
  • Collaborative wall-work (brick or digital) to help formulate shared understanding.
  • Leverage momentum.

Further reading available at https://isobar.training/anonymous/

Thank you

Thank you again to Jim O’Malley (Head of Strategic Design) and Su Lim (Associate Design Director) for generously sharing some of their experiences, and to our sponsor, the Products and Services team at Isobar Australia for hosting us.

And to our fearless organisers, Jen Leibhart and Liz Blink, and our dedicated volunteers, Gwen D’souzaNosh Darbari and Steve Bauer.

Become (more) brilliant with Impro! – March Wrap

Impro Melbourne session at Product Anonymous
Photo courtesy of Koen Alexander

After a long challenging year, it was great to get back together for our first face to face meetup for 2021. After multiple delays, we finally were able to be joined by Katherine Weaver and Caylie Panuccio from Impro Melbourne for a fun and interactive session and it certainly did not disappoint. 

During the session, we learnt a little about improv, and were guided through a series of activities, where we learnt about:

  • Supporting each other and helping your partner (colleague) look good;
  • Collaborating with others and building on ideas;
  • Empathy for our stakeholders, who will have a lot of other things on their plate at times; and
  • Our own self-consciousness, and the artificial rules we create for ourselves.

Not only was the session extremely fun, we also saw how the exercises could be applied in work settings, to make us better product people. 

About Impro Melbourne

Impro Melbourne is Victoria’s premier improvisation company and the home of spontaneous theatre since 1996, and celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.  

Between performing shows and running a full schedule of workshops at their training facilities, they also take workshops and shows to schools and community venues, and lead corporate training sessions at home and overseas. 

If you’re interested in learning more or developing soft skills, beginner workshops are available: 

Check their website for more dates and details. Or for corporate events, public events, or workshops, contact Impro Melbourne at publicworkshops@impromelbourne.com.au

Thank you

Thank you again to our fantastic facilitators: Katherine Weaver, improviser, actor, teacher and Artistic Director of Impro Melbourne and Caylie Panuccio, Senior UX Researcher at SEEK, who has been practicing improvised theatre with Impro Melbourne on and off for the past couple of years and has found it a huge help as a designer / researcher / product person working in corporate environments

And also to our volunteers, Gwen D’souza, Nosh Darbari, Steve Bauer and our trusty organisers, Jen Leibhart and Liz Blink.

Katherine and Caylie doing their thing.
Photo courtesy of Koen Alexander

Birthday Talks – November Wrap

For our last event for 2020, Product Anonymous celebrated our 9th birthday. Again. We’ve actually lost track of how old we are. And this may or may not be the third time that we’ve celebrated our 9th birthday. But I digress.

We’ve had another action packed year, with so many great talks from sharing insights and becoming a super-team with marketing, to leading through influence and creating buy-in to help prioritisation with an ethical lens, getting out of product hell and transitioning to a product-led company, which can have different nuances in big corps and startups.

As well as organising all of these fantastic talks, Product Anonymous also helps nurture our own people to turn on their camera and microphones, and face the crowd. And for our final event, we had five of our community do just that, taking the virtual stage to give short 5mins talks. 

Talk to the Pencil – Marc Vandamme

As a product manager, you will need to work with a range of people, and bring them all into alignment. But how do you do that? With a comprehensive and detailed requirements document? Marc Vandamme says no! Pick up your pencil, and sketch it out. Whether it’s the interface, wireframes or flow charts, drawings will help to align the thinking faster.

I <3 Amplitude – Fernando Parra

Much of product management involves product discovery: understanding our customers’ problems with qualitative research. However, on the other side of the equation is all the data, and the world of quantitative product intelligence.

Self-confessed data geek, Fernando Parra, gave us a crash course for one such product intelligence tool – Amplitude. 

After registering, you can explore the different aspects of this analytics SaaS product,  with full access to their sandbox, which comes pre-configured with two sample projects (an eCommerce and B2B examples). From there, you can build your own charts and experiment with different data visualisations from the sample data.

Diversity – Aseel Hamarneh

Why should you (or your company) take diversity seriously? To not discriminate, or for ethical reasons? Or to avoid penalties and lawsuits? Maybe the most compelling reason is that diversity actually makes good business sense too.

Companies with ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

McKinsey 2015

The more diverse your team is, the more perspectives that are brought in when you are designing and building solutions. But where do you start?

