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.
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.
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.
Kate Edwards-Davis will be talking about saving your team (or rather, not saving them) from villians on September 30th. Details & RSVP links here.
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?
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 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.
Between snap lockdowns and restrictions, we were lucky to be able to sneak in another face to face meetup to talk all things product.
Even with all the various frameworks available, design thinking, lean methodologies and agile practices, product should be a piece of cake, right? Well, we all know that it rarely is. But what about when we add an agency lens on top as well? In April, Jim O’Malley and Su Lim from Isobar Australia shared some of their perspectives from the other side.
Some Common Challenges
Lack of customer focus: The product team may believe they own the product, but it is vital to remember our customers, because they’re the ones that will use our product. Often the product team may get it, however, sometimes the rest of the organisation may not.
Fixed solutions: where the team or organisation doesn’t apply an hypothesis-driven approach. Remember, ultimately, until it goes out in the market, we actually don’t know. We’re just guessing.
Lack of autonomy: Teams are given a bunch of features to build, instead of problems to solve.
Hippos: Although often well meaning, having the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) driving the direction, rather than underlying data can be a recipe for disaster. This can also cause a lack of communication or alignment to vision, and tends to drive the wrong focus.
Data derailers: Whether it is too much, or too little, or even the wrong sort of data. These all have the risk of slowing things down and grinding progress to a halt.
What To Do – an Agency Approach
Although working with an agency comes with a price tag, there are plenty of benefits too. From access to senior leadership, being impartial and baggage free, and disconnected from internal politics.
To help pull this all together, the team at Isobar utilises their Diagnostic session framework, bringing key people (including senior stakeholders) together and co-designing an approach forward through a guided conversation.
01. The Intro
Setting up the context and creating an environment with psychological safety, so that red flags can be raised early. This can be especially important in larger organisations.
Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of knowledge and experience already within the teams. But possibly also battle scars. Have an open conversation, and recognise how we got here, and what’s been tried before. Are there any prior learnings or research that can be leveraged?
Understand the current state. What are the hurdles and complexities that will need to be addressed? Are there any unknown or unexpected factors that need to be unpacked?
Do we agree on the problem and proposition? Can we land on a product vision to guide future decisions?
What is the desired future reality? What would need to change to enable this view? What are the barriers, enablers and quirks which may be unique to the business.
The group may have differing views, but find the common ground to start building a shared mental model and alignment.
It is important to always end with clear next steps. What is required to move forward, by whom and by when.
The setup: Be thoughtful of who should attend. Do your research and gather any pertinent information.
Be flexible: allow the conversation to flow, and don’t be too rigid with the structure of the workshop.
Collaborative wall-work (brick or digital) to help formulate shared understanding.
Thank you again to Jim O’Malley (Head of Strategic Design) and Su Lim (Associate Design Director) for generously sharing some of their experiences, and to our sponsor, the Products and Services team at Isobar Australia for hosting us.
After a long challenging year, it was great to get back together for our first face to face meetup for 2021. After multiple delays, we finally were able to be joined by Katherine Weaver and Caylie Panuccio from Impro Melbourne for a fun and interactive session and it certainly did not disappoint.
During the session, we learnt a little about improv, and were guided through a series of activities, where we learnt about:
Supporting each other and helping your partner (colleague) look good;
Collaborating with others and building on ideas;
Empathy for our stakeholders, who will have a lot of other things on their plate at times; and
Our own self-consciousness, and the artificial rules we create for ourselves.
Not only was the session extremely fun, we also saw how the exercises could be applied in work settings, to make us better product people.
About Impro Melbourne
Impro Melbourne is Victoria’s premier improvisation company and the home of spontaneous theatre since 1996, and celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.
Between performing shows and running a full schedule of workshops at their training facilities, they also take workshops and shows to schools and community venues, and lead corporate training sessions at home and overseas.
If you’re interested in learning more or developing soft skills, beginner workshops are available:
Thank you again to our fantastic facilitators: Katherine Weaver, improviser, actor, teacher and Artistic Director of Impro Melbourne and Caylie Panuccio, Senior UX Researcher at SEEK, who has been practicing improvised theatre with Impro Melbourne on and off for the past couple of years and has found it a huge help as a designer / researcher / product person working in corporate environments
One of the famous 7 Ps of product marketing is Price. As product professionals, we’re caught in the middle of a battle between trying to maximise price for our bottom line, while offering appealing value to the customer who wants to minimise their costs. Jon Manning showed that there are many myths in pricing, while giving great tips on options available when we are trying to price our products.
