Engineering + Product kicking ass together! – May Wrap

Kate Lanyon came to speak to us about the relationship between product folk and engineers and some of the areas that can create friction between us. She’s got some great tips and insights as to how to reduce this friction and help create working relationships that kick ass! Kate’s been an engineer for a long time and draws on her experiences of being that individual contributor and performing some of these sins herself – through to being a CTO and co-founder where she’s also led engineers and had to coach them in some of these areas.

Her most recent experience at a startup digs deep on this topic because if engineering and product aren’t in sync in this environment, then you’re not going to be successful. Start up land is a fight for survival. If you haven’t worked in a startup, startup is like the most extreme form of product development that you can have. A startup must find value, before the money runs out, and raise more money than exponentially find more value to raise exponentially more money. Even if your team is not fighting for survival, hopefully some of these tips will make your life easier.

Lastly, an important disclaimer to every story or generalization shared in this talk, it doesn’t do justice to the uniqueness of every individual. So do take these examples as an opportunity to be curious and ask more questions of those you work with.

So what do engineers do?

Kate’s definition of what engineers do every day is that they apply deep knowledge to solve complex problems. It takes a lot of learning to be a great engineer, learning from each other, learning at conferences, and they learn different things, programming languages, techniques, they have to learn the system that they’re working on. There is a whole lot of learning and deep knowledge that goes into being an engineer. 

The day job involves a lot of complex problems to solve. And even though an engineer may have done a thing before, a lot of web development is just forms and websites and things right? Yet, every system is different and every system is constantly changing. Even a thing done yesterday, trying to do that thing again today, it’s gonna be slightly different. Things move so quickly, the world around us changes really quickly, and engineers have to keep up with it. Working in code, there is never one single way to do things, there’s many ways to do things. And a task is broken up into many layers with many decisions. So engineers are constantly making decisions. 

“It’s not as simple as just like, hey, build this thing.” 

It’s not a straight path forward – sometimes an engineer will get stuck. Several constraints will come together in a way that it’s not easy to see a way forward. This is when an engineer will go play a video game, go for a walk, or leave for the day and go to sleep and wake up at 2am with a huge burst of creativity and a way to solve the problem. As Kate shares from her own experience this can happen regularly, where the moment of distraction is the moment you come up with the solution. 

Her other insight is that there’s something Pavlovian about coding. It’s having a plan of how something should work, writing that down, and then running it and seeing it work, or not work. And doing that multiple times an hour, the joy at the code running, in the test passing or the frustration when it doesn’t. That’s micro level but it’s constant in an engineer’s day. And it’s just again and again and again. Perhaps that description makes it sound bad, but it isn’t, it’s not bad. It just is what it is. Yet that’s important to explain to product folk who sometimes don’t understand that internal world of an engineer and that lived experience. 

To summarise, engineers are always learning and researching. They’re always understanding the landscape and the system that they’re working in, and the constraints that they have to work with. They’re constantly making decisions and evaluating what they’re doing and the way forward. They have large leaps of creativity at times. And a continual evaluation of success. These are really useful skills in other things as well. These are the things that engineers are training their brains to do every day. 

How to engage your engineers

To quote Marty Cagan “if you’re just using your engineers to code, you’re only getting half their value”. Why does he say that? Because the engineers are closest to the technology, closest to the breakthroughs and what is just now possible, thus they’re a great source of innovation. Kate adds to this definition that the skills learned today through coding, when put towards solving customer problems, as opposed to focusing just on delivering what they’re asked, then engineers can be a great contributor to finding the fastest path to value. 

So how does this work? Marty lays out several ingredients to having an empowered engineering team. You need a product vision that is intended to attract and inspire these engineers and you need a product strategy to ensure that engineers are working on the most important problems. You also need team objectives to give the engineers a clear statement of the problem to solve and the outcomes to strive for. None of this should be new to a PM (product manager) but it’s certainly reassuring to hear from Kate that these tools are truly useful for all members of the team. 

In addition, the PM and the product designer on the team provide the engineers with critical constraints regarding the business viability and the customer experience. User research and data science provide the engineers with key insights to factor into the problem solving. Then as a team, you can find a really effective path to value. In terms of working in your own teams, take a look at these ingredients and see if you can understand why the engineers on your team joined the company that you work for, why your team exists, and how your team measures success, you can start to have really good conversations with your engineers at a higher level than just what can or can’t be done. Instead you’re discussing how we can solve the customer problem. 

As an example (see image above) here is everything that we can make in the system, right now, things are coming in and out of this circle all the time. The engineering team, ideally, is aware of those. Then there are the things that solve the most important customer problem, this is where the product team can frame this for the engineers. Now we’re working with two constraints. Then there are the things that the engineers know the customer can actually use, the product designer gives us these constraints. In addition to these myriad of inputs are also budget, deadlines etc. Ideally, together, we find the jam of the thing that we should be doing next. And at this moment empower your team of problem solvers to solve customer problems. Like what could go wrong with this right? Nothing could go wrong!!

Technical perfection

Now we might get to technical perfection – this is something to be aware of. It’s hard to see. Because it can look like things taking longer than you expect. There can be other reasons for that. But it’s important to be aware of why engineers gold plate things, or over engineer them. We are incentivized by our industry to do this. This will happen when your engineering team is more excited about solving the problem in a technical way, they’re more excited about the solution, rather than solving the customer problem. 

This is a natural consequence of just being told what to do. “Build this thing”. This shifts the problem to how to write the code. As Kate has said, she’s felt this too, and has gotten excited and made that into a challenge for herself. However, the engineering industry also wants engineers to do this.They’’re rewarded and recognized by their peers, and the industry, if they do stuff that’s hard and challenging and interesting and new. It demonstrates mastery, if they make something that’s technically perfect, even if it doesn’t solve the customer problem. In Kate’s words – I can write a blog post about a thing that’s completely irrelevant, but it’s cool, technically. I’m having a bunch of people telling me how awesome I am. 

