How to Save The Planet, One Feature at a Time – August Wrap

With the ever increasing focus on Environmental Social Governance (ESG), organisations are tasked with developing strategies to create long-term and sustainable value. Rarely a simple task in our rapidly changing world, needing to balance a broad range of stakeholders, from employees and customers to investors, suppliers, community groups, and our societal and environmental obligations at large.

In August, we teamed up with the Victorian Cleantech Cluster to hear from Jeremy Stimson (Planet Innovation) and Evannah Jayne (Terran Industries) to explore how to save the planet, one feature at a time.

The Challenge

Extending beyond ‘because it is the right thing to do for our environment and planet’, there are various commercial risks for not taking ESG seriously:

  • Growing focus on the Environmental part of ESG policy;
  • Supply chain volatility;
  • Evolving legislation;
  • Investor priorities;
  • Attracting talent; and
  • Brand association.

But remember, where there are risks, there are also opportunities, where you can use these attributes to differentiate yourself from the rest of the market.

Where to start?

The transition to sustainability can feel overwhelming at first. The task can seem insurmountable. So where should you start?

  • Begin with monitoring and tracking your emissions.

There are many software options available for emissions monitoring, data collection, and sustainability reporting. Many can also help in strategic planning and decision-making by analysing historical data to provide insights and predict the future. 

  • Make it bite size. 

Like most things, break down the problem. Begin with small steps to build some momentum. Canvas opinions from others, and find internal partners to gain support, working your way up the chain (ie, don’t go straight to the CEO).

  • Work with your timelines.

There can be many challenges in a corporate setting, such as having contracts with existing suppliers. But rather than fight against the system, look for a path of less resistance. When is the contract due to expire? A month before the expiry date, conduct a review for alternative options.

  • Keep climbing the ladder.

Change won’t happen overnight. As you start to make some progress, keep going. There is always more than can be done.

You don’t have to work on a climate tech product to make a difference with the environment.

Additional Overlooked Opportunities

There are many opportunities to improve, and move towards a circular economy. Try not to only look at the obvious things. Widen your view and look beyond what is just in front of you.

A few things to consider:

  • Data storage: storing information, emails and backups all require servers and the energy to power them. Is it time for that retention policy to be reviewed?
  • Reverse logistics: Instead of products ending up in landfill, can they be re-acquired, refurbished, and resold? Not only does this reduce our waste, but it can also generate an additional revenue stream.
  • Waste management: Companies spend money to deal with their waste. However, reducing the amount of waste also provides an opportunity to alleviate that cost.

Additional resources

Thank you 

Thank you to Jeremy Stimson and Evannah Jayne for sharing with us; and to our event partner, Victorian Cleantech Cluster; and to Green Hat Solutions, Terran Industries and Planet Innovation for supporting the event; and to our volunteers Nosh Darbari, Steve Bauer, Yasha Lim; and to Stone & Chalk for hosting us in their lovely new office.

Product Management Career Development Workshop – July Wrap

How long have you worked in product? 

And in what capacity? 

As a Business or Product Analyst? Product Owner? Or Product Manager?

We all start from different places, and our paths for growth are varied. 

In July, Adam Wensor, Craig Brown and the crew from EverestEngineering joined us to run an interactive Career Development Workshop, where we co-created a development framework. 

The challenge

For many of us, we stumbled our way into product. Our early days spent trying to work out what we’re supposed to be doing. Slowly building in some reps, and some muscle over time. Eventually feeling more comfortable with the work. 

But how can we objectively assess ourselves?

And what sort of things should we work on to improve, and level up?

How might we build a roadmap for ourselves?

Product Management Competencies

What are the core competencies for product management? 

This can be workshopped with your team. Alternatively, we leveraged a few experts in the field:

  • Roman Pilcher;
  • Marty Cagan’s Silicon Valley Product Group; and
  • John Cutler

Next, we grouped the competencies into themes.

Then, we considered what different levels of mastery may look like?

