PMF 2019: Are you a great Product Manager or a great Problem Solver?

Written by Published in News and truths, Product Management

Since 2013, Product Management Festival (PMF) has been bringing together Product Managers from across the globe to meet, share stories and exchange ideas. This year’s two-day conference kicked off today with 1200 product managers from 55 countries and 360 companies descending upon Zurich’s Arena Cinema to hear from 70+ speakers on themes like customer delight, career development, leadership, culture and more.

Why are you doing what you are doing?

PMF’s co-chairs, Adrian Zwingli, SwissQ and Raphael Leiteritz, Google, kicked off the day with a brief look at cargo cult thinking, the belief that if you do the same things (as other successful companies), good things will happen. We have a tendency to adopt ways of working and technological aspects of others without asking whether it makes sense for our own organization. Rather than blindly copying what others do, we need to understand the mechanisms at work and whether they fit our own circumstances. Inspired by the 2018 closing keynote of Michael Perry from Shopify, urging us to become great problem solvers, Raphael urged us all to adopt an “I love problems” vs “I love products” mindset. What problem are you solving?

New features for 2019

Being a problem-lover herself, PMF’s product manager, Iulia Porneala digs into attendee and partner feedback to understand her users’ problems and to design solutions to make the PMF experience the best possible for everyone. This year’s new features include:

Family matters: encouraging conference connections
The PMF community is one big family and this year, we are using the Attendify app to make it even easier to connect (not that PMs are known for their shyness!) Messages from Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland flooded into the chat in the days and hours leading up to the event. There were notes from people looking to connect at the pre-conference warm-up, seeking out experts on specific topics, or letting us know about the sweet shop in the partner area.

A cuddlier conference

PMF’s PM Iulia Porneala is a big fan of hugs – and what better way to promote personal interaction at the conference than with the addition of an official hug point and a giant teddy bear? Bärli was kept busy throughout the day – alternately acting as a sofa and as a focal point of group photos.

Every little drop helps
A large conference like PMF is in danger of producing a lot of waste. This year, we distributed water bottles to all attendees to reduce our impact on the environment. Bottles can be filled at stations throughout the venue – and of course with good ole Hahnenburger (tap water), which is fantastic in Switzerland!

The Swiss Chalet
For a more personal interaction, participants could join Ask me Anythings and pre-arranged 1:1 coaching sessions in the Swiss Chalet (for Canadian readers: a cozy wooden cabin on the cinema grounds, not the restaurant chain of the same name). 

A carrot for visiting partner booths
Participants can get their exhibition cards stamped at partner booths. At the end of day 2, all completed cards will be entered into a raffle for 10 free tickets for the 2020 conference. Winners can choose between free entry to PMF Europe or PMF APAC (sorry, flight and hotel are on your dollar/franc).

Killer Keynote: Gibson Biddle of Netflix

In his opening keynote, Gibson Biddle, ex-CPO at Netflix, talked about culture. Culture is a leadership and decision-making tool and helps find best fit employees. It is not something that can – or should! – be copied, because every company has its unique needs and requires different skills. In thinking about culture, there are tough choices to be made along the continuums of freedom vs control, family vs club vs pro vs Dream Team and transparent vs secretive. Each company needs to decide on the unique culture to fit its company, mission and stage (of development).

Do nothing, reprimand or fire?
Gibs warned that his talk would be fishy, and he explained the analogy with a quote from Dave Gray: “Culture is like water to a fish. You can’t see it and it’s hard to know exactly what it is, but it governs everything we do, all that is possible”. To make culture tangible, Netflix uses cases to simulate future decision-making and test beliefs and values. Their culture deck contains in-depth descriptions of each value (e.g., 5 statements explaining Courage) and is edited every quarter.

Content galore!

With six parallel tracks to choose from, there was something in the schedule to fit every product manager’s need – and the problems she loves! Talks, workshops, panel discussions, deep dives and Ask me Anything sessions ran the gamut from AI/ML to product sprints to toxic products.

To accommodate the huge crowd, lunch was available continuously between 11.40 am and 2 pm. Candy and chocolate was available at selected partner stands all day long!

What is leadership? – ex-Navy Captain David Marquet

In a very engaging and entertaining way, David Marquet spun his story about his experiences in the US Navy and on the Santa Fe. He spoke of “the old days”, where leadership (according to the US Navy handbook) was defined as, “directing the thoughts, plans and actions of others .. so as to obtain and command their obedience, their confidence, their respect and their loyal cooperation”. He contrasted that to today, where, telling a smart, talented individual what to do would be like throwing cold water on the fire of human creativity.

Removing the speed bumps
David likened the job of a leader to removing speed bumps so that everyone, exactly as they are, can speak up. It is up to the leader to create the right environment and a simple mechanism to start with is moving from yes/no and leading questions to open questions where you are seeking team input (Think, “What are we missing?” vs “We good here?”) David closed by stating his new definition of leadership: Leadership is believing that every human being has a superhero inside of them and I can play a role in letting them come out by creating the right environment. They will not be ordered out. When it is safe enough, the superhero comes out. It starts with you giving up control.

Party time!

And now for the (even more) fun part! After an apéro in the partner area, the conference moved to the Folium and Papiersaal building for some serious networking. Those wanting to network and relax were catered to in the chill lounged of the Folium, while those with energy left to dance the night away could groove to the beats of the live band.

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