What does that big word even mean?
floccinaucinihilipilification /ˌflɒksɪˌnɔːsɪˌnɪhɪlɪˌpɪlɪfɪˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/ noun the action or habit of estimating something as worthless.
Top 10 Pricing Myths
The myth of the perfect price
There is no such thing as a perfect price. Everyone has a different understanding of what they are willing to pay and how that payment should be structured. So pricing depends on each individual, and there will not be a single price or model that suits everyone.
The myth of full price
In certain hotels, they are obliged to outline their ‘rack rates’ – what the company specifies as the default rate for the room. You could often find it behind the door. However, nobody pays rack rates in hotels any more. Instead, we use discount sites as we want to get a great price – to get the “The thrill of the kill”. As a result discounting has to be a strategic part of pricing.
The myth of stealth price increases
Stealth price increases just don’t happen as much as we think. Thanks to social media, when people discover them they give immediate feedback to the vendor. One example is the drug Daraprim that went from US$13.50 to US$750 per tablet overnight and was immediately picked up by the media.
The myth of a world first pricing model
Some people believe that they have just invented a brand new pricing model and that nobody else has done it before. The reality is that all have been done in some way in the past. For example, Uber surge pricing model was just what the airlines did in the 1970s. During the great fire of London, the boatmen evacuating people across the Thames actually tripled their fares.
The myth of ‘markets’, and ‘the invisible hand’
Prices are not set by some sort of invisible hand – they’re set by real people.
Prof. Mark Ritson of London Business School said: “Pricing is the worst managed of all marketing areas. How prices are decided is often a mixture of voodoo and bingo.”
The myth of traditional economic theory
Traditional economic theory talks about price elasticity as when prices go down, the quantity of demand goes up. However, we never see this perfect price elasticity.
The myth that pricing models are for life
Our pricing models need to evolve. For example, many of our purchasing these days is by subscription model. Or how engines on planes are no longer charged by unit but are charged for power provided.
(Though with 90% of the world’s fleet on the ground this model is probably making it a bit tough for the engine manufacturers).
The myth of the spreadsheet
Every pricing model is in a spreadsheet without fail. However, this is just a simulation and not what happens in the real world.
The myth of procurement
Working with a Procurement team is like a frenemy; both friend and enemy to agreeing on a deal. You need to understand how they work – for example spend time with Procurement to learn how they beat up vendors on price. Then build this approach into your pricing model
The myth of cost-plus pricing
Customers don’t care about how much it costs you to produce – they just care about the value for them.
Why is pricing so important?
Pricing has a huge impact on operating profit. A 1% improvement in price can lead to an 11.1% increase in operating profit – a much better ratio than improving fixed costs, volume or variable costs.
Apple has many fans despite their price. Their strategy has sensitized their customers to the value they bring, over the price they charge. Which means they can take the discussion away from price
However, not everyone is really thinking through their pricing. Startups are filling in their business model canvas, and thinking about migrating their users from eyeballs to customers, but they are not thinking through their actual revenue.
The Value-Based Pricing Canvas
This canvas gives you 15 pricing questions designed to get you thinking about the value your provide. For example is it better to have no-hidden-surprises pricing, or dynamic pay-as-you-go pricing? Organisation and customer behaviors are driven by pricing so it is best to have this clear.
This is a Value-based approach because you have to talk to customer, rather than an ivory tower exercise. You ask customers four questions in surveys:
At what price does the product look cheap
At what price does the product look expensive
At what price does the product look too expensive
At what price does the product look too cheap
You can then plot these on chart and a box forms that helps determine an optimal price band.
Customer Value Analysis
This gets customers to value each attributes of your product, assign weights, and get an overall measure of customer value.
Identify value attributes from a customer perspective
Get customers to weight the product value attributes
Get customers to assess the product value attributes
Benchmark products against each other
Plot findings on a value map
This overall measure of value can also be used to generate a price
Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions
This is now the classic startup pricing approach.
Define the architecture of your products
Define the operational stuff the product actually does
Define the non-operative features, because it adds further differentiation
Consider the optional extras, for example things that are included in one product, but not in an another
Consider your segmentation, what each segment is willing to pay and whether it caters for all your customers and personas.