  • Start with yourself: recognise your own biases, we all have them.
  • Then your team: focus on diversity in your hiring. From your job ads to selection, there are plenty of tools to use.
  • Then your product: Think about your end users. Accessible solutions usually work better for all users.

Thanksgiving – Erica Wass

So much of what a Product Manager does is around influencing without authority, and giving thanks is one of the many tools to utilise, whether that be for bringing the team together, motivating, celebrating or influencing the culture and driving behaviour changes. 

Different people prefer to be recognised in different ways. So talk to your team members, and see what they prefer, and act accordingly.

Regardless if in big, public ways, or more subtle gestures, remember, it’s about the recipient, not about you.

5 Tips for More Impactful Presentations – Pratishtha Nahata

  1. Minimise Decision Fatigue: Plan your talk. Give yourself the space to think, and focus on the content and structure. Once you know what you want to say, then you can start to colour in the details, and  apply some design.
  1. Plan how info will be distributed across slides: Order and sequence the info for your, because order matters:
  • For results, outcomes or recommendations, start with the ending. 
  • For training, process or to build anticipation, start at the beginning.
  • If your audience is not familiar with the topic, you might want to start with an example before jumping into concepts. 
  1. Make it visual: Group or show the relationships between different information, to help reduce the cognitive load for your audience, so they’ll be more likely to understand and retain the information. 
  1. Only keep what’s absolutely necessary: Don’t overcrowd your slides. What does your audience already know, and is info being repeated? What can be verbal? Use visual cues, to help focus attention. Remember, you’re the star of the presentation, not your slides. 
  1. Practice. At least 2-8 times, with and without slide.
  1. Bonus tip – watch stand-up: watch and learn how comics keep their audience engaged. 

Thank you

It’s been such a busy year, with so many people to thank, starting with our speakers, Marc Vandamme, Fernando Parra, Aseel Hamarneh, Erica Wass and Pratishtha Nahata, and everybody else who has shared with us this year.

Our generous host, A Cloud Guru, who have hosted so many of our events this year – they’re on a mission to teach the world to cloud.

Our volunteers, Gwen D’souzaNosh Darbari, Steve Bauer and the rest of the crew, who help behind the scenes, and ensure our events run smoothly.

And last but not least, our trusty organiser, Jen Leibhart and Liz Blink, who bring our whole community together. Have a safe festive season, and see you in the new year.

Creating Buy-In with Simon Dowling – October Wrap

Blending his experience as a corporate lawyer and a seasoned improv performer, Simon Dowling has become a leading collaboration trainer, helping teams to become inspired and highly-engaged. For our October session, Simon took us through an interactive discussion on creating buy-in.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CGf9sdMnVwT/

Willing and Enthusiastic

Can you imagine getting the people in your organisation to align and commit to initiatives, not because they’re told to or have to. But because they choose to, and want to, with willing and enthusiastic energy. Moving from a place of authority to autonomy. 

It’s no surprise what can happen in this type of environment:

  • People feel valued and happier;
  • Increased trust, creating buy-in and a willingness to be helpful and co-operate;
  • Collective positive energy leading to productivity and motivation;
  • Unlocked creativity, with better ideas and better solutions;
  • A team culture of “us” not “I”, so many hands make light work;
  • Momentum to move forward with passion;
  • Ownership;

In short, magic happens!

"The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of his r her organisation is going to blow the competition away." Walter Wriston - CEO Citigroup 1967-1984

But so what?

In the world of corporate, we often find ourselves pushed towards finding the pragmatic solution. Where is the information and data driving us? We spend our time building a case. Looking through data. Preparing decks. While that is also important, there is a more crucial question we need to answer.

So what? Why should I even care?

Emotion and mood are generally under-indexed in the workplace. We need to be able to put down the spreadsheet, and articulate why we need to pursue an idea. Why does it matter to our organisation? Why should this be important to us on a personal level? 

Whether we use a model, an analogy or a physical representation, painting a vivid picture to capture our hearts can be a powerful tool to rally support.

Tram full of disposable coffee cups - War on Waste.

Bring on the No

Once our team understands why our idea is important, another thing to tackle is the WIIFM – What’s in it for me? There’s a trap in pitching too much of the upside, without addressing the underlying concerns. 

We need to create space, let go and let others in. 

Stop pitching, and start co-creating.

Nobody knows all the answers. Here is where we can really harness the power of the wider group.

