Sharing your (startup) baby with the 1st Product Manager – November wrap-up

What’s it like to start a company & then bring in a product manager? How do you know when the time is right?

We gathered 3 founders to talk about sharing their baby along with 1 product manager who’s the 1st PM at a startup to facilitate!

Our panel was Danielle Bodinnar, CEO of Karista, Rod Hamilton, founder & VP of Product at Culture Amp, Linus Chang, founder of 2 software companies (Backup Assist & Scram Software) and our facilitator,George Tsigounis, from A Cloud Guru.

Trust came up very early in our discussion. For CultureAmp, trust is part of their company values and differences of opinion is a good thing. When you challenge things, it’s from a good place. Karista has 1 product person & Danielle was super impressed by the research and prep the PM did before their 1st meeting – which quickly earned her trust. Linus talked about the differences people have in the way they think of earning trust. Some people start from a place of trust while others need to build it up.

When did they realise they needed a product manager?

Rod went to the rest of the founders & said he needed to start hiring because he was getting slammed. Some of the other teams at Culture Amp, including technology, had scaled up previously so it wasn’t a surprise when he came to the realisation. Danielle brought on the 1st PM shortly after launch. As a solo founder, she needed someone she could hand stuff over to and know it will be done.

Why are product managers needed?

Danielle laughingly said she doesn’t know what a product manager does (as in what the job description should include) but she knows the only product manager at Karista gets stuff done!

One of the reasons Linus realised they needed a product manager was no one was paying attention to trends of the market & what opportunities were out there. They had a product owner who was internally focused & worked closely with the dev team but only he & his business partner ever talked to customers. He sees the product manager as being visionary as in really knowing customer needs, not just what the customer says they need.

The ‘special’ deals

Startups often have the ‘special’. That thing(or multiple things!) that was built for the 1 customer so the business can get the revenue or a specific client or (insert reason). It’s completely sales led, isn’t validated as a customer need and often ends up with code that says ‘if customer X, do this’. Saying yes to a special for 1 customer is saying no to all the others so if you’re going to do this, you need to put it in context – communicate clearly with the team why you’re doing this.

Later Rod reminded us that it’s the product manager role to ‘win the market not the client’ & quoted Gibson Biddle’s definition where our job is to delight customers, in margin-enhancing, hard-to-copy ways (from Gibson’s Leading the Product talk )

Scaling the product team

Beyond the 1st PM, you will need to scale your own team. Culture Amp now has ~ 9 product people and is continuing to grow. They are creating product rituals like a Monday catchup to review the week’s goals and one on Friday for the team to talk about what went well/not well during the week (a bit of a therapy session).

Now that there are several PMs & Rod isn’t involved at the same level as previously, he sometimes wonders why X was prioritised and knows he would have done X differently but has to let go of those decisions. The team has built trust amongst themselves so when Rod does challenge something – it’s a positive thing & discussion to follow.

Lastly, a few tips for startup product people from the founders: (which apply to all product, not just startup!)

  • Don’t just talk to existing clients, know the potentials too
  • You need to constantly be in touch with customers
  • Don’t assume growth is not your job
  • Be commercially minded

Thank you to Culture Amp for hosting!!!

Culture Amp logo

Bringing Human Experiences to work – September wrap-up

What does it mean when we say we’re ‘bringing human experiences’ to work? And why should we?

Gin Atkins, Head of Product at The Conversation kicked off the evening with:

We know people are at the core of what we do. Yet, our best developers, designers, and product managers are rarely able to talk about people with as much confidence and nuance as they talk about ruby, typefaces or commercial strategy.

Over the course of the evening, Gin introduced us to 3 ways to help draw out experiences & bring them into our work.

Energy Graph – a tool to help us think and talk about experiences.

The energy graph is a tool used in acting to show the spectrum of experience. Gin learned it from Paul Currie, the co-founder of The Reach Foundation and Lightstream Entertainment.