Like many workshops, it was as much about the journey rather than the destination. However, with a broad mix of tenure in the room, it was a great opportunity to reflect how things can feel earlier on in our careers, and to gain some insights from those who may have more experience.

Thank you 

Thank you again to Adam Wensor, Craig Brown and the team at EverestEngineering for running the workshop and hosting the evening, and to our volunteers, Nosh Darbari and Yau Hui Min for helping on the night.

Resources and Additional Reading:

Products Don’t Last Forever – June Wrap

In product, much of our time involves understanding our customer needs, and becoming deeply intimate with their problems, so that we can build innovative and sustainable solutions. But what happens when your solution is no longer hitting the mark, and it’s time to retire them? In June, Ana Rowe from Thoughtworks joined us to share some industry examples, as well as her own experiences and with sunsetting different products.

Why sunset your product?

Do we know what stage our product is in? Are we still in the growth stage? Have we started to decline? It’s important to appreciate where our product sits within the product lifecycle, so that we can make the appropriate plans. However, as product people, we’re often optimistic, which can sometimes cloud our judgement.  We often don’t recognise (or accept) where we are. 

If we understand where we are in the Product Lifecycle, then it can make it easier to decide which way we go.

When to sunset your product?

There are many reasons why you may need to sunset your product, including: 

  • Low performing products: When Netflix developed Netflix Friends, they set a 20% growth target as an indication of success. However, over what time period? Do you spend a month, a quarter, a year before you change direction? 
  • Change in needs: Over time, both the environment and our customer’s needs will evolve. What was once cutting edge may no longer be hitting the mark, or possibly superseded or incorporated into other solutions, like the Apple iPod. Is it still a problem (or the right problem) that needs to be solved? 
  • Unsustainable: Is our product too expensive to maintain? Perhaps the margins are too small, or even negative, which we cannot support in the long term. Revolv customers were frustrated when they found themselves on the other end of this equation after Revolv was acquired by Nest (a Google/Alphabet company) and then subsequently shut down about 18 months later. 
  • Diluting your core value prop: Home Ideas (REA) started out as an idea during an internal hackathon. Unfortunately, it always remained an idea, without a true owner, and never quite aligning to the company strategy. 
  • Changes in strategic direction: When A Cloud Guru acquired Linux Academy, they decided to migrate their new customers and consolidate them onto their existing platform, which also meant stopping support and sunsetting the existing Linux Academy mobile app.

How to sunset your product

Once you’ve made the decision to decommission your product, what next? 

Ana shared some of the challenges they experienced with Linux Academy. As an education and training platform, customers enrolled in courses to learn about a variety of topics, often in preparation for formal assessments or certifications, some of which were still part way through that process. Many had invested significant time on the platform, which also maintained their learning history. Furthermore, the Linux customers liked the platform they had joined and were using. 

Some other questions that needed to be addressed:

  • How do the products compare? 
  • Should both platforms be maintained?
  • Are the pricing strategies aligned?

So it was a difficult decision to migrate all these users to the core A Cloud Guru platform, and to eventually retire the existing Linux Academy mobile app. 

However, migration plans can also take significant time to develop.

Meanwhile, this change in priorities meant no more development on the old app, therefore no more addressing bugs, which caused the app store rating to tank. This also created a flow on effect with support issues raised by customers. 

Also, customers couldn’t just sign up to A Cloud Guru. They needed to wait for their profile to be migrated to allow for the learning history to be transferred.

What were the key learnings?

  • Planned well… for the happy path;
  • Didn’t take customers on our journey;
  • Communication was confusing and sometimes conflicting;
  • Lack of Tripwire metrics, to get early indication that things were not going as planned.
  • Slow to act.