Take Action

The last key step is putting things into motion. 

  • Make it easy to start: What is the one thing we need to do within the first 48 hrs. 
  • Build a habit: Make it easy to remember. Add it to our diary. Do we need to create a warning system to make sure we are still on track? Get others to come up with them.
  • Sustain: How do we avoid shiny object syndrome? Perhaps it’s to reassess if we should continue every 90 days? 

Resources and Further Reading

You can find Simon on LinkedIn, or information and resources from Simon’s website.

Some books mentioned were:

Thank you

Thank you so much to Simon for sharing, our great volunteers Gwen and Nosh, and to our generous host, A Cloud Guru. They’re on a mission to teach the world to cloud.

Prioritisation: The Ultimate Hamster Wheel – September Wrap

Prioritisation. The Product Managers’ pain. 

From RICE to MoScoW to WSJF, there are no shortages of methods. If you google prioritisation, you’ll probably find around 30 different frameworks. But how useful are they? Are they too theoretical? How readily can they be applied?

Sometimes, it can feel like we are on a hamster wheel, constantly running in circles. 

According to Phoebe Peck (Redcat), prioritisation is like running or a sport – it takes constant practice. Phoebe shared some of her real world experiences, with a few useful tips thrown in to boot.

Preparation and Training

Why do we need to prioritise? No matter how large our teams, or how infinite our resources may be, we cannot work on everything all the time. Therefore prioritisation is a critical part of the job.

What do we need to make the best decisions? Facts and information. But no matter how much time we spend prioritising, as soon as we finish, it’s outdated. So it’s important we check our compass regularly. Keep in touch with our stakeholders, high and low. To continually collect information, to understand what is important.

Truly listen, and keep our ego in check. Somebody else might have new information, or a better context.

The Event – Putting It Into Action

With all the different information we’re taking in, how do we work out what is important? Or more important? And what about the inherent biases we all have? How do we remove subjectiveness or neutralise strong opinions? 

One way that Phoebe shared, was the following matrix.

Whether we use this matrix, or another tool, it can be beneficial to have some structure around the process, to create a common set of rules. Something so people can understand the method. But keep it simple. Avoid making things too complicated. We want it easy enough for anybody to understand and do. The goal is transparency.

If things are equally important, then add some heart, and humanise the decision for sequencing. Understand the business well enough, so that we can justify the decision of why something should come first.

Post Event Review

There is no perfect model. No one size fits all method. We need to understand our environment, our company, our customers and users. What’s right for one company may not be for another. 

A continual balancing act between short term tactics and long term strategy. Launching new features and addressing technical debt from the past. Between what customers want and business objectives. 

The decisions are not binary. They are not one or the other. But a balance between all these different aspects. 

Give yourself some slack – prioritisation is hard and can be relentless. It takes a lot of practice and discipline. Keep training, it does get easier.

Thanks

Thank you to Phoebe for sharing, and to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud, and they’re hiring!

Slides & Video

Marketing does USPs and Product does not – August Wrap

Are Product people all that different from their Marketing colleagues? Other than Sales, Advertising, and Brand Messaging, what do Marketers actually do? For August, we delved into the world of marketing with Ellias Appel and Carleen Harawira.

What is Marketing?

Elias started with a quote:

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well, that the product or service fits them, and sells itself – Peter Drucker

In other words, Marketing is the art and science of understanding customers, and then trying to get them to buy your stuff.

Carleen agreed — Marketing is the art and science of getting and keeping customers. Make sure you leave some room for magic (or the art).

What is the Marketing approach?

Both Elias and Carleen started with marketing first principles — the Marketing Mix, or the 4 Ps of Marketing (Place, Price, Product and Promotion).

By interrogating the 4Ps, Marketers try to understand their customers, so that they can create a Unique Sales Proposition (USP) as the answer to their problems — getting your product in front of the right customers at the right price.

Carleen took us through a methodical Marketing process.

Market orientation:

Ultimately, as soon as you become an employee, you lose some customer perspective. That price is justified, right? That ad is cool. Biases have already started to creep in. Marketing orientation is about getting the customer perspective back. 

Segmentation:

Get to down specific segments. Who are your perfect customers? Who are your bad customers? You want to avoid averages.

The “Average” Australian has one testicle and one breast!

Targeting:

How do you want to approach your targeting? Micro targeting, such as Facebook or other social platforms, or mass marketing, such as television. There’s no right or wrong, but you need to work out what is best for you.

