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

A Cloud Guru Logo

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:

A Cloud Guru Logo

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!

Encouraging Ethics Conversations – May Wrap

In recent years, the harm caused by technology has come under greater scrutiny. Whether at an individual product level, or the ecosystem created by a combination of products. 

  • How can we anticipate and mitigate against harm?
  • Bring an ethical lens into the product design process?
  • And map the potential bias in the systems we create.

If you’re struggling to find an answer, you’re probably not alone. 

After numerous years working in tech companies and startups, Laura Summers identified a lack of tools to facilitate ethics conversations. This led Laura to found Debias.AI, and create Ethical Litmus Tests – a deck of cards with prompts and questions to help reframe a scenario, and apply different lenses during the design process.

We were fortunate to have Laura join our May session, and using the Litmus Tests, take us through an interactive exploration of ethics in product design.

https://twitter.com/summerscope/status/1263290459217989639

Why is it so important?

Making trade-offs is part of designing and building products. But have you ever deeply considered what the impact of those options could be? Do you justify the decisions with yourselves, for the net (or greater) good?

But would you feel comfortable explaining your choices to a close younger relative?

Or what if the user was your elderly grandparent?

By applying these types of lenses, would you change the way you approach these decisions?

How does the Ethics Litmus Test work?

Define the motivator or driver

Describe the problem or scenario. The motivating concern can be either broad (eg, I’ve got a niggling feeling about this outcome), or very specific (eg, what if data was misused). 

Pick a litmus card at randOM

Select a card to help you reframe your view.

Write down your responses individually

With the litmus card in mind, spend a couple of minutes to consider:

  • Opinion: your position to the scenario
  • Questions: if you need to know more information
  • Next steps: action items

Share your responses

  • Compare and contrast your responses. 
  • Are you surprised?
  • Explain your thinking.

Some alternative activities to share your thoughts and responses:

  • The Blind Advocate – pass your response to another participant, and take turns to argue for another person’s opinion. A true exercise in empathy!
  • The Brainstorm – good for bigger groups, share your thoughts on post-its, or a digital retro board (like FunRetro), and then you can sort the responses into themes.

In this session, we all had some practice and fun, as Laura ran through several interactive scenarios with the Litmus Tests. Using the breakout rooms, we were able to discuss each scenario in small & bigger groups.

Resources and Further Reading

Read more about Laura and her work:

Thank you to our host: A Cloud Guru

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. We’re hiring

April wrap – Ten steps to lead through influence as a PM

Product managers are under pressure to drive results, but cannot wield direct power or authority to achieve their objectives. If you don’t know how to influence people at all levels of the organization, how will you create the best possible product?

In this talk, Ken Sandy shared ten techniques from The Influential Product Manager that product managers can immediately apply at each stage of the product life cycle to achieve the best outcome for the customer and their organization.

Key Takeaways:

1. Influence goes well beyond aligning stakeholder and team behaviours behind a common purpose – it is winning their hearts and minds through context setting, establishing a shared set of beliefs, and a passion to solve customer problems.

2. As a PM, being influential starts with how you view and approach your role – such as embracing and stress testing ideas, establishing collaborative relationships with stakeholders and decisively making prioritization and trade-off decisions.

3. Powerfully, product managers are at their most influential when they focus on owning and communicating the problem to be solved (enabling solutions to emerge collaboratively) and driving towards meaningful customer and business outcomes (over simply delivering projects).

Our presenter:

Ken Sandy is a 20+ years veteran in technology Product Management. Ken pioneered and teaches the first Product Management course offered in the Engineering school at UC Berkeley, which has over 400 PM alumni. Throughout his career, Ken consistently defined, launched and managed award-winning, innovative Web and mobile products loved by customers and used by millions of users across 60+ countries.

Previously, Ken served as VP of Product Management at leading online education companies, MasterClass and lynda.com (Linkedin Learning), and is currently an executive consultant and advisor for startup and scale-up companies in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia.
​He’s recently released “The Influential Product Manager – How to Lead and Launch Successful Technology Products” a highly practical and approachable guide to becoming more effective and navigating the challenging collaborative aspects of the product manager’s role.

Ken’s book is on sale for a limited time: https://bit.ly/AustraliaBookOnsale ($A paperback) or https://www.bkconnection.com/specials/ebook ($US ebook). If you are interested in having Ken do a talk at your company or just have some questions for him, don’t hesitate to connect with him at kenjsandy@gmail.com or on linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kensandy/.

Here are the slides and the video for your viewing pleasure.

Click here to watch Ken's talk
Click here to watch the video of Ken’s talk

We had such a great time running our first talk online – we had folks pop in from other cities In Oz and countries as far as Brazil & New Zealand. It was really nice to welcome our friends from other cities.

Just like the f2f sessions, there’s always those folks who don’t know when to go home. 😉 Chatting after the session.

Thanks again to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online this month! 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.

March Wrap – Working remotely

We were super excited about our March event so it broke our hearts to reschedule Becoming (more) Brilliant with Impro. With things changing so quickly re: Covid-19 and new advice, it was most definitely the right answer. We will reschedule this session in the future.