Using several clips of music, Gin had us mark how each music clip made us feel on the graph & compare with others sitting at our table. There was definitely differences in what made us happy or sad and how energised (or not) it made us feel. Though apparently I’m the only person who gets annoyed by the Lion King soundtrack! To contrast, one attendee recounted how the Lion King brings up memories & great feelings of her daughter based on past experiences and you could see how happy she was as she told us about this. Imagine the 2 of us in a workshop where the Lion King soundtrack was playing in the background… she’d be in a great frame of mind where I’d be feeling agitated. Could that affect the results of the workshop?

Think about how music affects you. Consider a song you hate vs one you love vs one that is unoffensive. To bring this back to the office, how do the meeting rooms make you feel? Does your research participant or client feel comfortable?

You can see the graph in the slides below.

Levels of Emotional Design – a framework

Next Gin talked about Don Norman’s 3 levels of (emotional) design which provides a framework to document experiences.

This combines how a product looks & makes us feel when we engage with it (initially & ongoing) with our conscious thought about the product (for example – does it represent what I want to project to the world?)

Gin likes to use Jobs to be Done instead of User Stories to capture these elements. She feels there’s too many assumptions in the ‘As a…’ and ‘I want to…’ of user stories. A JTBD statement focuses on the situation, motivation & expected outcome – ‘when (situation), i want to (motivation) so I can (expected outcome)’.

Using the classic MP3 player example, Gin showed how using emotional design changes what you build.

functional description – When I’m listening to music I want a device that holds all my music so I can listen to anything at any time.

emotional – When I’m listening to music I want a device that looks good so I feel as cool as the artists I’m listening to

Draw on your own experiences – a call to action to help us get better

Drawing on anthropology, there’s etic & emic research of groups.

An etic view of a culture is the perspective of an outsider looking in. This can be problematic as people act differently when they know people are observing them.

An emic view of culture is the insider’s view – when you are part of the group. This is where we are with our teams, in our work lives.

We can use our insider’s view to bring more human experiences into our work & our products.

Thank you to Gin and Carsales, our host for the evening!

FYI, with Leading the Product happening in October, the next Product Anonymous event is November 22nd. RSVP here.

Resources
Also mentioned during the evening – the Overton Window

Leading the Product Pitchfest – July wrap-up

We hope you’ve heard about Leading the Product – the fantastic product management conference Down Under.

We teamed up with the LTP folks to hold a pitchfest for lightning talk spots and we’re thrilled to announce Daniel Kinal & Shiyu Zhu will take the stage in October!!

Thanks to everyone for supporting the folks who pitched their talks, to Seek for hosting, for Leading the Product for the great idea and to our judging panel – Adrienne Tan of Brainmates/Leading the Product, Mark O’Shea of Seek and Dan Johnston of CultureAmp.

Before kicking off the pitches, we had a few of last year’s lightning talk folks – Liz Blink, Katherine Barrett & Zac Andrew – to tell us what it was like and give us a few tips!

  • Know your beginning and end! Give yourself some time to ad-lib in the middle
  • Good memes at the beginning & end help
  • Practice, practice, practice, practice!
  • Know how fast or slow you speak when you’re in front of people.
  • Focus on the content of the talk first and the slides second.
  • Props are your friend
  • Bring a story to life
  • Have 3 things the audience can walk away with
  • That sick feeling you have before getting up on stage is a good thing – it’s excitement!

We had 10 pitches on the evening – including a last minute submission! They were all fantastic!! Leading the Product only had 2 spots available so we hope to hear these other talks at Product Camp Melbourne in August!

Get your tickets to Leading the Product before they sell out (which they do every year!)!

Thank you Seek for hosting!

Our next event is Product Camp – register now and submit a pitch!

Every Product is a Service – June wrap-up

We gathered a couple people who work in product and a couple people who work in design to discuss if every product is a service and how we can work together well.

This would not have been possible without Service Design Melbourne & NEXT, a division of the Reece Group, who kindly sponsored the evening.