Positioning:

How should we position our products? There are a couple of trains of thought here, from Purpose, or what we stand for (the Simon Sinek school of thought) to Distinction, or when you think about us (from How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp).

(Brand) Codes:

The more you repeat elements of your branding, the more memory structures are built, which lead to associations, and then eventually will lead to sales and growth (eg, McDonalds).

Touch Points:

Where do you want to interact with your potential customers, and how? Through Third Parties? Social only? eCommerce via a website? A more traditional retail model?

Communications:

The actual execution of messages through your chosen mediums.

That’s the process… and then there’s a bit of luck.

How can Product and Marketing work together better?

Marketing and product should be tied at the hip. Create a common goal. Share your research, results and insights with each other. Create an infinity loop, and feed each other to become stronger and more effective.

Build cross-functional micro teams. Include an analyst in the mix.

Marketing is more than just Sales. Sales is like a toddler, and is immediate. Sales cannot do the slow burn or long term vision. But together, Product and Marketing can!

Thank you

Thanks again to Ellias and Carleen for sharing, and to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud, and they’re hiring!

Slides

Find your ‘Get out of Hell’ cards here – July Wrap

With everything becoming remote and distributed, businesses are forced to adapt. Explore new opportunities, or find a silver lining. The alternative to wither and become a mere memory. And we’re no different.

Taking advantage of lockdown, we had Jock Busuttil make his long awaited return to Product Anonymous in July, all the way from London, to share some of his experiences of an all too familiar place – product management hell.

The Symptoms – What does Product Hell look like?

There are many common indicators that you may not be in the healthiest product environment, such as:

  • Not allowed to talk to customers. The complete opposite of continuous discovery, and not validating your ideas with customers. From concept, to build, to launch – talking to customers is always important. 
  • Unable to plan, because you’re too busy dealing with emergencies. Although it is important to put out fires, it can also wear you down. It’s equally important, if not more, to know which direction you’re heading. Having enough foresight to know which areas you need to invest your time and resources in, and which areas or features should be retired. 
  • Screw research, let’s build. The build trap. Do we really need to say anything else on this one?
  • But we have OKRs – hundreds of them! If you have too many Objectives and Key Results, which ones actually matter? And if different business units have different objectives, and lack of transparency across the rest of the organisation, how do you actually align with each other? 
  • Flip-Flopping between Very Important Goals. Do the goal posts keep moving back and forth from quarter to quarter? Oh no, that’s not important anymore, let’s move on to something else instead. Maybe keep your research handy for the next time it becomes a priority again. Probably next quarter.
  • No buy-in for my product strategy. If you’ve done all the adequate research, and validated those assumptions, and know the balance points – who better to drive the strategy? Or should we go by the opinions of everybody else instead?
  • Each board member has their own interpretation of the strategy. Whether this is to minimise the effort for their teams or maximise the benefit for their team, neither is healthy, nor going to help to align everybody’s efforts.

The Causes – Why are you in Product Hell?

So you’ve discovered you’re in Product Hell. Population: one. But how did you get here? Here are some possible and likely causes:

  • No clear corporate strategy or goals. Is your company vision to be the market leader in something generic? A good corporate strategy should be rooted in customer outcome. A true north star to align all your efforts. But what does a clear corporate strategy even look like? Here’s a fantastic example from Tesla.
The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan – 2006
  • Lack of alignment. To ensure alignment, you may need to prioritise the things to focus on. But prioritising is also about calling out the things that you won’t be spending energy on, right now. 
  • Wrong strategy (for now). You may have a strategy that has worked for you in the past. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still the right strategy now. Have the market conditions shifted? Has the competitor landscaped changed? Nobody, including Zoom, were planning for Covid to happen.
  • Wrong measures of success. NPS, Revenue and Market share are not tied to human outcomes. These metrics could change due to external factors, without you doing anything. 
  • Scared of user research. Too many companies are scared to approach their customers to see how they are doing. How do you uncover unmet and underlying needs if you never talk to your customers?

Getting out – How to escape Product Hell?

Now that you’ve identified the problem, what can you do about it?