How good an engineer is, technically, is how career progression is assessed. If one was to write something really simple that solves a really big customer problem, will a manager be impressed by that? Sometimes if they’re a good manager, but a lot of the time No. And since engineers just love learning, the new and the technically difficult is something that they’re just naturally attracted to. Editor note: This insight into how a product person can actually “trigger” this behavior when potentially the attempt to keep things simple by sharing less information to avoid this situation was an Aha moment! 

Feedback cycle

To quote Brian Cantryll – he’s a CTO & co-founder at oxidecomputer – “Above all else, engineers wish to make useful things”. All the engineers where Kate works love this guy. Brian cares about the customer. He wants to build useful things. Thus, an engineer’s highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. This is the first of the twelve Agile principles, ironically enough, written by a group of engineers! Engineers are capable of caring about the customer problem, but they have to be included in that conversation. 

At this point though it’s worth talking about why that conversation might not be happening. One of the things that can go wrong in those discussions is whether or not the feedback or questions are perceived as criticism or analysis. Engineers are direct at times. Those skills that were mentioned earlier that engineers develop, the dark side of that is that they have an overdeveloped sense of critical thinking. That is not something that can easily be turned off, that Pavlovian response means that engineers’ brains are trained to try and find issues early. That’s how they get to that little moment of joy. 

That is then reinforced constantly on any working day. An engineer cannot turn off their critical thinking. They can’t not say something, if someone just presents them with a solution. In Kate’s experience, she’s going to immediately see three issues with it. It’s just whether she tells them, and she can’t not do it. It would be like walking around and trying not to read billboards or street signs, the human (engineer) brain just does it. The reason it does it is because of the length of experience doing this job. The call out here from Kate, is not that you should take crap from engineers. Instead, when an engineer comes to you and it seems like negativity, maybe just take a second look and assume good intent. Is it criticism or analysis? 

Is it badly phrased? Could they use some feedback about how to better phrase things? It can be very easy to experience the directness of engineers and their ability to find issues and holes and things as a personal attack. It’s not generally meant that way. Some people are assholes but for the most part it’s not meant that way. Thus, when your engineers come to you with problems or questions, you should feel free to work through that. Try asking them questions and engaging in your own curiosity, answer their questions as they’re trying to understand better what’s needed here and try to help them understand what you need from them. However, do work with your engineering leadership to give feedback on how to collaborate better if this is a clunky type of discussion despite your best efforts to engage in discussion, because you’re doing everyone a favor if you also encourage feedback and coaching in this area. 


I want to talk about trade offs – don’t try to actually interpret the picture above – it’s from a textbook. It highlights the system attributes and how they all interact with each other. The reason to show this is because when engineers say no, or they ask questions, this is what is in their head, but exponentially larger. Thus it’s up to you, the product manager, to figure out how deep you want to go into this. What questions do you ask now? Your engineering colleagues will be happy to explain it to you, if you’re willing to listen. It might not be that easy for them to express this in words (Editor note: a replay of some fascinating team chats where I’m sure we were talking cross purposes, because I, the PM, wasn’t actually being curious. And the person across from me was likely struggling to figure out how to explain this massive image in their mind to me!!). Generally, the criticism comes from trying to unpack all of this. There are limitations of the system, the conventions of the system, like the engineering principles of the company. Even something as simple as will this get past code review? Can this be done within the deadline? There’s a whole lot of calculations that are being done, that they’re not easy to articulate because of all of what’s oversimplified in the above image. As Kate begs, please do ask and be patient in the conversation to get to an answer. 

Nonetheless there is something to be said for trusting your engineers to work through this thinking for you and leave them to weigh up all the constraints and come back to you with a good solution. 

To circle back to the feedback part – suggested reading of the resource Radical Candor – to help with giving feedback. A couple of reflections from Kate, who found it a super useful resource to improve in this area, engineers are generally fine with challenging directly. We all (engineers and product alike) need to spend some more time caring personally to ensure that feedback is well received and given with the best intent! Because the main message from this book is that if you do provide feedback from a place of caring you can say almost anything. If you can establish a relationship with your engineers, where you’ve established that you care personally then you can give feedback. And in return, you as the PM can be open and receptive to feedback as well. Then the relationships and the team can be more productive. But it’s work. It’s definitely work that needs doing. 


The best thing about being an engineer, in Kate’s opinion, is flow. Flow is a mental state, where it’s extreme comfort, extreme concentration, but it’s effortless. And everything falls away when you’re in it. It’s been studied in artists and athletes, But engineers can reach it too. It’s described as the secret to happiness. To get to this, there’s several ingredients, and you, product people, can help your engineers with those, and help them get to this moment, if you recognise their need for this and respect it. That’s how you can make a connection with your colleagues. 

The different ingredients include whether or not an engineer has the ability to completely concentrate on a task. Are they in an environment where they have a block of time that they can get into work knowing they’re not going to be interrupted? Do they know what they’re actually trying to do? Do they have a clarity of goals in mind? Then if we go further, is the task an appropriate skill level for them? If it’s too easy, or too hard, they won’t be able to get into this state. They need to feel ownership over the task as well. You can find more in this Ted talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is definitely a way to connect with your engineers, if you can respect their flow time. 

Another area to think about is how to help your engineering colleagues get their technical debt under control. Following on from float, technical debt makes it harder to get into flow. Because the system is muddy and terrible to work with. Technical debt as a term is kind of falling out of favor at the moment, to be replaced with other things like code health or things like that. 

Kate’s preference is still the term technical debt, because from the perspective of “debt” the metaphor falls down. Technical debt seems like a loan to be repaid, and no one ever repays it. However, if you think of technical debt as a loan with interest, then it works. Technical debt is any code that’s more expensive than it should be, code one has to pay interest on. That interest is getting paid when you get delays from bugs or in not enabling your engineering team to reach flow and be productive. The way to handle technical debt is to spend time paying it down knowing you’ll never pay it off completely. 