So… we quickly decided to change the session into a roundtable discussion about our new reality of full-on remote working. A quick summary…

What were people enjoying about WFH?

  • no commuting
  • flexibility of the time as in being able to adjust hours
  • home cooked meals
  • ability to do chores at home during breaks
  • pets!

What is challenging?

  • Lack of whiteboard solutions
  • Overhearing conversations in the office (bc often it’s very valuable customer feedback or something related to what you work on)
  • Less time to focus because there are more meetings/catch-ups to make up for not being f2f
  • Being paranoid about being seen as ‘online’ and thus available all the time aka PEN syndrome (please everyone now)
  • Hard to see micro-expressions and the body language
  • The distraction of text chat happening in the meeting room at the same time as the meeting (yes, this happens F2F also but easier to get distracted when virtual)
  • If you didn’t have a remote team or WFH folks with a standard set of tools already, people have been receiving multiple invitations. This might feel like overload and could result in documents all over the place.
  • While many of us thought we’d have MORE time to focus, we find there’s even LESS focused time now because you need to increase your communication and there’s so many channels to reach you that you get interrupted more. They can’t see you’re busy or focused so you need to better manage this. Which leads to maybe needing better expectations around work hours & response times.

What we are missing

  • Spontaneous idea sharing
  • Having an expert within earshot
  • Water cooler conversations
  • Random social interactions
  • For those with kids at home… missing adult conversation
  • Reduction in drinking water
  • The commute – gives you time to think! To walk! To see people!

How to keep that social thing happening

  • Virtual lunch with your team
  • Friday pub drinks over Zoom
  • Host a trivia quiz
  • 3 minutes of squats every day virtually!
  • Plant competition
  • Leave a Zoom room running all day (ie water cooler chat)
  • Acknowledge pets & kids joining calls
  • Contests of best virtual background
  • Making a conscious effort to reach out to individuals

Tools mentioned

  • Krisp for filtering out background noise during your calls
  • Mural & Jamboard (part of GSuite) for collaboration
  • Milanote
  • Miro (aka Real Time Board)
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Freehand by Invision
  • Funretro.io
  • Pomodoro technique
  • For whiteboarding – Zoom & Teams
  • BlueJeans – video conferencing

February Wrap – Transitioning to a Product Led Company

The other Thursday we heard from Josh Centner, Head of Product & Delivery at PageUp about their journey to being a product-led company.

Josh started with a bit of background. PageUp began in 1997 as a custom software house building various things which translates into a very sales led company. Over time they realised companies often had the same issues and even the same requests which is when they decided to focus on building recruitment software. For years, the company grew – people, teams, features, products, revenue – though still was quite sales led.

They realised they needed to make a change if they were going to continue to grow and move faster. They had previously been the fast mover in the industry but the industry had changed with lots of big and small players making a difference. Shifting to a focus on product-market fit rather than custom features for clients which only work for that client was a key part of the change to stay ahead.

Josh outlined the pillars to work.

  • Starts with people – Ensure everyone is well prepared and supported from a skills, mindset and culture perspective
  • Process – Put metrics in place so you can understand if time is being lost and if improvements are working
  • Strategy – Your strategy needs a story
  • Culture – the culture at PageUp is amazing. Everyone is really nice, so it’s fun but people don’t hold each other accountable because they are worried about hurting someone’s feelings
Credit: Neha Jaiswal

As part of the people change and bringing teams together they focussed on creating cross-functional teams – which INCLUDED the sales crew. (In other words, sales needed to write their own Jira tickets!!)

In order to improve the process & start to shift culture, a couple of actons were taken. The company did a values assessment. This assessment was an important step to define where the company wanted to be and brought people together to define it. Turning the output of those sessions into statements was critical because it was the beginning of behaviour changes.

PageUp also ran innovation workshops and in-depth training on design thinking, jobs to be done and lean startup with the exec team. The goal was to make sure people at the top knew what was going on & could speak the same language as their team. While everyone across the company went through the training, some were not able to implement it right away. They were focused on business-critical work. This ended up being a mistake because, by the time those folk had a chance to put their training into practice, it was very much forgotten.

With all this change, you want to show progress. Josh used delivery metrics at first because they change quickly – you can see speed improving, output, costs going down, and begin to see predictability come into the work. The product metrics Josh used were the HEART framework to help link to the lagging indicators of retention, growth & costs. This brought comfort to the organisation and allowed room to invest in risk & new areas of product innovation.

In terms of building out the product strategy ensure you’ve covered your compelling boundaries – 

  • Story so far
  • Under attack
  • Purpose of this approach right now
  • Markets and customers
  • Deepening the competitive advantage

What would Josh do better next time:

  • Have metrics ready before starting the transformation. Start tracking as soon as possible!
  • Baseline the needed skills and have a long-term plan
  • Have a strong product strategy ready to go as you roll-out to ensure alignment & enable autonomy

Josh Centner, Head of Product at PageUp

Josh has spent the last 10 years knee-deep in the world of startups and innovation. Attempting his own startups and consulting to both small and large organisations intent on creating disruption for themselves and their industries. After working with over 20 different organisations, Josh has deep insight into what does and doesn’t work when it comes to organisational transformation and product management.

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