If you find yourself needing to sunset a product in future, you may want to consider a Go From Market approach:

  • Analysis
  • Decide
  • Set milestones
  • Pre-sunset comms
  • Sunset
  • Support
https://twitter.com/brianborowsky/status/1540135962386509825

Thank you

Thank you to Ana Rowe for sharing; our volunteers (Nosh Darbari, Yau Hui Min, Steve Bauer) for helping on the night; to Kogan.com for hosting and to our zoom sponsor Pluralsight / A Cloud Guru.

Resources and Slides

AMA: Hiring in Product and the Great Resignation – March Wrap

As the environment continues to evolve, so does Product Anonymous, with our first hybrid event. 

Over the past couple of years, many companies had to go into survival mode: pivot business models, apply recruitment freezes and even let people go. However, as the environment began to improve, and business confidence started to return, the (jobs) market reopened, with a lot of companies beginning to recruit again, seemingly all at the same time. 

We were joined by Megan McDonald (Head of Product and Experience Design, World Vision Australia), James O’Reilly (Talent Partner, PaperCut Software) and Shiyu Zhu (Group Product Manager, Zendesk) for an Ask Me Anything panel session, talking about the state of recruitment and hiring, and the great resignation.

How has recruitment changed?

With so many other opportunities being so visible, the power dynamic between the candidate and recruiter has changed, and candidates know it. 

Megan: Recruiters and hirers are now much more in sales pitch mode – ‘why you should want to work for us?’

James: It’s important to try to differentiate, and showcase the benefits of joining your company. 

Megan: In the past, when working with both internal Talent Partners and external recruiters, both would often come back with many of the same candidates. Now, not so much. 

How has the recruitment process changed?

James: Because Product Management is a mix of art and science, it can be difficult for a recruiter to recognise what makes a good product manager. Therefore it is as important as ever for Talent Partners and Recruiters to work closely with the hirers (ie, Internal Product Managers) to really understand their must haves. In the current environment, the nice to haves have become a luxury.

The candidate experience has also become incredibly important, which includes being responsive to queries, and the speed to progress through the process.

Shiyu: Zendesk adapted their approach. Rather than individual interviews with engineering, product, design and a VP, they started to combine some of them. As there was always some crossover, this allowed the to trim some of the fat. 

Also, their take-home assignment became an in-interview case study to help understand how the candidate thinks and approaches business problems. 

Megan: World Vision Australia have taken a more holistic view, not just focussing on recruiting, but extending to the onboarding process. They want to avoid candidates having post-purchase dissonance and regrets about not working somewhere else.

But are compressed interview processes all good? 

James: Can the process be too short? Yes. With engineering, they went down to 3 stages, and some candidates said it was too fast, so they went elsewhere. Have empathy for the candidate, and check in with them around the process. Ensure they have adequate  opportunity to tell you what they can bring, and why they are right for the job. 

Shiyu: To remove people who are just good at interviews, and who may have practised the perfect answer to behavioural questions (such as, describe a time you dealt with conflict), Zendesk use case studies and business examples instead. This way they can get an insight to how the candidate thinks.

How can smaller companies compete with the finances of bigger players?

Shiyu: What is your value prop as an employer? How are you different? What can you offer? It doesn’t necessarily need to be monetary. 

Megan: Consider how you invest in your people. Don’t limit your thinking to just what they need to do a good job, but also how they can grow their career.

Hiring is the easy part, how do you keep the talent you have?

James: There are many different aspects here:

  • Onboarding: set the right expectations of the role.
  • Recruiter handover: during the recruitment process, more than likely, the recruiter will be the one who has spoken to the candidate the most often and knows them best. So handing over any recruitment knowledge to the new manager, such as their motivation and goals, can help set them up for success.
  • Impact: Allow candidates to understand what impact they can make.
  • Exit process: When things don’t work out, the exit process is important, to learn why people are leaving, so you can identify what things may need to be changed. 

Shiyu: A common misconception about a person changing jobs is that they will just be getting more money elsewhere. However, different people have different motivations:

  • Title;
  • Responsibilities;
  • Visibility; or
  • Earning more.