If not, that leads us to talk about rewrites. Rewrites are a bad place to be!! You do not want to be doing a rewrite. If you’re doing a rewrite your customers are not going to get any value during that time. These projects always take longer than you think. There are companies that have been really damaged by doing a rewrite, while their competitors have been able to keep going. And in some of those cases they’ve lost everything in that gap of time while the competition moves on. 

Going back to that technical friction, rewrites are very attractive. It’s a new puzzle. It means an engineer is free from all the bad decisions that were made in the past, when one didn’t know any better. It’s a great way to learn, it’s going to look super impressive on a resume. However, you can avoid getting tempted by managing the tech debt. Thus tech debt needs to be a regular investment of time to pay down the growing interest. Marty Cagan says that product managers should just take 20 to 30% of their time off their roadmap/planning to manage tech debt, in conjunction with an engineering team always having a prioritized list of things they want to do with that time. Through regular maintenance, you can avoid the need for rewrites. You cannot necessarily avoid people asking for one – it’s always going to look intriguing. You, the product team, should be investing in not getting to the point where it’s needed, because having to halt all delivery of customer value is not going to look good for you as a product team!


What are the things to keep an eye out for as product folk to work so well with your engineers that you kick ass together? 

  • Use your team of problem solvers to solve customer problems. Engineers need discovery and research time, asking them for stuff on the spot is going to result in them saying whatever comes into their mind at the time. If they have research time, then they can actually go away and prove it and improve their answer. Constraints are good so share them all as you’ll get a better solution. 
  • Help engineers find flow. They produce their best work this way.
  • Have a discussion about technical debt, assigning time to regularly pay it down. Make sure it’s prioritised. Engineers shouldn’t just fix whatever shiny thing is in front of them, they should have a list of the most important things to fix. Avoid needing a complete rewrite! 
  • A really good starting point in finding common ground between Product and Engineering is one of the twelve Agile principles (these were written by engineers after all) – “satisfy the customer”.

You can find other the slides, other good resources and books on Kate’s site.

Thanks again to Kate for all the fabulous insights and thoughtful suggestions for creating great working relationships with your engineering team! Thanks to Kogan for being our wonderful host.

Our speaker:
Kate Lanyon, Engineering Manager at Fastmail, co-founder & former CTO of Eugene Labs will shared insights into the above. Kate has a led a varied career – going from full stack development, to mobile app development and back again before moving into senior leadership. She has worked with teams across many different domains including agencies, start ups and corporates. You can fund musings at her website.

Our host: is a pioneer of Australian eCommerce. We are a dynamic and rapidly growing business. Our team believes in using & building technology to improve the online shopping experience for our customers. We are pragmatic, intelligent, fast paced and driven by seeing our software shipped to production daily. The software we build – including – is used by millions of customers. Check out our pride and joy to learn more about us and how we deliver amazing products and software!

Product-led in Practice – April 2023 Wrap

In today’s competitive world, companies are always looking for a way to stand out against their competitors. In the past they may have achieved this through features or advertising. More recently organisations have started to differentiate themselves by rethinking the whole customer journey and delivering an amazing experience around all aspects of the product.

We call this “Product-led.” This doesn’t mean that it is “product manager led,” it means that the whole organisation and product is oriented around customer and business success.

Amy Johnson from Propel Ventures led us through 5 steps to bring Product-led thinking into your organisation

What is Product-led?

Product-Led is “a relentless focus on customer value to create products that sustainably drive growth”

When we dig into this a bit more, Product-led is about focus on the value the product creates for your customers and your business. For example this could be in the product pricing, Go To Market activities, or design. This involves having a clear vision and an empowered team to deliver against the vision

Why does Product-led matter?

Product-led is more beneficial to a business as it has a long term growth in mind, as well as minimising waste. Conversely, Sales-led often means only focussing on the next sale, so is not sustainable in the long term. Technology-led means building cool products based on the enabling technology, but risks creating products that don’t solve any problems.

This article will drill into the the 5 core tasks necessary to move to Product-led

  1. Product Vision
  2. Product Strategy
  3. Shared Success Measures
  4. Organise around value
  5. Outcome based roadmaps

Let’s dive into each one

Product Vision

A good vision provides clarity on the future, so you know where you are going. This clarity is important because going fast in the wrong direction won’t get you to success.

But you won’t be able to create one by yourself. Vision creation should take in diverse perspectives and different voices to make sure it is clear. Use these voices to focus on the change you want the product to make in the world. You need to find a vision that will inspire the team.

You’ll know when you have a good vision when it is easily internalised by the whole team.

Product Strategy

Product strategy is about mapping out the path to get the product vision. This requires understanding the strategic intent, the challenges and the business goals. Use this knowledge to then clearly articulate the goals, which are prioritised based on strategic intent.

There is a risk in skipping this thinking if you join an organisation. You may inherit everything that is already going on. While it is possible to artificially create a bottom-up strategy by reviewing the backlog and package it into themes, there is a risk that it does not achieve business goals. It is important to make sure your strategy is aligned with the product vision above.

Focus is a key part of delivering against the strategy and vision, so clearly articulate the goals and ensure all activities are targeted towards business goals

Shared Success Measures

Having clear success metrics that are shared helps the organisation achieve alignment, by describing what “good looks like.” It is important that these are legitimate measures of success based on customer value, rather than metrics that might be easy to measure but won’t help you know more if you are on track – known as “vanity metrics.”

Ideally these success measure should be outcomes, not outputs. Outcomes are what the business needs to achieve, whereas an output is a delivery that contribute towards achieving that outcome. For example, the customer cares about how you have saved their time and money, rather than whether you released a feature or not.

