5 Important Product Management Lessons from #mtpcon 2016

Product managers from all over the world gathered in San Francisco to share ideas and take a step back to think big picture. Over 1,200 people, mostly all product managers, attended the conference at Davies Symphony Hall in the Civic Center. It was an amazing experience to have such technologically bent, creative, and business oriented minds all in one place. Although these lessons don’t come close to capturing everything that I took away from this conference, they are noteworthy to share:

1. Product management isn’t standardized

“What the hell do you actually do?” — Ken Norton

This is a question many product managers can face. Ken Norton, Partner at Google Ventures, compared the role to being a conductor in a symphony (very apropos for the venue). Although product managers don’t play any particular “instrument” they play part coach, part trainer, part editor, and part director.

Since product management sits between the intersection of technology, business and the user experience (UX), the folks running product can often have very different backgrounds and skill sets. The speakers cited UX experience as a particularly weak component which “is the whole reason the UX designer profession was invented.” If you feel that the job description is a bit all over the place, do not worry, you are not alone.

2. Don’t let dogma rule your organization

“Don’t be trapped by dogma.” — Steve Jobs

Techniques such as Agile and Scrum are great tools to use in order to move quickly towards your goals in an organized fashion. But these methods should be fine tuned to your team’s particular needs and style. We are all human after all, so as you learn what works and what does not work for your team, pivot to find a methodology that can unite and drive your team towards success.

3. The customer’s experience IS the product

“The internet is being rebuilt around people.” — Des Traynor

This point resonated most with me personally. Product managers should broaden their thinking beyond just managing a product to being responsible for delivering a full experience to customers. Be “mission-centric, medium agnostic” as Scott Belsky, Founder of Behande & VP of Products at Adobe, put it and deliver the value your customers truly want rather than build a product you thought was technologically interesting or looks cool. Des Traynor, Co-Founder of Intercom and keynote speaker, described this by saying “If you’re doing your job right, some of your happy customers may never use your apps.”

4. Ask yourself key questions before building a feature

“Staying simple is f***ing complicated.” — Scott Belsky

When deciding whether or not to build something new, Traynor said you should first ask yourself some key questions. By doing so, you can avoid building features that don’t actually matter to your customers:

  • Does new technology make it cheaper, faster, or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?
  • Does consolidating tools make it cheaper, faster, or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?
  • Does AI / machine learning make it cheaper, faster, or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?
  • Does simple messaging UI make it cheaper, faster, or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?
  • Would a familiar UI make it cheaper, faster, or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?
  • Would making your product usable through all inputs & outputs make it cheaper, faster, or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?

5. Lastly, your product is already obsolete

“First you’ll ignore them, then you’ll laugh at them, then you’ll fight them, then they’ll win.” — Mahatma Ghandi

Traynor’s keynote electrified the crowd when he started by saying even though his company has 10k+ customers, 10’s of millions in revenue, $116M raised, they have never felt more vulnerable. That’s because when you hit a certain point of scale, entrepreneurs all over start working on how to do a better job.

Although he Traynor mentioned several strategies for trying to stay ahead of this problem, there in reality can be no silver bullet. And that is why we as product managers have to in addition to having strong core capabilities, need to also be adaptive in ever changing technological and business environments.

I hope to see you all at next year’s Mind the Product conference or at a local Product Tank session!

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