As a manager, give your team members the opportunity to be able to win. Set them up on their winning ways. 

What areas do they want to develop? Have them do a self-assessment, and then start the conversation and create actionable items that they can use to progress. Giving them a goal, how they want to grow, and then continuously revisiting can help them see where’s next. 

Megan: We’ve seen a higher proportion of people moving sideways internally. Attitudes are important, and you don’t necessarily need all the technical skills, those can be learnt.

What advice do you have for applicants?

James: Usually the first touch point will be with somebody in recruitment, and they won’t be able to understand how good you are at Product, as you need a Product Manager to be able to assess that. So, demonstrate to the recruiter how you are good (eg, display you’ve done your research, about the company, the roles, the industry, the products). You can also show in depth thought and knowledge through your cover letter. 

Megan: Ask the smart questions, not just the short term and immediate outputs. 

Shiyu: Some of the attributes that Zendesk looks for include a can-do attitude, the desire to build awesome products, and also a willingness to learn. And it is not just about hard skills, like defining a vision. Soft skills are just as important, like how you structure your responses in a logical manner, so that somebody can follow your thinking.  

With the current market, are lots of short term roles a red flag still?

Shiyu: In San Francisco, job swapping was common. However, maybe a better perspective to apply is, does your current job give you the satisfaction you need, and the room to grow. If you have a history of changing jobs, the recruiter or hirer may ask you about it, so you need to be able to answer it, hopefully with a compelling reason.

James: This has become more common in the current climate because of the abundance of opportunities available. The explanation could be as simple as ‘the market was hot, and you saw an opportunity that unfortunately didn’t pan out’.

Any tips to progress product careers, from product owner to product manager to senior product roles?

Shiyu: Make sure you talk to your manager, don’t expect them to know without you telling them. Work through it together, and look for opportunities. Sometimes those other opportunities may be in other areas of the company.

Also, get involved with Communities of Practice *cough*Product Anonymous*cough*.

Thank you

Thank you again to all our panelists, Megan McDonald, James O’Reilly and Shiyu Zhu for sharing; to Chris Holmes, Michael Lambert and Nosh Darbari for helping on the night, to IntelligenceBank for hosting and to our zoom sponsor Pluralsight / A Cloud Guru.

After Research: Creating Useful & Well-Executed Research Outcomes – February Wrap

Following a number of sessions on gathering customer feedback, we were fortunate to be joined by seasoned researcher Jess Nichols to share some insights on the next stage of research – bringing it all together and synthesising your qualitative data, creating reusable and actionable insights and advocating your research across your team. 

Setting up for Success – Do Not Do Research in a Bubble

Research is there to mitigate business risks. 

Therefore, one of the worst outcomes is for your research to be ignored, shelved, or not utilised. 

Alleviating this risk begins before you even start conducting your research. Give some thought to what successful research looks like. Are you trying to drive to specific research outcomes? What is the wider business context? Are there strategies or OKRs that can act as your guardrails? Work with your team to ensure you are solving the right knowledge gaps for them. Having this North star can help to provide clarity in what questions you need to answer with your research.

Synthesising your Data

Once you have collected all your feedback and conducted your interviews, it’s time to collate your research and find the patterns in the data. This is crucial for connecting your data to any desired outcomes. 

Participants will commonly try to contextualise questions with their understanding of the problem or situation. They may apply their own biases to their responses. So you should not take their responses at face value. Understanding, and classifying the data into behaviours (what people do) and attitudinal (what people think) can be beneficial. Try to drill into the responses to find the underlying pain points. 

"What people sat, what people do & what they say they do are entirely different things" - Margaret Mead

You can then form insights from the patterns of behaviours or attitudes.

Some tips for when you analyse your data:

  • There is no single right way to analyse your data. So just start, and pivot along the way.
  • Use your OKRs to guide you.
  • Be comfortable with conflict.

Sharing your Insights

One of the aims of research is to have no surprises at the end. Share as you go. This can help to identify what resonates, what may be controversial and need more care, or what can derail conversations and should be avoided. 