To introduce our panel, we quizzed them on their qualifications…
Dave Calleja – Associate Design Director at Isobar. Has a degree in design.
Kate Edwards-Davis – Product Manager at Karista. Studied classical music performance & philosophy.
Dr Stefanie Di Russo – Principal Designer at NAB. Holds design degrees including a PhD in design thinking.
Daniel Kinal – Product Manager at MYOB. His degrees go across economics, accounting, marketing and a some information systems stuff.

And our moderator – Liz Blink – Digital Customer Experience Manager at Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning VIC Government. Holds a PhD in immunology.

Which goes to show we work with people from very diverse backgrounds & there’s different avenues to getting into the work we do.

First we surveyed the audience to see which camp they belonged to… service design, product, something else or multiple areas. 57% of our audience said they were something else! From the shouts from the audience, it seemed a lot of folks identified with ‘UX’.

kicking off our session with service design melbourne #prodanon

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Dave raised the definition of ‘product’ and how you can’t really divide up things like Netflix into those definitions of ‘product’ or ‘service’. Do you think Netflix is a product or a service? He feels to discuss the two, there needs to be some semantic mud hurdling.

Steph pointed out that service design has a time element with artifacts and actors while product is the artifact itself at a certain point of time.

While Daniel thinks it’s all ‘product’ going across goods & services lines. If we are talking about eating a mandarin for breakfast or getting a scalp massage there’s a clear ‘product’ or ‘service’ in those definitions but we probably all work on complex products which have both tangible & intangible elements. There is a basket of benefits you’re offering the end customer.

Kate asked ‘who cares?’. The outcome is the important thing! We’re trying to package something together to help meet a customer’s need. ‘Products’ co-exist with ‘services’ and we even buy some ‘products’ despite the ‘service’ we receive with them.

Kate brought a prop along to prove the point that a ‘product’ or good can always be improved when you think about the ‘service’! Who Gives a Crap is toilet paper that’s been wrapped in a ‘service’. They offer a subscription service so you never run out and they are focused on social good by being environmentally sound and donating profits. They are disrupting with their ‘service’.

There was lots of talk of physical products – mandarins, toilet paper and then coke! Steph discussed the difference between a ‘service’ and an ‘experience’. The taste of the coke is part of the ‘experience’ while there’s actors & elements that enable the ‘service’ to exist.

But Dave brought it back into the realm of the digital (which most folks in the room work in…). When you are using a digital ‘service’ like Netflix, there’s definitely a physical attribute which might be sitting on the couch, having a tablet or remote in your hand. It’s how the end user experiences this, how the end user views that as the product. What words we in the industry use to discuss it isn’t as important as the outcome.

Service design is a design methodology & an approach to tackle problems. There are lots of frameworks & ways to understand problems and each discipline (product, design, marketing, etc) will have preferred ways. You can have customer experience people who do not use design methodologies and may rely more on marketing.

Daniel sees the rise of design thinking as a level of maturity in seeing the value of not going right to a solution and looking for ways to truly articulate the problem.

There was some discussion on how good ‘service’ can recover people when they have a bad ‘product’ experience. The ‘service’ element is what helps to get the good online reviews.

Steph asked Daniel if a good product person should have a design background which lead to a discussion about working together.

Everyone agreed a team needs to exist which brings different perspectives and skill sets. Kate brought up the skill set of being able to deliver a product at a price point that will sell & the act of using the organisation’s capabilities. Daniel discussed one of the responsibilities for a product manager is to be the advocate for the stakeholder who is not in the room (including the customer). Dave said if the team isn’t considering viability, feasibility & desirablity together, you’re unbalanced. Steph focuses more on the desirability while working with product people but is also thinking about the other two.

Healthy debates where you’re not so dogmatic about your position are best said Steph. Daniel wants designers to have a different perspective and be even more customer driven than he is so they can have creative (good) conflict about the different ways to reach a specific goal. He’s found that the more experience a person has, typically they have a level of maturity that allows them to leave their ego at the door about whose idea it was but at the end of the meeting, you are all focused in 1 direction.