  • Start with real user research. Deepen your customer insights. Understand their needs. The problems they need solved And what they would be willing to pay for. Like all things product, it starts with the customer. 
  • Make your product strategy before somebody does it for you. Gather the research. What does the data suggest, and what needs further validation? Ensure you use the right research for the right situation – different techniques will have different biases built in. Be aware of the biases, so that you can balance your view with other research techniques. Use the insights to form a compelling product vision and strategy. 
UX Research Methods – Nielsen Norman Group
  • Influence the corporate strategy with your product strategy. Talk to your leaders to understand each of their concerns and motivations. Create a shared and aligned vision, and get them to agree with your product strategy. It might be a long path, however, it can be done. 
  • Call out your Board’s lack of alignment… tactfully. This could also apply to your executive leadership team, or any other management layer or structure in your organisation. Warning: Proceed with caution!

Jock Busuttil, Founding Director at Product People

Jock is a freelance head of product, author and conference speaker, having spent nearly two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices. From startups to multinationals, his clients include the BBC, Brainmates, and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). In 2012, Jock founded Product People Limited – a product management services and training company. And his book, The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management was published in 2015. You can find more of Jock on LinkedIn and Twitter, or on his blog – I Manage Products.

Watch for Jock’s upcoming Product Management masterclasses in October. Keep an eye here for details: https://productpeo.pl/linktree/

Thank you to our sponsor: A Cloud Guru

We’re on a mission to teach the WORLD to cloud. A Cloud Guru is the largest online cloud school on the planet. Our training feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. The people are the #1 reason employees say they stay at ACG. We’re a quirky, tight-knit crew that cares about our customers and each other. No egos here. Our leaders encourage thoughtfulness, compassion, being humble, and we have a bit of fun along the way.

Slides & Video

Unlocking your next Startup Product Job – June Wrap – Part 2

After holding a variety of Senior Product roles across many different companies, building product teams from the ground up, rising to Chief Product Officer at the startup accelerator and incubator, BlueChilli, and even founding 2 startups herself – Claire Sawyers knows a thing or two about working in startups. 

Why work in a Startup?

Are you sick of the daily corporate grind? There are plenty of up-sides to working in a startup. 

  • Autonomy: the empowerment to go get stuff done.
  • Career progression: moving between roles can be easier in a smaller pool.
  • Mission driven: more than just a pay cheque, and working on something that really matters to you.
  • Less of a cog in the machine: in a smaller environment, it can be easier to see how your efforts directly contribute to the outcomes.
  • Learn and try new things: with a smaller team, and less formal structures, there’s the need to be more T-shaped, and getting in there yourself – a great way to experiment and learn.

The Challenges

But it’s not all roses.

Corporate life has its benefits too. From stability, (sometimes) better budgets, to be able to freely hire specialists, access to mentors and supporting functions. If you’re leaving these behind, be wary of the potential:

  • Stress;
  • Workloads; and 
  • Job security.

If you’re not deterred by the above, and working in a startup sounds like something for you, then the next hurdle is what you’re up against:

  • Intense competition: Claire once received 250 candidates for just one role. Applicants from across the globe, including Silicon Valley.
  • Startups not knowing what they want: Sometimes, product roles can come about in strange ways in a startup. From the board telling the founder they need to step back and focus on investments, to copying and pasting product descriptions from LinkedIn. 
  • How does your experience read: Don’t assume your experience is perceived the same way in the startup world compared to the corporate. What does 10 years experience at the same company say? Comfortable and unable to handle challenges? Or lots of internal opportunities to try new things?

Applying

What are startups looking for in candidates? Take the time to understand your customer (the hirer), so that you can position yourself effectively.

  • Curiosity / Lateral thinker
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Autonomous / Self Starter

So with this in mind, how do you go about applying?

Highlight your experience – breadth and diversity. Use your initiative. Show your desire. Reach out to the company directly. Or find a referral. 

Make sure your CV is a good user experience. Get your CV reviewed by someone in a similar seniority and/or style of company.

Interviewing

Like any interview, make sure you are prepared. 

  • Do your research. 
  • Use the product.
  • What are the market conditions.
  • Have a point of view.
  • What relevant experience do you have that will make you a star?
  • Have some questions prepared.

Final checklist

Before you accept any role, a few things to consider:

  • Do you believe in the mission? Through the ups and downs that are inevitable with any role, belief in the mission is what will get you through the tough times.
  • Are you aligned to the founder? The founder is likely to be heavily invested in the mission, and may have strong opinions of what should be done. And how. They may be your toughest stakeholder.
  • Is there enough support? As mentioned above, with limited budgets, workload and stress can also be part of startup life. Do you have the right support to be able to succeed?
  • Are there enough challenges? Nobody wants to be in auto-pilot. Are there enough challenges to keep you engaged?