Research also won’t be useful if your teams don’t understand it. Creating stories can be a useful vehicle to deliver insights. Your team is more likely to remember stories that they can connect with, which can make it easier for them to incorporate the customer insights into their work. 

  • Tie the insights back your original research questions;
  • Advocate for your customers’ needs (especially those which may not have been considered by your team in the past);
  • Help your team understand how to action what you’ve learnt about your customers. 
Insights are the sticky stories you want to tell about your customers.

There will always be biases, from both your participants (friendliness, social desirability, habituation) and your own (confirmation bias, cultural bias, halo effect, etc). The main thing is to recognise them and to then try to minimise them. 

Ensure your Research makes an Impact

As well as being the biggest advocate for your research, find and partner with others to help champion and influence behaviours.

A handy way to approach this is by:

  • People: to amplify your learnings. You can start with designers, marketing and product marketers, other product managers and your research community.
  • Processes: to add traceability to your findings. Insert relevant insights into the product development process, through user stories, requirements documents or annotations in designs.
  • Platforms: to store your research for future use. Upload your presentation to your internal wikis. Bring up relevant insights during meetings. Share bite-sized insights over chat.

Your research will not always have a clear or direct impact on a business outcome. Sometimes the result will be more subtle, and change the direction or the way we understand our customers over a longer period of time. Either way, celebrate the impact you make, big or small. 

Successful research involves a level of humility. Not just listening to your research participants, but listening to your internal stakeholders so you can be effective with them using it.

Thanks

Thank you to Jess Nichols for sharing, to our volunteers Nosh and Steve and our event sponsors Pluralsight / A Cloud Guru.

Further Reading and Resources

You can find Jess on LinkedIn, Twitter or her website http://www.jessnichols.com.

Some resources mentioned during the session include:

Never Rescue your Team from the Villain – September Wrap

As Product Managers, we constantly find ourselves knee-deep dealing with strategic decisions, prioritisation and leading without authority – all of which can create anxiety and conflict in our day. But how should we approach this drama, and are there ways to flip the switch? In September, Kate Edwards-Davis introduced us to the Karpman Drama Triangle to help illustrate the dynamics of this drama.

The Karpman Drama Triangle

The Karpman Drama Triangle, developed by Stephen B Karpman, is a social model that describes the human interactions between three opposing roles:

  • Victim;
  • Persecutor (Villain); and
  • Rescuer (Hero)

Karpman represents these roles within an inverted triangle, to demonstrate the natural hierarchy, with the persecutor and rescuer being in positions of power or authority above the victim.

The Victim can commonly feel powerless, helpless or oppressed. They may hold a sense of pity for themselves, and feel incapable of negotiating or meeting the demands of the persecutor. Surprisingly, the victim usually initiates the drama, when they seek out a rescuer to save them, which in reality can reinforce the Victim’s negative mindset.

The Rescuer (or Hero) can be perceived to have an authority or mastery, which we don’t recognise in the victim, and will step in to save the victim from the persecutor. The victim encourages this belief, as it is easier to be rescued rather than being accountable. 

The Persecutor (or Villain) may be critical of the victim. They blame the victim for failing, or perhaps even for the anticipation of failure. They might feel superior to the victim, and that the victim’s actions (or rather inactions) are holding them back. Often, a person may assume the persecutor role due to being a victim in another triangle.

In reality, everybody oscillates between all three roles in different situations. The repetition and switching of roles reinforces the cycle, and can cause the participants’ actions and reactions to fall into dysfunctional patterns.

Who is the winner in this circle (triangle) of drama?

Nobody wins.

Everybody feels justified in their position.