Kate recommends spending time together to understand the customer & strategy. What a person’s title is doesn’t matter as long as you are there to learn & understand from each other. Dave also mentioned psychological safety of having those conversations & suggested leaving the drama to Love Island, not the office.

Thank you to NEXT, a division of the Reece Group and Service Design Melbourne for a wonderful evening!

 

Check your bias at the door – May wrap-up

A cognitive bias is a shortcut your brain takes to make decisions. Cognitive biases can impact our decision making, our memory, the way we interpret research and more.

As product managers need to understand our customers & their needs, motivations, problems (etc), it is a ‘mistake’ to let your lazy brain fall prey to the cognitive biases that make you hold onto your own preferences or beliefs, no matter what evidence is presented!

Our speaker was David Di Sipio, a registered Psychologist and currently working at Squiz as a UX Consultant. David creates great experiences by focusing on what makes people tick. His approach is grounded in academic research, big-data and best-practice.

David ran us through some great examples & how to manage the 6 most common biases:

  1. Selection Bias – who are you talking to?
  2. Framing Effect – the words you use & way you present your questions
  3. Confirmation Bias – focusing on the information that reinforces your ideas & ignoring the ones that disprove your idea
  4. Observer Effect – subconsciously influencing someone with your body language
  5. Anchoring Bias – putting too much emphasis on the 1st bit of info we receive
  6. Clustering Illusion – seeing patterns when none exist

After walking thru these biases, David gave us time to talk thru some of the biases we’ve fallen for & there was a bit of conversation regarding which is our favourite bias!

Want more info? You can view David’s slides or read his article on Medium which also contains the links to all the great videos he showed.

Thanks again to Origin for hosting us.

Origin Energy

We’ve announced our June session – RSVP now for a collaboration between Product Anonymous and Service Design Melbourne discussing ‘every product is a service’.

Does data or design win with product folks? March wrap-up

Does data or design rule supreme for us product folk? When we’re deciding what to work on or how to create whatever we’re creating… which do we lean towards?

To debate data vs design, we gathered a fabulous panel: 

Firmly on the data side was Marty Kemka from Northraine. Marty is a data scientist and entrepreneur. He’s worked on projects where something needed to shift and he says as long as you know the metric & design the experiment properly, the data should be able to show you the way.

On the design side, from Cogent, Amelia Crook is very interested in what human need is being solved and thinks people leave a trail of data but that data can’t give you the insight as to why the person has done something. The why is what gets you to the need.

Also, Steve Bauer was sitting on the design side. Steve also wants to understand the human element, is appreciative of qualitative research & yet knows his way around the numbers.

And finally Jane Register who has a design background and said she was also representing design. She’s previously worked with qualitative research but currently works on a product with lots of data. She has more data available now than ever before and finds that exciting.

FYI Jane & Steve work together at Aconex and prior to the event, Steve thought Jane would absolutely be on the data side. Jane later talked about how as a UX designer, she can’t have data without design nor design without data. For her you need to data to tell you some things but you also need the ‘why’.

We also had a great facilitator for the evening, Jane Scowcroft from Data61.

#prodanon

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Everyone had a card to vote if they were ‘data’ or ‘design’ and the initial check suggested most were leaning towards the data side. Our unscientific count was data in the lead at maybe 60% of the audience. The subsequent discussion may have gotten us to a different outcome!?!

Delving into the data isn’t easy according to our design folks. You need to know the context of the questions asked, if the data is spread across different tables or db & there will be back & forth between you & the data analyst in order to even craft the right questions. You can get lost down data rabbit holes. Marty agreed that it needs to be a collaboration with the data analyst because you need to realise there will be database changes to work with, you need to know the context of when an event happened, you have to really understand what you’re measuring and what confidence level you have in all this.

We also touched on using the data to tell the right story of your product. How are you measuring success, what are you optimising for and is that in the context of your product, your department or the entire (especially when large) organisation?

About half way thru the evening, another audience check had us about 50/50 split across data v design.