To create these success measures, you’ll need to know what is valuable to the customer, as well as a way to measure it. Finding a way to know what good looks like in the product can ensure you are tracking towards a common idea of success.

Organise around value

There is a risk in organisational design that you create teams around what the company values rather than what the customer values. This is known as Conway’s Law – where complicated products end up looking like the organisational structure.

To ensure the customer gets the most value out of the product, the company should be organised around the customer’s perception of value with the product. Create a journey map to understand the customer experience, pain points, opportunities and make sure the end-to-end experience works. From there you can define the problem to solve and the metrics of success. Once you have these you can experiment and iterate.

Outcome based roadmaps

Once you know where you are going, how you are going to get there, metrics to measure customer outcomes, and what the customer values, then you need to ensure that delivery stays on target.

An ‘outcome-based roadmap’ takes what is known about how the customer or business measures success, and gives context to every item on the roadmap. It articulate goals and what you are trying to achieve. It also reiterates the product strategy and makes sure that unnecessary items don’t appear on the roadmap.

This makes the roadmap a communication tool, not a project plan. One way to enforce this thinking is to use the now : next : later format. This is a more realistic view given that development is not always predictable, and it allows flexibility to change based on customer feedback


Product-led is the way to focus the organisation on success; through identifying customer value and sustainable business growth.

There are 5 key areas that need to be consider to successfully make the transition:

  • Product Vision – A phrase that describes the future to align and inspire the organisation
  • Product Strategy – This maps out the focused path towards the vision
  • Shared Success Measures – Aligns the organisation and tell you if the strategy is working
  • Organise around Value – Ensure that you are aligned to clear customer value
  • Outcome Based Roadmap – Ensure that delivery stays on target

About our speaker

Amy is a product leader, passionate about empowering teams and fostering inclusion. Multi industry experience, now leading the product team at Propel, who partner with you to accelerate your product development and achieve product market fit faster.

Thank you

Thanks to our wonderful friends at Everest Engineering who hosted the event.

And here’s a bit of behind the scenes setup action via Bryce’s tweet

Slides and Additional Resources

Thank you

Continuous Discovery – June wrap-up

Caitlin Blackwell is the acting Head of Product for the candidate experience at SEEK. Caitlin joined us last Thursday to talk about continuous discovery and how SEEK is using this framework.

Caitlin talked to how you can generalise the product manager role into 2 areas – deciding what to build and then building it. Teresa Torres talks to how we have gotten really good at shipping quickly via Agile, Lean Startup and other frameworks. We haven’t had the same emphasis on deciding what to build – ie continuous discovery.

We risk wasted effort when we rush to building and don’t do the work to understand what is needed. We can build an MVP quickly but you might have to wait a while until you have a good enough sample size or feedback to keep moving forward or realise you don’t have the right solution.

Caitlin believes discovery is all about being able to make better decisions through the product process. There’s several reasons we make bad decisions (aka the villains) including lack of clarity on the problem, being overconfident, etc.

A part of Teresa Torres’ framework they use is opportunity maps. This visual mapping lets you clearly state the outcome you want (linked back to your OKRs of course!), show the customer needs and show several solutions that may help you reach the goal.

Speaking to customers is key. Caitlin said their teams (ux & product combined) do 5 customer interviews every fortnight with a standup at end of day to share insights with the rest of the team. It’s important to talk to customers to learn about them, not only test out ideas.

The map helps to visualise the situation though you still have work to do in order to decide which customer opportunity and solution to move forward with. After sizing the opportunity to decide which to explore, you should ideate & validate assumptions through experiments.

Caitlin walked through one example where the OKR was to increase the SAT score of a particular customer segment. She shared some of the tools and ways SEEK walks through continuous discovery. (See the slides at the end this article)

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Once you’ve decided which opportunity to go after, it’s time to ideate & validate. There are different tools you can use to experiment and test your ideas (slide 21 has a list).

A few tips:

  • Spend 5 minutes a day to brainstorm. Frequently spending a short time is less cognitively draining than an hour brainstorm!
  • Do what you can to learn quickly in order to move forward. Talking with 2 customers is better than no customers. You can still learn something from those 2 (sample size is important but you can learn and be smart about what you’re hearing from small numbers)
  • Map your assumptions! Decide how you validate/disprove each of them.

During the talk, Caitlin gave us a few examples of how using continuous discovery can help create better products.

First up a product fail. When launching a new product which employers did not have access to, they came up with an ‘access code’ solution process to assist. The team ran an experiment to test the process but didn’t test their assumptions enough before launching – particularly really questioning the desirability and usability of a long process. The sales team’s feedback from employers was it is difficult to change behaviour without showing the value of doing so.

A win… SEEK wanted to introduce the ability to search for jobs by commuting distance. They listed their assumptions, what data they needed to assess risk and how they’d get that quickly. Testing made them realise it’s not just distance in km that’s relevant to job seekers as 10k on a tram vs a highway trip is very different time wise. Experimenting allowed them to dig deeper into understanding the candidate need.

How can you get started with continuous discovery?

  • Talk to users frequently. Ask them how they use your product.
  • Decide what metric you want to shift. This could be your OKR.
  • When ideating, go broad. Go for quantity. You can narrow later.
  • Do some sort of assumption mapping before you start building. Even if it’s listing out assumptions without a framework.

To Learn More

Caitlin recommends the following:

Thank you!

A big thank you to Caitlin for sharing, for RMIT Online for hosting, the fantastic ProdAnon volunteers and all attendees!

Join us for our next events in July – The life and times of an entrepreneur and then our special event for Leading the Product – Pitchfest. See you there!

June event: Continuous Discovery – Worth the effort?

Most teams have gotten really good at delivering quickly, and measuring our results. However sometimes we can get a bit addicted to shipping fast rather than right, listen to our assumptions too much, and relying on A/B testing to validate if we’ve delivered value.