  • The Persecutor avoids accountability, as it is always somebody else’s fault. Some common traits include not knowing how to use authority with compassion, or how to ask for something difficult. They struggle to challenge others without threats or aggression.
  • The Rescuer receives gratification from having somebody depend on them. However, their actions prevent the victim’s own self-empowerment. 
  • The Victim finds it easier to not take responsibility for their own feelings when challenged in a difficult situation. They seek safety and protection from others, and feel valued by having others take pity on them.

Beating the Triangle

We need to learn to recognise the triangles around us, so that we can avoid them if we can. 

If avoidance is not possible, or it’s too late and we’re already in a triangle, then we should reflect on our own role first, and how our interactions may be contributing and prolonging the triangle. Resist the temptation of judging others and their intentions. We need to shift our own mindset first.

There are some alternative triangles to counter the drama triangle.

The Empowerment Dynamic

  • The Challenger (instead of Persecutor) makes the requests and gives constructive feedback to drive the team forward.
  • The Coach (instead of Rescuer) empowers the victim to help themselves.
  • The Creator (instead of Victim) accepts and pursues the challenge.

The Compassion Triangle (OR Winners Triangle)

  • The Persecutor needs to use assertion rather than aggression.
  • The Rescuer needs to care for the victim, encourage and acknowledge their capabilities, rather than taking over and solving the problems for them.
  • The Victim needs to accept the challenge, and admit their vulnerabilities. Be accountable but also seek the appropriate guidance.

Resources and Slides

Some of the resources mentioned during this session included:

Thank you

Thank you again to our presenter, Kate Edwards-Davis for sharing, our volunteers Nosh, Gwen and Steve, and our host and Zoom sponsors, Cogent – who help companies build great products loved by millions of users, from small startups through to tech giants like Square, Xero and REA.

What to do when someone mentions Product Led Growth – October Wrap

What is Product Led Growth?

Product Led Growth is a business strategy where user acquisition, conversion, retention and expansion are all driven primarily by the product itself. 

Moving towards Product Led Growth can be beneficial (for the right products), with reduced acquisition costs or reliance on sales teams, as your customers will be the ones promoting your product. 

Common growth principles

Adopting a Product Led Growth requires a few shifts in mentality and approach:

  • Company-wide alignment, so that growth is not reliant or led only by the product team;
  • Showing rather than telling mindset;
  • Don’t just rely on sales, invest in customer success;
  • Create viral loops, or opportunities to delight customers, that encourage them to refer others; and
  • Help your customers succeed in the job they are trying to achieve, rather than constantly trying to cross-sell or upsell them with additional features or products. If you use a Freemium model, are features locked behind a paywall, preventing your customers from winning?

Common growth myths

Like any new framework, there are often misconceptions. Some of the common ones include:

  • Only the product team is responsible for growth.

No, Product Led Growth is a business strategy, which requires alignment across the whole company, so that different areas work together as their collective efforts ultimately create the user experience.

  • All products can achieve explosive viral growth.

No, growth usually happens through incremental cycles. Help your users be successful, and then make it easier for them to tell other people that might find your product valuable. 

  • A replacement for your marketing and sales strategy.

No, Product Led Growth should complement your marketing and sales strategy, and can even make it more efficient.

Product Led Growth in Action

Some examples of companies applying Product Led Growth, include:

  • Zoom – Referring colleagues and friends combined with their seamless onboarding meant new customers could be up and running, and on a call (receiving value) within 10 seconds. They also employed a freemium model, with free calls up to 40 minutes, and a subscription to unlock longer calls and other features.  
  • AirBnB – Not only using beautiful photos to make rental listings more attractive (and thereby increasing conversion) they also added value by reverse engineering Craigslist’s API so that they could automatically post on behalf of the owners (and increase reach).

Dave took us through some of his own experiences, as the founder Tuki Health. 

Tuki Health was a startup focussed on gut health, starting its journey as a direct to consumer (B2C) offering, providing expert clinical dietician advice and meal plans. 

