7 Thoughts Worth Spreading from Product Management Festival 2020

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From pursuing purpose-driven profits to the applying product principles to leadership development

This is a guest post by András Juhász, Product Manager at Emarsys. It was originally published here on Product Coalition.

 

This year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Product Management Festival’s Europe event, which was held online due to the current circumstances. While initially I had moderate expectations towards the digital-only conference, I was positively surprised at the interactivity and the diversity of the content.

At the event, speakers from well-known companies as well as smaller startups presented a variety of topics. From these sessions, I would like to share seven thoughts that brought in new perspectives or introduced a tweak to a known product concept.

How does a profit-oriented approach match together with value creation?

Radhika Dutt wants to make the world a better place through how product leaders approach their business models. The author argued that today’s innovations and iteration-led approach is too often leading to digital pollution, something which just creates noise in the online space. Her book, Radical Product Thinking, is scheduled for launch in September 2021.

  • Obsessive Sales Disorder: trading off the long game for quick gains, which results in a fragmented product and distracted engineers.
  • Narcissus Complex: looking inwards and focusing on our own needs, becoming disconnected from real customer needs.

Profit-driven companies without a purpose are just creating digital pollution (Radhika Dutt)

An important point

Product people can get obsessed with the amount of speed and scale they deliver at times, while forgetting about the societal impact. As an example, increasing the number of recurring users is a terrible metric for a hospital.

Try, fail, then repeat the process until you succeed

The concept of 6-week delivery cycles in product management is not new. Basecamp’s Ryan Singer talked about it first in their Shape Up book and many companies implemented since then, like Intercom or Buffer.

Intercom’s visualization of the benefits, presented by Tier (Daniil Pavliuchkov)
  • a 1-week launch time (to release new developments),
  • and a 2-week long cooldown part.
Learnings coming from the 6-week cycle implementation (Daniil Pavliuchkov)

The learning here?

Tier has decided to try out an experiment with their way of working. They stuck with their plan even after multiple failed attempts, iterating on what went wrong, and committed to make the new approach work.

What can product managers get from drawing?

A picture is worth a 1000 words, as the old saying goes. Julia Steier surely has some experience in that, as she is a kid book author, a sketch-note artist, and a product manager. During her session, she emphasized why product managers should draw more and what benefit it might mean to them if they do so.

4 steps on the picture: basic shapes, pictionary, 4 rules, practice

The steps the author illustrated in comparison to language learning (Julia Steier)
  1. Pictionary: how shapes come together to simple objects, like a house.
  2. Grammar: four rules for drawing to make sure the final artwork is continuous and understandable (below).
  3. Practicing: doing it as often as possible — in a conference call, during a presentation, or even when assembling the shopping list.

The visualization of the four rules

The four rules to make the drawing a whole (Julia Steier)

The speaker’s highlight

First, it doesn’t matter if one can only draw a stick figure, if it helps explain a certain point better. Second, to express ourselves better, we should all draw more in our everyday life.

Driving retention through value nurturing

A good subscription product succeeds through subscriber retention — Andrey Mikhaylyuk, monetization product lead at Flo, started his presentation with the sentence. Then, he quickly jumped to explain why there is a reasonable difference between making the user pay and creating value.

How Flo is building their value nurturing flow, starting from the first advertisement (Andrey Mikhaylyuk)
  • They remind users how their usage and input helps the application to make better predictions. Beyond that, they utilize careful nudges and success messaging like, “You’ve achieved your daily goal!”
  • Flo also offers user recommendations proactively. If they think a piece of content would suit a user’s need, they display small in-app messages to drive engagement.
  • And last but not least, Flo displays full-screen promotions to advertise new features after releases. This way, users are reminded that the product brings added value, even after they’ve subscribed.

If people don’t start using a subscription, the reason why they paid for it might fade (Andrey Mikhaylyuk)

One thought to take away

If a user subscribes to an app, that doesn’t mean they see its value immediately. Thoughtful messaging is not only important before someone pays but also through the rest of the customer lifecycle.

 

The hidden potential in platform capabilities

Being a product manager within a sizeable platform product is a unique challenge. Vidhu Sharma, Atlassian’s cloud search product manager, explained in his presentation how platform capabilities could be the invisible features that delight customers.

Core platform capabilities that can improve a feature: integration, affinity, and flow (Vidhu Sharma)
  • Affinity: as a growth strategy, the platform can be a distribution channel. While extending a platform’s capabilities, adjacent customers might get interested in the current offering beyond the new features.
  • Flow: to broaden the product-market fit, leveraging the low-hanging fruits by adding extra capabilities into an existing flow.

Stripping down the search into main concepts: experience, relevance, infrastructure (Vidhu Sharma)

One thing to keep in mind

A killer feature doesn’t create a compelling overall product. While some teams might be more capable of creating advanced feature-sets, it’s usually doesn’t worth the effort if it’s not making the whole platform better.

Improving the way how we A/B test things

A/B testing is a frequent topic in product management, and Sultan Seitbekov’s presentation from Miro highlighted just how important statistical significance is. The speaker started his presentation with his take on the PM role. He thinks that it’s not the mini-CEO role some literature refers to, but rather a key position to bring data to the table.

 The description of power in the presentation (Sultan Seitbekov)
  • validate higher in the funnel first, with more traffic
  • do the same experiments in multiple platforms
  • run the experiment longer (but do not do it too often)
  • try to find a proxy metric, if direct conversion is hard to measure

The learning here?

In product management, people often talk about the importance of experimentation. However, it’s not that often that we really take a look at the methodological background of statistical risks.

Inclusive leadership as a product

Product management principles are usually used in connection with digital products. But according to Ekaterina Garbaruk Monnot, this doesn’t have to be the case. In her view, the same approach can also be used to develop leaders, specifically introducing the concept of inclusive leadership.

  • Vision & direction: a product manager’s focus can be leveraged to ensure that anything that is being developed is moving towards a shared vision.
  • Deliver value: being committed to deliver value is one way to make sure that the work is always focused on value-creation.
  • Operate in uncertainty: product managers are good in changing environments, and it’s especially true when someone is developing a leadership toolkit no one has done before within the company.
  • Complex environments: as a last point, product people are good at managing many stakeholders and expectations. This skill can be utilized to guide a leadership initiative towards its completion.

The second version of the inclusive leadership toolkit’s topics (Ekaterina Garbaruk Monnot)

The lesson from the session

Product management principles can be just as useful in other aspects of life as in managing a product. From buying a house to recruiting and nurturing people, a product mindset can bring value in tackling almost any challenge.

Conclusion

These seven talks from the Product Management Festival 2020 covered a wide range of topics and featured diverse speakers. While there were many other good sessions at the conference, it’s visible that…

product management is a form of art.

All product managers should adhere to a few common principles, but the authors demonstrated that anybody could add their own take to the mix.


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