Learn. Connect. Grow. Repeat: Day 2 of Product Management Festival 2019

Written by Published in News and truths, Product Management

Off On to a good start!

Day 2 started early for active PMs who joined a morning run led by On running shoes. Decked out in their “run on clouds” footwear, the group explored the Sihlpromenade for a pre-conference oxygen boost. (We assume they made it back…this is the pre-run picture…)

…And the band played on

As people drifted in to the main cinema room for the opening session, Raphael (Raphael Leiteritz, Google, Co-Chair of PMF) told a story about a resourceful group of PMs. The live band had been hired to perform for two hours. Apparently said PMs collected money so the band would play longer. At some point, the musicians said, “It’s not about the money, we just can’t play anymore”. We sincerely hope that PMF has not been blacklisted by Zurich’s local music scene!

How much, how far, how fast?

Before we get to the opening keynote, a quick plug for PMF’s Trends and Benchmark survey. With information on salary, career issues and ways of working, the survey is generating authoritative data and setting the standard in the industry. We had 1’000 replies last year. Our goal is 5’000 this year (Remember, our co-chair is from Google – 10X). PMF is all about impact and the TnB survey is a great tool for talking to people in organizations and boards to show how PM lands in their organizations. (Read in a trance-inducing voice: “Complete the survey, Complete the survey, Complete the survey.”)

How Instagram finds “the next big thing”: Three Principles of Innovation

In the opening keynote, Shilpa Sarkar, an Instagram product manager leading IGTV took us through three principles for innovative products: Observe, Design, Evolve.

Principle 1: Observe Individuals.
Designers deeply understand their products. To design for people unlike yourself (think e.g., firefighters or circus performers), you need to do need-finding and delve deep to understand their problems. Don’t just look at data. Find out how your users live and what their problems are. Where do qualitative research and data contradict each other? Going in with an open mind is a hallmark of design thinking. Dive into the ambiguity!

Principle 2: Design with an opinion
As you get closer to launch, doubts often start to creep in. At this stage, the worst thing you can do is second-guess every decision, dial back or try to hedge your bets. Stay true to how you want to interact!

Principle 3: Evolve with your community
As your community grows and develops, your product needs to evolve too. For Instagram’s influencer community, this evolution started with photos, then videos in feeds, then stories, then IGTV.

Snapchat Copycat?
When asked whether Instagram built Stories by observing user or by observing Snapchat, Shilpa commented that competitors can illuminate a problem you weren’t aware of. There are a lot of ways to go and solve that problem. You need to solve the core need.

A problem shared is a problem halved

A big part of the PMF conference experience is finding out that other people – from other countries, from other organizations, from other countries – are facing the exact same problems as you are. We are all in the same boat. This knowledge alone brings a great deal of relief and reassurance to a sometimes scary role.

Our beloved barista

Easily the most popular man at the conference, our barista brewed all-day long to PM coffee aficionados. Over two days, we consumed 1298 coffees and 112 litres of milk. And that’s on top of the regular coffee and Emmi coffees provided by catering. PMs are a caffeine-hungry bunch!

From 1 to 1B: How being a PM Changes (and Stays the Same!) as a Product Scales


In the closing keynote, Jacob Bank, Director of Product Management at Google, shared his personal story as he went from PhD study (abandoned) to CEO of the startup Timeful (acquired by Google in 2015), and his mistakes and learnings about building products for one to 1 billion users.

Users don’t do anything.
Building highly specific features for a small (1% of 5% of 5%) group of users is not the way to go. The majority of users are not going to go search for hidden features. If you’re not on the default path of what users are already doing, then you will never discover anything.

The most dangerous function
Adding some extra engineers to the team is almost always a good thing. They’ll fix a couple extra bugs, clean up some technical debt…An extra designer is ok too. They’ll design a few features, build some mockups that won’t get implemented…But an extra PM? Whoa, watch out! An extra PM will end up wasting the time of 5-100 other people. They’ll come up with a new strategy and a new vision. And it’s especially dangerous if you get a very good PM, who will rally a bunch of people behind them…

But in all honesty, the PM role comes with great responsibility and we all need to be very careful. Wherever you are on the spectrum (of one to one billion users), appreciate the pros of what you have. Stay optimistic and stay positive.

It takes a village

Co-Chair Adrian Zwingli thanked the many people involved in making PMF possible: PM Iulia Porneala and her team of Agnes Szeberenyi, Anna Pernicheva, Grace Camoglu and Melanie Spira, as well as all the partners, the Conference Board members, the volunteers and the speakers.

Homeward bound

And just like that, the conference was over. What did we learn? We talked about Cargo cult and culture; Obsessing over the problem, not the solution; that the human brain is the most under-utilised resource on the planet; design with an opinion and that everyone has a superhero inside them. What will you do? Raphael invited conference delegates to reflect for 30 seconds on a specific takeaway from the conference. What one thing will you do next Monday to impact your team or organization?


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