  • Acquisition: As part of their initial research, they identified a great number of potential users. Through Facebook groups and targeted campaigns, they were able to acquire 7000+ users, and gain in depth insights about customer behaviour. 
  • Activation: Beginning with a quick and simple signup process, they eventually introduced friction, to slow users down, so that they could better understand value (access to actual dieticians, etc).
  • Revenue (and Pivot): Tuki Health provided some great customer outcomes. However, it was extremely difficult to get people to upgrade past the freemium offering to become paying customers. The unit economics didn’t work, which caused them to pivot to a Health SaaS targeting dieticians.
  • Referral: Dieticians had different goals compared to end-users. They didn’t care about collecting hundreds of data points, they just wanted to get the plans, send them out, and move on to the next customer. With this insight, Tuki was able to focus on getting their meal plan creation down from 10 mins to 1 min. This generated real value for the dieticians, and helped them to start referring Tuki Health to others.
  • Referral and Acquisition: But, dieticians are bad at sales. So Tuki created landing pages that made it easier for dieticians to refer to others. 

Key Takeaways

  • For PLG to work, you need to be providing a lot of value with your product.
  • Prioritise analytics.
  • Large companies have big silos. Connect and align the different areas with the Pirate Metrics Framework.
  • Design and develop viral loops into your product.
  • Experiment often and share learnings with key team members.
  • Establish psychological safety among teams, this leads to great collaboration and a great team environment.

Our Speaker

Dave McManus is an experienced product professional with over 12 years experience. He loves working with multidisciplinary teams to solve problems through thoughtful design and engineering solutions.

He has had the pleasure of working with many great companies from large fortune 500’s like: Microsoft, The North Face and Proctor and Gamble to name a few. Originally from Melbourne, Dave also lived in San Francisco for 5 years and founded a digital healthcare company and worked with many different startups including NextVR (acquired by Apple), Innit, Cool Effect (kickstarter for climate change) and many more.

Further Reading and Resources

Thank you

A big thank you to our speaker Dave McManus, our volunteers Gwen, Steve and Nosh, and to our event sponsors, Pluralsight/A Cloud Guru and Cogent.

A Practical Guide to Customer Feedback – July Wrap

We can always benefit from getting closer to our customers. But how should we go about it? In July, Dipa Rao shared some stories from the trenches, and some practical advice to help us navigate our way through. 

When do we need customer feedback?

Always! We should get customer feedback as often as possible. And at different stages of the product life-cycle.

  • Understanding the problem space: What are the problems our customers are trying to solve? What are their current solutions and alternatives? What are the gaps?
  • Validating solutions or ideas: What is attracting new customers, and is there information or data that they want to carry forward? Or perhaps designing a mockup to gauge interest, before completely building out new functionality.
  • Prioritisation: We often have ideas from many different sources, such as from our call centre and frontline colleagues, management or even directly from our customers. But where should we start? Surveying our customers to rank importance can be beneficial, to ensure we direct our limited and precious resources in the right places.
  • Any change, big or small: Depending on the size of the change, we can employ different techniques to gather feedback, from limited betas to feedback forms post launch.

How to get feedback?

When designing a method to gather feedback, there is no perfect solution. Depending on our skill sets and resources, this could end up looking different for each of us. Net Promoter Score (NPS) could be a good start. However, it is not specific by design, so it may not entirely meet our needs.

Whether we decide to use email, or create an in context web/app form, or even instrumenting a survey with google analytics, try to make it:

  • Easy;
  • Have minimal set up; and
  • Repeatable

How to prepare?

Expectations: Letting both our internal and external stakeholders know what to anticipate will often make our lives easier. 

External customers – Why are you asking me? When will I hear back? Will I hear back? What are alternative paths for support?

Internal customers – Awareness of our activities for support (if needed). Sharing feedback and insights, some which may be distressed feedback.

Analysis: Ensure there is time and capacity to analyse feedback, before trying to get it. If not, don’t bother getting it and wasting our customers’ time. We may also need to mash data together from different systems, so finding an easy and/or repeatable process will be important.

