The largest product management conference series in the world, ProductCon, took place in San Francisco last week. It’s organized by Product School and it takes place five times a year with events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and London. Our product management team here at Maxitech have also attended their courses last year so we are a proud alumni.
The speaker lineup this year featured product leaders from Netflix, Coinbase, Oracle, Pendo, Workfront, PayPal, Mixpanel, eBay, Amazon Alexa and Airbnb. We were lucky to have attended this wonderful conference to learn from these leaders’ experiences.
The talks started with Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, founder/CEO at Product School, welcoming speech. We are impressed with what he has achieved in such a short time. He has expanded Product School to 16 campuses across the US, UK, Canada in only 5 years. In his speech he also announced their new corporate training program, where large organizations can enhance their product management teams’ skills further. You might want to check it out if you’re interested at least for your teams that work close enough to the core product of your business.
The talk by the first speaker, Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix, was fun and energising as much as it was informative. His energy gave the whole conference room a good kick-start for the day.
Instead of Product Management, his talk was around company cultures where he gave examples from his experience from Netflix, Chegg and Electronic Arts. It resonated with us the fact that culture in companies is actually a leadership and decision-making tool. Setting it right is the fastest way to make decisions without even talking to each other.
His example from the history of Netflix was very interesting. In early 2007, a director tells in a Q&A session of a conference that they are going to launch an online platform to stream movies. Yet he was strictly briefed before the conference to avoid talking about their plans, because it was simply a secret that would have an impact on their competition in the market. Their bosses eventually fired him instead of reprimanding him or doing nothing. This decision to fire him was backed by the transparency culture of Netflix and it gave a strong signal to the company that this transparency value that they carry should not be exploited to disclose confidential information about the company to public.
“Netflix’s first hiring practices: `No Bozos. No Assholes.”
His DEL model to develop a unique culture for a company (or any mission or any stage of a process) was pretty easy to digest: Define your company culture: be sure to articulate your values that either magnet prospect employees or repel the unfit ones. Edit your company culture: constantly ask yourself why you carry those values and if you can improve the outcome of those decision-making processes fueled by them while still engaging experiments to see what works. Live your company culture: make it central to your daily hire-fire-promote conversations to everybody in the company for them to question the right articulation of the culture while pointing out behaviors that are not consistent with it.
“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.“
Besides the speech he gave, one thing we especially liked was him to collect feedback through a gigantic QR code of a survey link which he shared on his deck that anyone in the audience could use their phones to access.
Our favourite talk was by Anna Marie Clifton, product manager responsible for the revenue generating products across Coinbase. She also co-hosts the podcast called Clearly Product at clearlyproduct.com, we recommend you to check it out, we did as our product management team here at Maxitech and we liked it. She discussed about crafting product strategies and how to move from ideas to actions.
Even though her talk was around “Product” strategy, you could apply her approaches while crafting your strategies in general for whatever target you have in your role or business. Despite that the fact that product strategy is one of the core points of impact there is among user testing, sprint planning and all the other tactical pieces of product management, there aren’t really a lot of good frameworks or guidelines on how to craft a product strategy. So she shared with us her own guidelines that she has developed in time based on her experiences.
Learn what you’re looking for: We totally agree with her that product strategy is vaguely defined in the industry. She gave her own simple definition: “Product strategy is a plan that focuses product effort to achieve business goals”. This definition encompasses the three core parts of the product strategy: “Planning” is a cohesive set of actions in a particular sequence with an explanation of ‘why?’. “Focusing” product effort should be a fuel to the “NO” engine of your team. And what this means is that it should be something that your team can point to when a new feature requests comes from the sales team or even potentially the CEO. You should be able to tell them: “Hmm, sorry boss, that doesn’t fit with where we’re trying to take the product, that’s not part of our product strategy so we’re sorry but we’re not going to be able to that”.
We are looking to build a plan that focuses to achieve business goals, we want it to be a coherent set of actions that is in a particular sequence with a good reason for ‘why?’. We are looking for this plan toward the goals but not the goals themselves. And we want it to be as simple as possible, no more than a one page output.
Search the opportunity space: After getting a sense of what you’re looking to build, you should look into how you come up with the core idea that you’ll build a strategy around and how you search for that. One thing to keep in mind is that this is not something you can just walk into an industry and accomplish. If you’re particularly new to your industry, take some time to absorb what’s going on and understand the competitive landscape.
One of the two frameworks she has developed for this is: “Top-down from the company and bottom-up from the customer”. Look into where your company needs to go and what your customers are trying to do for their own benefit. Then search through these two to find a common intersecting space.
Another strategy for the same purpose is -we find it very useful as the product management team in Maxitech, is called: “mapping the value curve of your competitors”. Which is similar to a very classic method in business administration also known as “value innovation”. First you draw out the curve how your industry competes according to the factors your customers consider while purchasing. Then score the offering level of each of these factors (e.g. “Low price”, “high selection”, etc). Even just building this map is a really good way for you to distill your knowledge in an industry and ensure you’re really align with what’s going on in the market and develop insights on it.
What’s actually useful about this is that it allows you to think about the “negative space” of your industry as well. Looking at the curve, something will hopefully stand out for you to notice that a factor is too competitive (e.g. “very high selection of songs”) while another is nonexistent (e.g. “direct relations to artists”) which would give you an opportunity to compete in a new space even while asking higher prices (e.g. “limited songs of only small group of bands with a chance to meet the band members in person for an expensive subscription”).
Another talk that we liked was around product led growth and customer centricity by Christine Itwaru, Director of Product Management at Pendo. We haven’t ever used Pendo ourselves in Maxitech but we are interested in trying it out once, it’s a product cloud creator for digital products and data-driven product teams, like us. She mentioned about her journey and how she decided to become a product manager when she noticed the impact on the success of a company when she started asking and listening to the customers’ problems. We agree on her emphasize on the importance of being a “servant leader” as a product manager. Product managers are not individual contributors, their role is touching everyone in the company. So they can accomplish their task as a product manager only if every single team involved succeed together. It’s so true that we can only grow ourselves if we help grow the ones around us.