How do you choose your pricing model?
Choosing a pricing model is a combination of many factors; including analysis, experience, and sometimes you just know.
Many products are just naturally heading towards the SaaS model – it feels like a silver bullet for most online products.
However there are some increases in the number of companies using usage based pricing only; Snowflake, Stripe and Twilio. These companies are growing faster than other SaaS companies.
Jon Manning has vast experience in value-based pricing, gained in technology, and a range of other industries. He is a two-time past presenter at Product Camp.
His career has been a journey through three other pricing methodologies: the mysterious pricing of the oil industry, cost-plus pricing in the catering industry, and dynamic pricing in aviation and other services industries.
For our last event for 2020, Product Anonymous celebrated our 9th birthday. Again. We’ve actually lost track of how old we are. And this may or may not be the third time that we’ve celebrated our 9th birthday. But I digress.
We’ve had another action packed year, with so many great talks from sharing insights and becoming a super-team with marketing, to leading through influence and creating buy-in to help prioritisation with an ethical lens, getting out of product hell and transitioning to a product-led company, which can have different nuances in big corps and startups.
As well as organising all of these fantastic talks, Product Anonymous also helps nurture our own people to turn on their camera and microphones, and face the crowd. And for our final event, we had five of our community do just that, taking the virtual stage to give short 5mins talks.
Talk to the Pencil – Marc Vandamme
As a product manager, you will need to work with a range of people, and bring them all into alignment. But how do you do that? With a comprehensive and detailed requirements document? Marc Vandamme says no! Pick up your pencil, and sketch it out. Whether it’s the interface, wireframes or flow charts, drawings will help to align the thinking faster.
I <3 Amplitude – Fernando Parra
Much of product management involves product discovery: understanding our customers’ problems with qualitative research. However, on the other side of the equation is all the data, and the world of quantitative product intelligence.
Self-confessed data geek, Fernando Parra, gave us a crash course for one such product intelligence tool – Amplitude.
After registering, you can explore the different aspects of this analytics SaaS product, with full access to their sandbox, which comes pre-configured with two sample projects (an eCommerce and B2B examples). From there, you can build your own charts and experiment with different data visualisations from the sample data.
Diversity – Aseel Hamarneh
Why should you (or your company) take diversity seriously? To not discriminate, or for ethical reasons? Or to avoid penalties and lawsuits? Maybe the most compelling reason is that diversity actually makes good business sense too.
Companies with ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.
The more diverse your team is, the more perspectives that are brought in when you are designing and building solutions. But where do you start?
Start with yourself: recognise your own biases, we all have them.
Then your team: focus on diversity in your hiring. From your job ads to selection, there are plenty of tools to use.
Then your product: Think about your end users. Accessible solutions usually work better for all users.
Thanksgiving – Erica Wass
So much of what a Product Manager does is around influencing without authority, and giving thanks is one of the many tools to utilise, whether that be for bringing the team together, motivating, celebrating or influencing the culture and driving behaviour changes.
Different people prefer to be recognised in different ways. So talk to your team members, and see what they prefer, and act accordingly.
Regardless if in big, public ways, or more subtle gestures, remember, it’s about the recipient, not about you.
5 Tips for More Impactful Presentations – Pratishtha Nahata
Minimise Decision Fatigue: Plan your talk. Give yourself the space to think, and focus on the content and structure. Once you know what you want to say, then you can start to colour in the details, and apply some design.
Plan how info will be distributed across slides: Order and sequence the info for your, because order matters:
For results, outcomes or recommendations, start with the ending.
For training, process or to build anticipation, start at the beginning.
If your audience is not familiar with the topic, you might want to start with an example before jumping into concepts.
Make it visual: Group or show the relationships between different information, to help reduce the cognitive load for your audience, so they’ll be more likely to understand and retain the information.
Only keep what’s absolutely necessary: Don’t overcrowd your slides. What does your audience already know, and is info being repeated? What can be verbal? Use visual cues, to help focus attention. Remember, you’re the star of the presentation, not your slides.
Practice. At least 2-8 times, with and without slide.
Bonus tip – watch stand-up: watch and learn how comics keep their audience engaged.
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.
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;
In short, magic happens!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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).
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?
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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