We see the value of bringing data scientists & analysts into the design fold to help them do their jobs better. Marty recounted a project he worked on where he went out to the field to see how things where done which then greatly helped when he was back at his computer. Over the years it’s been about getting developers to understand the customers more… now we need to bring along the data folks.

Amelia mentioned that looking at an excel sheet doesn’t help you connect with your users. You don’t gain a lot of empathy amongst the cells and rows! Taking folks out in the field so they can meet users is great motivation for wanting to solve that problem for the user.

At the end, the panel couldn’t help itself and admitted needing both data and design to get a great outcome in your product world. I think maybe even Marty started coming around 🙂 And our audience was pretty even 50/50.

Thank you to Jane! Thank you Amelia, Jane, Marty & Steve! Thank you Data61 and Intrepid Group for sponsoring the evening!!

February Summary: Building & Scaling Product Teams with Rich Mironov

We kicked off the year with ‘Building & Scaling Product Management Teams’ because it was one of the most requested topics in our year end survey and it’s something Rich Mironov knows a bit about as he often comes into a company to help them sort out their team (and of course product).

After a quick review of what a product manager’s role is, Rich got right into the team aspect. Both problem finding AND problem solving are team sports, not only for you THE product manager. When there isn’t someone within the business who is knowledgeable about product management, you will find someone is ‘playing’ product manager.

At a startup, the founder who has the passion for the problem & users will often be working on the product. A startup founder has a lot of other responsibilities so need to think about hiring a PM when the sales pressure is increasing, they need someone to help them FOCUS & scalability is needed – often this is somewhere between hitting 12-25 employees. Rich STRONGLY believes you need to bring in someone who with experience at this point – not someone with deep domain knowledge, not someone at the company in another role, not someone with a ‘scrum’ or ‘project’ word in their title but someone who’s been here & done that & has the scars.

At any company, when it comes to building the product team. Rich believes it’s better to reduce the distance between the customer/user, the product person & the development team. His favourite structure for a team is a product person & the dev/ux/design/etc team to be close (physically & collaboratively) with the users via frequent learning conversations. He is not a fan of the customer feedback/problems/conversation filtered via sales or a single product person or marketing, etc.

Which is when we hit the controversial part of the evening – Rich believes the ‘product owner’ job is setup for failure for several reasons including they don’t have time with customers to understand the problems before writing stories & they’re not focused on the end value but productivity focused. Instead of having the owner & manager roles as separate people, it should be the same person doing both roles.

Multiple screens #prodanon

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Lastly, we talked a bit more about the different roles in a product team. The product manager should be shipping great individual products, thinking 2-4 quarters ahead & is a relentless communicator of truth. The Director of PM should be focusing on processes, resources & the team. Budget & Strategy, planning for the next 6 quarters & ‘keeping the trains running’ are the focus. A Head of Product/VP is part of the executive team, focusing on aligning strategy, products & the organisation.

Rich’s 4 takeaways for the evening were:

  1. The need for product management is not obvious to a lot of people including founders/CXOs
  2. Hire for product experience
  3. Product Managers own real market value and direct customer learning
  4. The head of product manages the PMs AND the executive team

Rich has posted the slides for your reference and perusal. And for those who couldn’t be there in person check out the full recording of the session.

A big thank you to Rich & Zendesk for a wonderful evening!!!

Zendeskmironov.com

November Summary: Product Manager v Product Owner!

How many times can the product community talk about the differences between product managers & product owners? Apparently we’re not at max conversation yet!

This was one of the topics suggested during Product Camp and while it didn’t have enough votes on the day, we had several people ask us to run it as a session.

Steve Bauer, a product manager at Telstra Wholesale assembled 3 folks with different backgrounds who have been across the 2 roles to hash out the differences & how they can work together.

Our panelists included Michael Sloan who has recently changed roles from product manager to product owner at NAB. Nadia Gishen who’s currently a product owner at Aconex but has been a product manager before. Manoel Pimentel is an agile coach at elabor8.