Hear about the struggle and joy of a journey of continuous discovery, and some examples of validating ideas before building anything.

Our presenter:
Caitlin Blackwell is Acting Head of Product – Candidate Experience at SEEK. She’s previously been in Product Manager roles across many parts of SEEK over the past 7 years, and is currently focused on driving the candidate vision for all of SEEK’s jobseeking products.

Continuous Discovery

Teresa Torres defines Continuous Discovery as weekly touch points with customers, by the team building the product, where they conduct small research activities, in pursuit of a desired product outcome.

That sounds easy but it is a lot of work to adopt if not already a habit. Some of the mindsets needed to do this well are:

  • A collaborative mindset: Do you have the right people involved in each decision?
  • A continuous mindset: Are you continuously discovering opportunities and solutions?
  • An experimental mindset: Are you prepared to be wrong?

Teresa Torres has another great video explaining the value of continuous discovery and where it fits in with the many other methods we may be using already. Join us this month to hear more about what it takes to implement and the benefits to be gained for you and your team. RSVP now

Thanks to our wonderful hosts RMIT Online.

Launching Australia’s first University program in Product Management on the 1st of June to help fulfil the emerging skills gap in product management! It’s a Graduate Certificate – Masters level, 4 subjects, and can be completed in 6-12 months.

OKRs in Real Life – May wrap-up

Objectives & Key Results. Do they really deliver on the promise? Will they help you reach your goals?

We enlisted 3 product people to talk about their experience of using OKRs to see how they work in real life.

Our speakers:

  • Andrew Knibbe, Head of Product – Direct Hirer at Seek – has over 10 years of product management experience – cutting his product teeth in the early days alongside the ThoughtWorks team at Sensis followed by stints at Carsales and Flippa before moving to SEEK where he has had Head of Product roles across both the Consumer and Business side of the employment marketplace. He remains excited about what OKRs can mean for product teams (and customers!).
  • Wayne Allan, Technical Product Manager, REA – A muso turned software engineer turned product manager, I love creating things people love! Currently solving problems at
  • Brad Dunn, Co-founder and Product Director at OHNO. Before that, he was the executive for Product & Customer Experience at Geo. For 7 years, Brad was the CEO of Nazori, a mobile product development business, where they worked with clients in 12 countries around the world including Samsung, Airbnb and Aesop.

The OKR Process

Andrew let us know that every team at Seek manages their OKRs a little bit differently & they’re currently in their 4th or 5th quarter of doing OKRs.

Andrew described a very team based approach (which is what Wayne also talked to). About 6 weeks before the end of the quarter, the teams receive some context on where the business is going & what they’re seeing in the market. About 2 weeks before the end of the quarter, the team incorporates their own research & knowledge to create draft OKRs for the next quarter. Drafts are reviewed to ensure they are aligned across the portfolio.

Setting OKRs is only part of the process – you need to understand how they went & learn from them. At Seek, there’s check-ins during the quarter (even just emails) and at the end of the quarter, teams present how they went for each OKR, what that means for the roadmap & strategy going forward and what the next set of OKRs are. REA has a mid-quarter update to ensure you’re on the right path or if there’s roadblocks that need to be cleared.

Wayne reminded us that part of the process is needing to educate your team about OKRs. Some people might think they are tied to performance or compensation so you need explain how the OKRs work. As the acceptance of OKRs builds across the business, you need to keep educating different groups.

And Brad noted they do not follow the usual quarterly OKR cycle! They work to a 6 week plan because that’s what works for them.

What works well…

There was clear agreement between our speakers that OKRs can create alignment between teams & stakeholders. They set expectations on what to do, not how to do it. They force prioritisation early on. They help people understand why you did X and not Y. Brad believes they are great for helping people believe in something & getting people to rally behind something.

Wayne believes they help speed up decision making as the product manager doesn’t have to answer everything. People on the team know where they are headed which drives performance within the team.

Based on what our speakers said, it seems they can also help raise issues. Use the OKRs to help show when a deliverable (that’s been delivered) needs some help. If a senior stakeholder says to build X, use the OKRs to manage if that’s the right thing to build.

Brad uses a combination of focusing on outcomes and PIRATE metrics to drive OKR setting.

What’s not working…

Creating your OKRs can be tough. You need to provide enough context for the teams to make good OKRs. Don’t have too many – recognise that even 3 objectives can be too many and 26 KRs is definitely too many. Changing the objectives every quarter can be too much context switching with not enough time to make real progress. They should not be a task list.

Wayne said they realised during planning that they had 3 objectives that were exactly the same thing but had been written in 3 different ways. The team used 3 1-hr sessions to get all their ideas on post-its, all the concrete ideas out and used that to help think at a higher level (& get the entire team onboard).

Make your OKRs part of everyday life can be a struggle. What do you do if half way through the quarter you’ve smashed it? or realised it’s not something you should do.

Measuring your OKRs needs to happen. Wayne advised us NOT to have a set & forget attitude. He suggested setting up your measurement plans in the 1st week. AND not to use surveys to measure everything as there will be survey fatigue from customers & internal folks.

Don’t focus totally on the OKR. Brad finds it fascinating that people really focus on the OKR.. what’s a good one, what’s a bad one. He sets them and then focuses on the outcome.

Mental Contrasting

Brad talked about the concept of ‘mental contrasting’ which consists of 4 items and the first 2 are tied to what an OKR is.

  • Wish – the inspiring thing you’re going for ie your objective
  • Outcome – your KR
  • Obstacle
  • Plan

With mental contrasting, you should take a little time to think about the obstacle. Just thinking about it, helps you act.

FYI, this is also called ‘WOOP‘ (easier to remember than mental contrasting!)


What’s the worse KR you’ve seen? Andrew: “TBC” Brad: putting in an OKR we knew we couldn’t meet – or vanity things.