Thanks again to Claire for all the startup advice, much of which can also be applied to larger companies, and best of luck with your next job search.

Resources

For a different perspective on startups, read about product leadership in corporates and startups.

See the slides from the session.

Thank you to our host: A Cloud Guru

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Thank you to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online again this month. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud. The largest online cloud school on the planet, with training that feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. 

Scaling Product Leadership – June Wrap – Part 1

Steven Bladeni moved from strategy to product leadership within a large corporate, to leading internal incubators, before transitioning into Head of Product and Chief Operating Officer roles in the startup world. Steven chatted with us, and shared some thoughts on product leadership in corporate and startup environments.

Building the Team

Regardless of the size of your organisation, as you move into product leadership, there are some universal truths – your success now depends on your team. More about team achievements and performance. Less about your personal accolades. 

Your first step is to build your team.

Unless you are starting your team from scratch, in both startups and corporates, you will inherit team members. So you will need to get to know them, and assess their fit. 

Then the differences between corporate and startups start to become more apparent.

Corporates

  • Larger budgets, and ability to hire specialists.
  • More mentoring.
  • Access to support functions, like HR, Legal, etc. 

Startups

  • Limited budgets, and more T-shaped generalists that can span across functions.
  • More hands on training.
  • A lot more do-it-yourself – want to hire? Go write that job ad.

Advice

Get to know your team, their strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. Where are the gaps? Will you fill them with another hire, training or mentoring? If you can, get a specialist for the things that really matter to you.

Create the Right Culture

Now that you’ve put your team together, how will they operate? It’s time to set the culture. Collaboration is almost a given. But how do you create a healthy tension, and ensure it is effective? And does that look different in different organisations?

Collaboration is encouraged, but sometimes too much. Seeking consensus will get you there, but sometimes it will just take a lot longer to get there. 

Corporates

  • Leaders prefer to control, rather than empower. Whether due to governance or legacy, the control and accountability can be hard shackles to break.
  • Challenging the status quo is accepted, within limits. You can design a safe place within your team, but as you move wider, more politics come into play.

Startups

  • The founder cannot do it all themselves, so it is essential to empower staff. Set the team in the right direction, and let them go. 
  • Amongst a small team, people are less likely to question the authority of the founder.

Advice

Trust the person with the most domain knowledge.

Manage your Stakeholders

No matter where you work, there will always be stakeholders to work with. And there will always be some decisions that are made, that you don’t agree with. Whether that be from an executive leadership team, or a founder. Either way, you need to know when to suck it up, and move on. But also get your team to move on.

Corporates

  • There will usually be more stakeholders in corporate. From brand, legal, support, sales, and maybe even the cleaner. 
  • With all these additional stakeholders, there is much more rigor to the decisions. 
  • Slower decisions

Startups

  • Although there may be fewer stakeholders in a startup, it could be just one key stakeholder – the CEO or Founder, who is passionate about the product, and with strong opinions of what and how things should be done.
  • Less process and rigour, which can make for faster decisions.

Which path is better?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Both corporate and startups have their benefits and drawbacks. 

Corporate environments can give you the opportunity to learn from more experienced leaders, expand your toolkit and build good habits. Startups allow you to utilise your toolkit, and embed product thinking at an early stage of a company, and take it to the next level. 

It’s more a question of which is a better fit for you, the stage in your career and what you are looking for to be fulfilled.

Thanks again to Steven for sharing the insights!

Resources

You can see the slides from the session and below is the video. Plus find our summary of our other speaker, Claire Sawyers, on how to land a product job in a startup.

Our Sponsor:

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We’re on a mission to teach the WORLD to cloud. A Cloud Guru is the largest online cloud school on the planet. Our training feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. The people are the #1 reason employees say they stay at ACG. We’re a quirky, tight-knit crew that cares about our customers and each other. No egos here. Our leaders encourage thoughtfulness, compassion, being humble, and we have a bit of fun along the way.

Up Next:

Our next session is this Thursday June 25th when we team up with Leading the Product for their lightning talk pitch fest! It’s too late to put your hand up to pitch your idea though it’s a great evening to support your fellow product people and get an idea about what it’s like to speak at LTP. RSVP now!