[0726]Manage Products at Scale

Some learnings from ProductTank Toronto on July 26

ProductTank Toronto

This is a summary for ProductTank Meetup in Toronto on July 26 with the theme of Managing Products at Scale.

As a product designer in a small team, I’m not an expert in management, but I do relate a lot to this lecture. And I would like to share with you all.

Scaling Needs Reinventions and Effective Teams

Mladen from Flipp kicked off the talk by stating that reinventions and effective teams are two main factors for scaling.

Team Operating Modes

Mladen explained 3 operating modes of teams based on different stages the company is in.

  • Pioneering: Trailblaze New Paths
  • Building: Build Systems & Processes
  • Optimizing: Maximize Quality

1/Pioneering

Pioneering often happens in early stage startups where lots of unknown and uncertain are, and people trying to get to a MVP to achieve success.

  • Reslove — Unwavering will to solve the problem
  • Broad Knowledge — Ability to identify solutions and pattern recognized from other fields and prior experience
  • Inventive Intuition — High ability to derive new, novel approaches to attack problem

2/Building

Building is a normal stage for relatively established companies. The goal is to develop a solution with known problems, solutions and improvements.

  • Create Problem Solving — Visualization of solutions, coming up with options to get over obstacles
  • Extensive Toolkit — Using all tools in toolkit, or acquiring new ones
  • Process and Pattern Driven — Using the right patterns for the right problem

3/Optimizing

Incrementally testing and improving the key feature.

  • Persistence — Try and fail until you succeed
  • Data Obsession — Everything is in the numbers, constantly measuring and improving is key
The scaling graph

In conclusion, Mladen showed a graph explaining the scaling cycle, the point is to go from one global max to another new global max.

Project managers should understand and clarify not only user stories, but also what is winning and why should we do this to scale instead of just shipping without thinking. Also, over-communication is extremely important, managers need to convey the vision from CEO to understand the strategy and context. Last one, keep everyone’s playing positions, stay where you are and enable the teams to do what they are good at.

One word, getting focused and aligned mindset, get at most 2 operating modes to start scaling.

Stay Innovative and Keep Learning

Lindsay from Freshbook shared the story about how Freshbook broke through the innovation block by making a building a startup within a company to test new products in order to avoid the risk of loosing existing paying customers.

For most startups, the key is to get the product market fit. But for those who have earned product market fit, how to continue to move forward?

1/Embrace patterns even they are not optimal

Patterns can help users learn to use and adapt to the system quicker. It also saves resources on development. Instead of building separately different design for different features, keeping the same style (like putting buttons on the same place, using same color and fonts) will not only keep the system consistent but reduce the cognitive load of users.

However, it is not easy. Lindsay gave 3 suggestions.

1/Living the patterns — 2/Implement the pattern s— 3/Reduce the patterns

When consistency versus optimization, consistency should win most of the time.

2/Create principles to drive decisions about features

There will be so much possibilities when imaging the features and it is necessary to limit them with some principles.

Notification principles for Freshbook

3/Create heuristics to avoid repeating mistakes

Is this A/B testing necessary? What would I do if I get the data? Think about the budget, the time and carefully avoid repeating testing and over-do.

4/Get over yourself and write things down

It is tempting to only keep stuff in mind and not write them down. But the fact is active writing can help us clarify thoughts and identify problems, assumptions, hypothesis. It is also helpful for people to critique on.

Some more on discussions…

1/Getting the balance of being confident and showing some doubt about the product is very hard but extremely important

2/Stakeholder management is another crucial thing for product managers

3/4 Stages on Product Management

  • Introductory

Have your process.

  • Growth

Do bigger and bolder tests. Conversion is not easy or smooth.

  • Maturing

Work on disruptions! Be brave to disrupt but think of the cost.

  • Declining and retiring

Retiring for whom? Re-evaluate. But remember, if in doubt, don’t build the feature.


Fairy is a product designer who is dedicated to utilizing technology to better connect the world. Welcome to connect me via Dribbble, Linkedin, and Twitter.

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