How long does it take to pull together OKRs? Brad says it’s about 2 days (every 6 weeks). Andrew says it’s much less now that they have done this several times and they don’t change their objectives every time. Wayne has time boxed theirs to 3 hrs.

Wayne & Andrew also talked to the difference between old & new products. New products might need longer to work out the OKRs as opposed to tweaking existing products.

Thank you!

A massive thank you to Andrew, Wayne & Brad, our wonderful speakers for the evening! To our fantastic volunteers for the evening: Gwen, Steve C, Steve B, Rob, Neha, Nigel & Marija. To all attendees!!! And to Medibank for hosting!!!!

Slides: Andrew Knibbe / Seek

Slides: Wayne Allan / REA

Slides: Brad Dunn / OHNO

The What & Why of Wardley Maps – The wrap-up

I first heard of Wardley Mapping about 2 months ago and then the name started popping up in a few places which got us investigating it as a potential topic. Coming at it from zero knowledge, it seemed like the sort of thing product folks should know more about as it concerned both strategy & decision making.

Kim Ballestrin, Principal Consultant at elabor8, talked us through the basics and got us creating a map by thinking through the user needs capturing & protecting their personal data when using social media.

The What of Wardley Maps

A Wardley Map is a representation of the landscape & environment a company operates in. Its creator, Simon Wardley, believes a leader should have a map of the terrain to help guide their strategy.

The map consists of the activities the user needs to accomplish their goal charted across lifecycle, supply & demand.

You can use this framework in several ways, such as:

  • To think about your ongoing product development – from USP to commodities
  • A way of looking at the market or competitor landscape
  • Process and value chains from understanding where you have no standard process to defining a highly standardised process

The Whys of Wardley Maps

The map is a great way to create discussion. Once created, scan your map from top to bottom and left to right to determine if there are specific decisions that need to be made. Look for assumptions you’re making on the map or within your existing thought process.

Bonus – The How of Wardley Maps!

There’s a few principles to keep in mind when creating a Wardley Map:

  • The user need is your starting point
  • Keep it simple and on a small scale – don’t try to map EVERYTHING!
  • Your map will be imperfect – and that is completely ok!

How to create a Wardley Map

  1. Define your user’s needs.
  2. What are the activities the user takes in order for those needs to be met?
  3. Drill down into functions & features based on the visibility of the features to the end user.

Chart your functions & features from left to right along the evolutionary axes. The axes go from bespoke (genesis) on the left to generic (commodity) on the right.

Sketch in the linkages between the features & functions. This gives a good landscape of where you are right now.

Mapping out these connections and perhaps seeing where you may be too dominant in your commodity space & thus are at risk of disruption. Or understand that you’re too heavy in custom services, which bring high cost to serve & thus its time to consider streamlining the business by moving those to a product stage. These are some examples of ways a Wardley map helps you see the landscape and make better strategic decisions on what to do next as an organisation.

ProdAnon also had a bit of a surprise! The man himself, Simon Wardley, creator of this framework just happened to be in Melbourne Thursday evening and attended the session. Thank you Kim for inviting him!

Simon was kind enough to take some questions from the audience & talk through how he came up with his framework all those years ago.

Thank you to all the ProdAnon volunteers!! Ana Roy for fantastic note taking (& the great sketches!), Steve Cheah for the pix & elevator work and a these amazing people: Gwen D’souza, Marija Becker , Rob Finney, Richard Burke, Neha Jaiswal.

A massive thank you to DiUS for hosting the evening!


Thank you Kim for the talk & organising the surprise appearance by Simon!


Strategy for Executives – Situation Normal, Everything Must Change

Simon Wardley’s ‘Wardley Mapping‘ site

F**k Roadmaps!!! – The good, the bad and the ugly – The wrap-up

We opened 2019 talking about roadmaps – a topic we had been asked in responses to our annual feedback to spend some more time on. We invited our speakers to share their different perspectives on roadmaps… and we heard come common themes to help understand how to keep a roadmap from controlling your life, and how to turn it into a fabulous communication and vision guide for inspiring your teams, plus some sage advice relevant to each organisation who took the stage that evening.

Below are some highlights from each talk plus the slides from each speaker – feel free to reach out to any of them if you would like to chat more. Plus we have added some references to other resources to read and explore at the end of this post.

David Bignall / Seek

David had much to share – ultimately not a fan but he did share some tips on how to help make them work for you rather than be a slave to them!

Roadmaps are a thing, every company has them so you will encounter them. David used this deck at Seek over a year ago to his team and people so proof they are a real thing, but after having the discussion has helped wean the team/group he is on off them.

For David when sharing what he thinks a roadmap is showed a map – because it is a journey to an unknown place.

“A document to capture and quickly convey a team’s big-picture goals, specific objectives and their imagined path to success” – Dave

 “A company roadmap is a document to capture and quickly convey its big-picture plans and objectives” –

“The first purpose is because the management of a company wants to make sure that the teams are working on the highest value items first, relevant to the company strategy.

The second purpose is because businesses may have date-based commitments. The roadmap is where they see and track those commitments.” Marty Cagan, SVPG

They can be useful – but they can also be a big waste of time – common issues:

  1. Intended goals/purpose are not stated or are not clear
  2. Often far to specific
    1. You can’t have that much foresight 9 months away
  3. They do not account for “time to value”. Iteration is almost always needed to realise the full value of a new product/feature – (David bravely shared an own example of a very bad roadmap!)
    1. Put item on there and them immediately moving on to the next thing
    2. Ignoring the process of iteration or things going wrong
  4. Detail on roadmap can lead team to auto-pilot. They build what they put down on paper often months in advance
    1. Team goes into auto-pilot. As if this is their job, rather than thinking of most value to be delivered for the customer
  5. Distributed copies are out of date
    1. Keeping stakeholders up to date can drain your time. You don’t want to feel like you work for the roadmap, and it is just sucking your time from doing real work.