Bureaucrazy! Never underestimate the amount of bureaucracy that may exist in large corporations. From setting up a shared email address, standing up a new platform, covering the legal and privacy aspects of engaging with customers, or ensuring our proposition is aligned to our marketing and brand guidelines. All of these things can take time. 🙁

Types of feedback

When the feedback starts rolling in, it can come in different shapes and sizes. So it can be useful to categorise the feedback, and to learn when to take it with a grain of salt.

Shiva (the destroyer): This feedback can be brutal and destroy imperfections. But don’t take it to heart, as this may be more indicative of a lack of loyalty or trust for our overall product, brand or company. Remove the emotion, and take the feedback for what it is. Feedback from Shiva can impact our morale (or our teams), so take in small doses.

Vishnu (the preserver): Feedback from Vishnu is generally pragmatic and more balanced, and can encourage us to keep going. We’re on the right track. 

Devi/Shakti (the creator): We can consider Devi as expert or superusers, who will give detailed feedback, and potentially challenge our thinking or approach. A great way to foster new ideas and allow them to grow.

And then there are ‘other’ types of feedback. 

Got feedback, now what?

Once we have feedback, we should analyse and share the insights. Feed the other parts of the business. Construct a shared understanding. The feedback can also help motivate our teams. And where possible, we can also respond, to open a dialogue, so that we can build empathy with our customers, to allow us to build better products.

Thank you

A big thank you to Dipa Rao, 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.

Resources and Slides

You can find Dipa on LinkedIn and Twitter

Some of the resources mentioned during this session included:

Wrap-Up: The Shape Shifting Product Manager

Daniel Kinal is a long haul product manager having been in the industry for awhile. Over the years, Daniel realised one of his strengths was being able to shape-shift.

Daniel talked about the various ways product managers are asked to shape shift. We might need to do some copy writing or sketch out a UI or develop a GTM plan or do a sales demo or create some reporting and do data analysis or manage a team or be the scrum master or even CODE (?!??!!!!!!!!).

The list of what we might end up doing goes on & on! There’s always gaps to fill and as a product person, we often feel like we need to help out to make sure our product becomes successful.

But then Daniel realised this might not be a strength. Our jobs are already hard without adding additional work. Shape shifting isn’t the best thing for him – nor the company he works for.

Why? Because we product folks need to focus on the ‘kernal’ – what Daniel calls the true product work. This includes

  • building trust & alignment
  • maximising value in a sustainable way
  • doing course correction
  • and more! (watch the video)

The thing about the ‘kernal’ is, it’s our job. While all these other shape shifting tasks can be done by others (others who hopefully exist at your company), doing the kernal isn’t done by others.

To help us, Daniel has a few meditations on our shape shifting nature…

Product Anonymous would like to thank Daniel for a great talk & convo after. No matter where you are in your product career, you should consider his insight and questions to ponder.

Resources

Daniel Kinal – The Shape Shifting PM – (had a baffling zoom thing happen & DK’s video isn’t appearing)

Our Speaker

Daniel Kinal has been in product management for over 18 years, chiefly working in IT, focusing on B2B products & services.

He began his marketing, communications, and consulting career but soon learned that the aspect of marketing he loved most was working out what to build, for whom, and why.
He gets excited about helping businesses become more effective in decision-making, more efficient in their processes and more engaged with their customers.

Daniel is at his happiest when waving his arms about in front of a whiteboard with a bunch of smart people, exploring problems and weighing up solutions.

Our Sponsor

Cogent – cogent.co – If you need great people to help build your product, we do that and a whole lot more. Over the years, we’ve worked on more 100 digital products loved by millions of users, from small startups through to tech giants like Square, Xero and REA.

So whether you’re leading a small product team or the CPO of a growing tech company, our focus is on supporting you to design and develop products that your users love.

Next Up

Kate Edwards-Davis will be talking about saving your team (or rather, not saving them) from villians on September 30th. Details & RSVP links here.

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