One man who feels strongly about this debate is Nick Coster from Brainmates. Unfortunately Nick couldn’t attend as he was overseas but he made a guest appearance. 😉 You can read his thoughts about the Dynamic Duo on the Brainmates blog or watch the talk he gave at the 2015 Product Camp Melbourne

@nick.coster makes a guest appearance #prodanon

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Before kicking off the discussion, we wanted to know what roles the audience had – were they more owner or manager? Much to our surprise, they were neither! In the audience, 40% were not product owners OR managers (!!!!), 25% were product managers, 20% were doing both roles, 15% were product owners.

If you work in product, you already know companies define the role in a variety of ways. If you are a product manager and work with a product owner (or vice versa), how do both of you set yourself up for success? Our panel agreed that talking with each other to clearly understand what you feel responsible for and what the company thinks you’re responsible for is required. This should be a conversation you have – not a job description.

Some other random tidbits from the evening…

The business analyst (BA) role typically sits between product & development to write very detailed requirements but with the rise of the product owner role, BA roles are disappearing.

A danger of being a product owner is being an order taker in terms of what is built, how & when. Product owners need to think & talk about how they can support both the product manager and the team. They can add value in many ways so determine what works best for your current situation.

No matter which role it is, our panel recommends looking for a few things when hiring someone – problem solving ability, communication, resiliance and someone who doesn’t tire easily 🙂

#prodanon

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There was some conversation regarding ‘product manager’ being a cooler title than ‘product owner’ – until Manoel suggested the future title will be ‘problem owner’.

The slides for those who want the references and the jokes 🙂

Thank you to inspire9 for hosting!!!

inspire9 logo

This was our last event for 2017. Product Anonymous will kick off in February 2018 so sign up to our newsletter, add yourself to meetup, follow us on twitter, join the slack group, follow in instagram… all that good stuff! See all the links.

September Summary: Chatbots & Voice

At our September evening, we had 5(!) folks talk about using chatbots and voice activated products within your product.

Keith Swann began the evening with a bit of background on chatbots. Keith is a Lead Consultant at Elabor8 and while he was at Sensis / Yellow Pages he was able to work on bots. Daniel Galindo, the lead ontologist at Sensis, joined him in the presentation to share with us some of the experiments they had tried with working with natural language requests.

Did you know the 1st chatbot was ‘born’ at MIT in 1966? Eliza was a psychologist you could chat with.

In 2005, IKEA introduced Anna which was another big leap for the use of chatbots.

Keith giving us some robot history #prodanon

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Chatbots come in handy for sharing information with people. A good example is to collect information via chatbot while the customer human is awaiting the customer service human. This can decrease the amount of human time involved in the call. Sensis used API.AI and Python.AI for their business search in this manner.

Keith also talked about how chatbots can be easy to create – but it’s not easy to make it work correctly. It’s also not a set & forget product as you need to continue to manage user expectations. One of those expectations that’s the hardest to get right is the natural language of the chatbot. Getting this right is important as it impacts on people’s engagement with the service.

Jen Leibhart & Stuart Hill from Australia Post talked about developing a chatbot as an experiment & how to approach giving your chatbot a personality.

The team used an internal hackathon as the opportunity to experiment. They wanted to drive awareness and traffic to a MVP product they were working on and the primary audience for the MVP were digital folks who used Slack on a regular basis so a Slackbot was a given.

At the beginning of the hackathon they had grand ideas of having both a Slackbot and a bot in Facebook Messenger. They wanted their bots to have great personality and do x,y AND z. That’s a lot of work for a 1.5 days so they kept functionality x and dropped y & z. 🙂

A few weeks after the hackathon they focused on the Slackbot, put in a little more effort and launched the bot across multiple slack workspaces. Six months after that hackathon, the Slackbot still has limited functionality but does indeed drive traffic.

The next experiment is to see how conversation increases that engagement. Stu was looking at how to build conversation with the bot. This includes thinking about both tone of voice and attitude. Just as you’d think about voice when building a brand or website, you need to translate that to the bot.