“Many untested hypotheses, based on assumptions, plotted in an uncertain future, bearing no resemblance to reality” Jared Spool

Dave’s top tips for roadmaps

  1. Show where you want to go
  2. Choose granularity relative to the timeframe and audience
  3. Avoid specificity (Show the problem or JTBD or objectives as descriptors of intent rather than the solution)
  4. Keep it simple, centralised and accessible
  5. Don’t work for it, it works for you.

Whitney Cali /

Whitney opened with sharing a story about her experiences of not liking roadmaps because she has never seen a roadmap, become reality. She first got to know REA when working at a company in the US, and became a slave to the roadmap as they committed to work they would deliver to this customer. Then, she joined REA and was so excited about agile and thought, YES! I’ll get away from roadmaps! But she was fooling herself – see the beautiful roadmap on the wall at REA (pictured in slides). However, she soon found that REA was using roadmaps and needed to due to the big size of the organisation and the need to coordinate a lot across so many teams, groups etc.

However, in Whitney’s attempt to accept roadmaps and make peace with the need for them she started asking “Why do people ask for roadmaps?”.

Some of the things she learnt don’t work when using them:

  1. Don’t work as a promise
  2. Too much detail – just a list of lower level features
  3. Lose focus on what the customer needs.

REA owns a lot of companies and even just within a dozen delivery teams.

“Satisfaction is a confirmation or dis-confirmation of expectations.”

Example of people waiting for train for 15 minutes but dissatisfied, and others warned that train will come at 5:30 and apologies for the delay, did not rate their travel experience as dissatisfying as compared to the first group as their expectations were met/managed.

With that in mind let’s try to think what this artefact does to satisfy our leaders.

So what are they currently doing with Whitney’s team – they use a 90 day view – showing a commitment up to 90 days. No promises beyond that – great for delivery teams. Not great for stakeholders.

For stakeholders they use a Discovery backlog (second 90 days) and an Opportunity backlog (all the rest – no priority) – people now satisfied that their idea is on there – somewhere. Others groups understand that stuff that comes out of Discovery will most likely make it to the committed version and the conversation is being moved to a different stage of team flow.

I encourage you to seek to understand with genuine curiosity, the needs of anyone who has a problem and thinks that a roadmap is the solution. Whitney

Keith Swann / Origin Engery

Keith brought to us a more positive upside to the roadmap discussion

His beliefs are that they help with:

  • Alignment – up or down
  • Influence – rarely based on dollars
  • Leadership – how do we inspire people and rally them to our cause


  • Everyone will scrutinize it to their own beliefs, so do it carefully – target on your back
    • Strategic – Financial, PMOs, GMs, etc. etc. interpret the stuff and then try to manage up and down.
    • Cultural – make sure it talks to your audience
    • Influence Record – Successful record of moving things along. Better record = less scrutiny

A road map is a Story telling device and the aspects Keith uses are MUM, Problems, Position, Opportunity, Value. How do you tell the story, “up or down” the organisation. Think of the “Cone of influence” – below people can make lots of small decision but not big decisions. As you move up you get spun out if you aren’t managing those stakeholders.

  • Eisenhower: Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable
  • Every day the plan can change – the second your plan is finished it is out of date.
  • Roadmap = Vision.


  • Don’t put in too much detail
  • Think of your audience – Working Tested Feature – WTF
  • Don’t muddle the Project Mindset – Delivery Planning – Bookending with a roadmap
  • Don’t become vague in your horizon 2 and 3 – don’t over promise
  • Make it easily editable and manageable
    • Post Its on the wall and photos
  • Over invested time of effort – working with visual designers. 5 days work and 6/7000$ and printed in colour. Thus, you deliver to the roadmap even though you don’t want it anymore because too much effort went into the artefact.
  • Don’t clearly show values
  • Don’t focus on the feature – focus on the problem or opportunity.


Roadmaps may very well be a necessary evil, especially in a big organisation when you have many teams and people to motivate, inspire and align. However, our speakers have shared some great tips to help keep you from being a slave to them as well. For some more references and reading on steering clear of them and/or leaning into making them work for you check out some of the links below:

  • Brad Dunn has some opposing opinions on roadmaps.
  • Marty Cagan is not a fan and in these post he links to OKR’s which came up in both the speaker presentations and the questions afterwards.
  • And last but not least for a more practical tuition on taking back control of your roadmap you could check out Bruce McCarthy’s seminar on UIE

Thank you!!!

And thank you to our sponsors as always, without them these events do not happen.


Essential steps to building great products + services

Last Friday, Brainmates brought together an impressive line-up to talk about creating great products. The talks were linked through 4 steps of product creation:

  • idea selection
  • product design
  • product team
  • launch

The 4 speakers shared their experience in that area for the audience to walk away with a holistic inspiration for building great products.

Warren Wan kicked us off talking about idea selection and opportunity assessment steps at MyFitnessPal. His perspective is from building a start-up, which is often different to working on products at a large corporate, but in a short half-hour he shared a number of insights, including:

Three things are needed for a start-up to succeed:

  1. something the founder needs or believes in
  2. something they can build
  3. something few others think has value in it

MyFitnessPal’s founder, Mike, started out this way – with a need to lose weight in time for a wedding and frustrated by the standard calorie counter books that were handed out at that time. The available products didn’t match or suit the moment when you were actually at the supermarket needing to assess the calories in food and they certainly didn’t help with the calorie count at a restaurant. Mike went on to teach himself programming so he could build the solution himself.

MyFitnessPal are now in the growth phase and they still focus on the core use case – which for MyFitnessPal is the best in class experience and the food database. With a start-up, over-extending your limited resources is not something you can afford to do so this focus is incredibly important.

They choose to work on ideas that increase the user funnel (overall traffic), that assist with app store placement (currently top 3 app in over 65 countries) and funnel optimisation.

