I’m Jammin’

As a Product Manager it’s always a treat to occasionally get away from the scrum and the stories to attend an industry event or conference. This year I decided to take in Jam ‘17 which I’d heard many positive things about in the last year.

No stale coffee or air conditioning here. It’s out into the wild of South East London and to be honest the scaled back approach works well. No endless corridors leading to poorly attended talks here. One room. So so wifi and a raft of speakers. Simple. Time to Jam.

Customer research for rapid making

Fiona McLaren of Made By Many kicked things off focusing on the key steps to customer research when rapid prototyping. Establish what are the key learnings you want from research and set these as the absolute questions you want answered in each interview. Test in pairs as that avoids people lying (ha!). Translate outcomes from real people into real quotes and real statements instead of generic personas that quickly get forgotten. Use these to define the principles of how you approach idea generation.

Key takeaway: Speak to enough people to gain your own confidence level. As Product Manager or Head of Design you’re being hired for your judgement too.

Building ‘What’s On’ on the V&A website

Eva Liparova from the V&A followed with a pretty disappointing and too detailed a take on how she started as Lead PM at The V&A. To any PM listening the story was a common one and hence I had to question the value of why she was being invited to share it. Identify and listen to key stakeholders, walk through the existing product experience, establish your vision and work out how best to bring people along on that journey with you.

Key takeaway: To win over stakeholders, reveal little but often. Build a community around your product journey.

MVP B2B SaaS WTF?

The 100 mph Mads Viktor, Head of Design at PeakOn bounded on next to share his insights on going from MVP to SaaS and how you drag risk averse customers along for the uncomfortable ride.

Key takeaway: If you fear overwhelming customers by shipping regular new features and you chose to hide them then in time beware the Frankenstein product!

Avant-garde Product Development in the Age of Data

By far the most entertaining and thought provoking speaker of the day was Ed Cooke from Memrise. As someone that has always struggled with learning languages his vision was inspiring and highlighted how important it is to have the leader of your business emotionally and technically engaged. Ed is that with bells on.

His adventures in developing and launching a product in an ultra competitve space include spy on your competitors vision statements (i.e. what are saying they are NOT going to do), build a team of diverse individuals and create a working environment where ideas are allowed to flourish. As a PM let ideas you don’t necessarily like thrive yet be strong enough to kill those that over complicate your product.

Key takeaway: By betting big you create an energy that’s difficult to resist. Leap and the net will appear!

That took us to lunch by which time I was starting to question if I’d not heard much of these themes before. Product research is all encompassing. Check. Tech debt sucks. Yep. Be faithful to your vision. Gotcha. Iterate your way to success. Tick. Worthy notes for the new PM but with a room of several hundred PMs I couldn’t help but feel that the agenda was preaching to the converted. I went back in hoping to hear something new…

How we built stuff nobody asked for

Cindy Chang from Intercomm did a fine job on taking us through an illustrative journey of taking your team on a journey and was keen to suggest we should all “think big but start small” and that we “ship to learn”.

Key takeaway: Design for emotions to win the hearts and minds of your customers.

Fueling innovation at Strava

A self confessed Strava junkie I was excited for Melissa Sweet’s talk on creating a culture of company hacks (or jams as Strava term them). As someone that has organised and attended many a hack, their approach was reasonably standard but I was impressed by the extent to which they had become part of the roadmap norm rather than a fun techie distraction.

Quarterly three day sprints; deliberately unprescriptive with the emphasis on the creative. Strava Labs is the by-product of that.

Key takeaway: The importance of having a tech obsessed leader in your business. Cultural product practices like these are easier to trickle down rather than have pushed upwards.

Users don’t want features, they want better content

Pantelis Korovilas was the first person to really say “I screwed up” which is always nice to hear. We all do it, and it’s the means by which we learn. Taking us through a very specific product example from his time at Hopper, Pantelis showed how reframing the problem and the solution can take a failing idea to one that works.

  1. Reframe the problem. Don’t include your solution in the statement.
  2. Reframe the solution. Can we use how our current product works to solve the problem.

Key takeaway: When reframing the problem, as an exercise write down problem you are solving multiple times and in multiple ways and see what spills out.

Fooling ourselves with data

Kudos to Chad Jennings from Moo, who was the first person in the day to really suggest something I’d not really heard before and to challenge the normal way of doing things.

Touching on the common lament that there is a bewildering volume and variety of data for us to sift through, Chad suggested we focus on the non survivors. The % of your users who bounce. Those that exit straight away. Those that demonstrate they are a non-believer in your product. Hunt them down and learn from them. Nice.

Key takeaway: Sure it’s expensive to do, but if you assume that your site converts at 5% then that’s 95% of visitors you’re ignoring. Be mindful of all hailing the “crisp, clean, automated data report.” Data is pretty good at representing the past but not so hot at predicting the future.

So all in all what did I think of Jam? Yes it is certainly a well run event and they crammed in a lot of speakers. There was room for more all truth told as the breaks were generous. It did feel refreshing when sat alongside the behemoth that is MindTheProduct but I can’t escape the feeling that as an experienced Product Manager the agenda was a little more suited to people starting out in the profession or those starting up their product. The number of Design Leads talking suggests a blurring of the disciplines between product design and product management. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for next year’s agenda.