Five things I learned at #JAM2016

Friday 4 November was the day of #JAM2016 — a Jesuit Athletic Meet in Manila, and also the second annual product conference taking place in Bethnal Green. I was in London, but luckily I was able to follow along with the events in the Philippines while tweeting about “raw and honest” stories of product development on the unintentionally shared hashtag. Here are five things I learned.

(L-R) Peter Reeves, me, Chris Greenley

1. “The roadmap contains problems, not features.”

The first talk of the day came from Antoine Sakho, Head of Product on the language learning tool busuu. Antoine was there to talk about how they form their product roadmap, and presented an interesting four-step process.

Busuu is a freemium app — this means its survival relies on the conversion of free users to paying customers (full disclosure: I have been a subscriber since being introduced to the app by Antoine a couple of months ago).

For the first step, Observe, he explained how they map out the various conversion flows and work out where the leakage occurs — the points at which users decide not to subscribe.

Next they try to Understand why users are dropping off at these points, and attempt to figure out the problems that cause this. This is the fun part — they put these problems on the roadmap, not the features that resolve them. This puts meaning behind the roadmap, and prevents it from become just a feature list or release schedule. Achieving the milestones of the roadmap means a problem has been eliminated.

The third step is for Busuu to have an Ideation session where they work out the solutions.

Finally, they Decide on the priority of the work using RICE scoring — a mathematical way to establish a score based on Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort, without biases or preference. This ensures that the most valuable work is put to the top of the to-do list.

2. “Get out of the building.”

Anna Miedzianowska is Head of Product at Ocado, and was accompanied onstage by Alice — a cardboard cutout persona, wearing a hi-vis vest. Alice is one of the personas Ocado uses to help solve problems for its fleet of delivery drivers, ensuring the development teams are reminded to look at those problems from the point of view of the user.

To develop the personas, and to get her team to experience problems first hand, Anna organised for her team to “get out of the building” and go on deliveries with the real delivery drivers. Additionally, Anna writes user stories in language the personas would use in real life, rather than the mechanical ‘As as a… I want… So that…’ form. She created cardboard cutouts so that the team were constantly reminded who they were developing products for, and also attached photos to the agile board.

At Trinity Mirror, we are lucky that we don’t even have to leave the building to speak with and observe some of the editorial teams using the CMS we work on. Now we just need to get the cardboard cutouts…

3. “The best idea does not always win.”

There is a phrase that you hear often in the product world: “The best idea wins.” Shaun Russell of Lyst, a retail aggregator, challenged this and called out why, in fact, the best idea does not always win.

The first reason is simply that nobody comes up with the best idea. Shaun explained how they looked outside their industry to solve a problem around content curation. First they looked how paid ads are used in Google search results, based on relevancy, and then they looked towards NPR, the American media giant, which uses a “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” framework that Lyst has adopted.

Another reason the best idea does not win is because it goes unheard. If you feel an idea isn’t strong enough or isn’t being listened to, you need to build it up and help it become the best idea: “Be the steel man, not the straw man.” Finally, you need to demonstrate the value and make feedback inevitable, which brings me onto my next point, from another talk…

4. “JFDI”

JFDI: Just F***ing Do it. This was an explicit point from ustwo’s Heather Taylor Portman, but one repeated in The Guardian’s Andrea Jezovit & Monica Viggars explanation of conducting their first design sprints by just doing them and not calling them design sprints or getting sign-off. Facebook’s duo of Kat & Andrea repeated the often-heard mantra of “ask for forgiveness” rather than permission. Anna from Ocado didn’t ask for permission when going out to speak to the drivers, creating the personas and making a cardboard cut-out — she just did it.

The most important thing to remember when following JFDI is to make the most of the feedback. Commit to something, take an action, and then learn from the feedback. That’s what I’ll be doing with this post…

5. Use emojis. “People love this shit”

Finally, a special mention has to go to Hugo Cornejo, Monzo’s Head of Design, for giving the funniest talk of the day. The sheer enthusiasm Hugo displays is inspirational, and the fact that Monzo adds emojis to its payment notifications (“It’s a tiger, it’s Tiger!”) and endearing animations to reassure new customers their card is on its way (“Now he’s in a boat!”) just to put smiles on people’s faces puts a smile on your face too.

It really widens the gap between Monzo and the traditional banks — as Hugo puts it: “Banks are shit.” Monzo is not.


Jam was started by Mathilde & Seb after they realised they needed a place to learn from others in product. It’s great fun. See you there next year?