Stu thinks of it like one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ games. You need to think through the conversation a human will be having with a bot. To help give a bot more personality and be useful, Stu has been creating conversation maps to think thru the variety of answers the bot needs to provide. While it’s great fun to teach the bot to tell jokes, you need to make sure it always leads back to delivering value.

Advice from Jen & Stu if you’re creating a bot:

  • As with any channel, will it reach your target market? Is your audience using FB or Slack or something else?
  • Focus on 1 task that can be done well. You can expand beyond 1 after that’s working well.
  • Use conversation maps to ensure the bot delivers the information required.
  • Give it a go, learn & experiment!!!

How to build your Chatbots personality #prodanon

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Srinjoy De works at RACV in their New Products team. The team are currently working to bring intelligent tech solutions for the home. Previously he was at Catapult Sports, a leader in wearable athlete analytics for elite athletes.

Srinjoy talked about the possibilities of using voice technology to improve customer experience. Washing machines, fridges, cars and other machines are now loaded with Amazon’s Alexa. With Google Home recently launching in Australia, we’ll start seeing more and more voice products.

At RACV, they are running a trial using Google Home in some resorts. When you enter your room, there’s a Google Home which you can ask about the local weather or traffic or other holiday related queries. Using the device to play music is popular though in the future it could become a personal concierge (by controlling the lights or more). Since the device is so new to the market, we wondered what the adoption & onboarding was like during the pilot – Srinjoy said people adopt the technology quickly.

Srinjoy on a Google home experiment #prodanon

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Thanks to everyone for coming along last night! Fantastic eve of new tech learnings. Summary will be on blog soon #prodanon

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Thank you to Fiona Knight for volunteering on the night & helping to pull this blog post together!

Big thanks to MelbourneIT for hosting us!

July wrap-up: You can prototype ANYTHING!

Prototyping – typically we digital folk think of going from some sketches to maybe a clickable prototype then to a fleshed out, semi-built format which we can test on.

But what if your product wasn’t digital? And even with digital, can you do something different?

Jes Simson is a product manager of greeting cards. Not digital but paper. And she loves to prototype. Having a physical product reminds us of the importance of risk. When you’re producing 1,000 products a year with an expensive production cycle, you want to test & validate along the development cycle.

In the grand scheme of things, there’s a lot of similarities between digital and physical. Start by looking at your insights & research. Prototype and soft launch with 1 item until you’re ready to go bigger and branch out.

Jes says a prototype is just a question embodied – and first you need to decide what will kill it?

Brainstorm your assumptions in each category (desirability, feasibility, viability). Try to surface every assumption you have & use tools like a risk template in order to get as many as possible.

After you’ve discovered your assumptions – rank them! Take the riskiest assumption & decide what your questions are. Find the cheapest way to test this. ‘Cheap’ could be money, time or the people involved.

Some of the ways Simson tests assumptions are taking a short period of time to create a mood board and see if it resonates with card buyers. This is quick to produce & quick to get feedback.

One ‘fabulous’ example of a prototype Jes shared was using a post-it note to illustrate you could fit the word ‘fabulous’ on a card – that it wasn’t too many characters and you could stylize it in such a small space. Point made & progress continued.

Ask yourself who’s in the best position to answer these questions? You might not be able to access them depending on budget or time so … who’s available?

Be willing to throw things away, to iterate quickly and focus on the getting to no.

Jes also thinks of a prototype as a communication tool. A tool which needs to change based on who your audience is. Your design team may need 1 type of prototype while sales or finance will probably need another. Keep those team specific prototypes with the team… don’t show your CEO the grey lead sketch 😉

To help us understand you can prototype ANYTHING, Jes gave us aluminum foil and a challenge. This then became the most photogenic Product Anonymous session EVER.

A big thank you to Jes for a great talk and to Sportsbet for hosting us!
Once again, a huge thank you to Fiona Knight for taking these notes!