Warren had some important points to add regarding funnel optimisation.  Registration is thought of as something that needs to be fast but MyFitnessPal they found this is not an area to shortcut. The more information they can get about their user, the more they can do to support the users’ goals and journey. While that will see fewer sign-ups, the value the user feels by continuing through the process, the better job MyFitnessPal can do with calorie guidance and thus a better value relationship is created.

warren presenting

Other important concepts in idea selection are to iterate quickly & listen to the user. It’s important not to overbuild. It’s more important to ship. Every employee listens to support queries so the whole company feels the mission – and understands what the user needs.

Now in the growth phase with the option to hire and go beyond a one-man start-up, there is room to think about hard problems (with big returns). Warren described this as a “widen the moat” strategy – to focus on efforts that drive differentiation between competitors.

The culture at a company needs to support everyone having a voice, and MyFitnessPal concur. Warren explained the “amazon two pizza rule” which is a way to think about team sizes. The analogy is a helpful way to think about how to organise teams – the optimal number of people in a team can be fed with 2 pizzas. MyFitnessPal have sorted their teams around feature groups, to help with purpose and focus and knowing the number of pizzas to order 🙂

Next Lisa Wong took us through the next step in creation of a great product – the design stage. Lisa is director of product and user experience at eBay, Australia. Lisa pulled no punches:

“a product designer and a product manager are not the same thing”

If product managers aren’t designing what are we doing, what are we doing? We are defining the vision. Lisa asks her product team to define the product plan which is made up of just three things:

  1. What do you want to deliver
  2. Vision/product approach
  3. Roadmap

Easy right? Never underestimate/misunderstand the probability of miscommunication. What does this mean? It means the PM’s job is to over-describe and over-explain what is needed. A PM can get sucked into getting feedback, prioritisation and the tactical steps.

If one is so “execution focussed that they are not interested in the reason behind it, then success is a gamble”

Lisa’s guidance for her team to help rise above this is:

  • Articulate what you want to achieve
  • Establish a frame of reference (common ideas)
      For eBay, this was using a store or a warehouse as a metaphor for the digital landscape
  • Over-describe and over-explain what you mean
      You can never do this too much! There are lots of available tools so use all of them or whichever you need at the time. Use personas, mental models, customer journeys, mood boards, click path analysis, create mental dialoges, etc. Make sure they are are built from observation and data – not from asking.

A theme starts to emerge at this point as Lisa also reiterates comments that Warren has made.

“if you never execute and get out to market you never make money”, so “done better is better than done perfect”.

The focus naturally now shifts to the team and people you need for building great products and this was nicely covered by Henry Ruiz, Chief Product Officer at REA Group.

When looking for people at REA, they look for core skills that include product marketing, conceptual skills, ability to get into the market, ability to predict the market and to be authentic people that influence without authority. This last one is about hiring nice people 🙂

Henry said REA not only looks for high competency but high self-esteem and low ego. Refreshing to hear this articulated about your product management people and hiring process.

The way in which REA frames their work is the 3C’s:

  • Context
    • The problem statement
    • What is it the customer is trying to achieve
  • Concept
    • The success criteria
  • Content
    • The product idea
    • Where a lot of people get stuck and lost in without having defined the previous two.

The power of the product manager is in helping others see the context and the concept before they get lost in their product idea and thus ensuring when they do, it will be to work on the right component that needs solving at that time.

Henry presenting

Henry took us on a journey through the “co-creation approach to develop product concepts” at REA. Like most companies, REA have more than one stakeholder to consider – the real estate agent, the seller and the consumer.

In order to ensure they never tug too strongly for one stakeholder and end up hurting another, they ensure a balanced score card is in place for all 3. This helps them build solutions that bring value across that market. Such a disciplined approach leads them to create “sweetspot” concepts repeatedly.

Last, but by no means least, Jane Huxley, currently at Pandora internet radio, led us through launching a product. With experience across many products and industries, from Microsoft, to Vodafone, to Fairfax and now Pandora, Jane shared her experiences with a great deal of humour.

Launch success criteria have changed over time and certainly since Jane’s time at Microsoft. Jane was quite clear that now a launch is “not a date on the calendar” that you can get to and be done. One of those reasons for change is due to the types of products of that time when you would know how well you were doing by the simple(r) maths of the number of products shipping out the door. Now, your parameters for success have changed and Pandora understood that by giving Jane a year to plan for launch.

The support that she had by working with Pandora allowed for options that might not have otherwise been available – Jane called this standing on the shoulders of giants. One needs to make sure it is clear what you do and why you exist – for Pandora that is about being clear that they are targeting the 80% of the market of that are passive listeners of music, they are not after the active listeners that Rdio, iTunes, and MOG etc are after. This is how Pandora stands out from the rest.

The ambiguity that one has to be comfortable with and is necessary to launch and manage products now is something she guides her people on as she recruits them. Jane’s advice is to focus – remember what you said you were going to do in the 1st place. Pull out that napkin or beer mat where you wrote the idea down and as the noise of a launch tries to suck you in, pick up that napkin and remember why you are here. Spend the time beforehand to stave off the biggest risks before pulling the trigger.

Lastly, the viral secret sauce! When someone adds 2 personalised station, they 8 other users within a week. When we discover something new we are compelled to share, so Pandora’s secret is their personalisation + discovery.

And there was one final piece of advice, which I think wasn’t just about launching products – keep calm and play the long game. Jane wrapped up the entire talk with this statement as it rose above all the valuable tactical advice she had provided and essentially reminded us all not to sweat the small stuff.

The summary of advice from Jane to launch successfully:

  • Stand on the shoulders of giants
  • Stand out from the pack
  • Focus
  • Go viral
  • Keep calm and play the long game

It was a fabulous afternoon of product management goodness from all the speakers with much to learn and a fantastic view of the two great Sydney icons from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thank you Brainmates for organising a fantastic event!  If you want to check out more from the day, see the Storify.