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It’s a wrap: Leading The Product (2020) Digital

The COVID pandemic hit our team at Leading the Product, hard – just like it did many other people and companies. We realised early on that we couldn’t hold our event in-person this year, so we started thinking about what was possible. At the start of this year’s conference Brainmates’ Chief Product Officer (and storyteller for the day) Kent Weathers addressed this head on:

“We asked ourselves, how do we capture the magic of what we created in person and replicate it in the digital space? And then, we asked ourselves a better question. What if we don’t? What if we don’t replicate it? What if we make it better?”

How to make a digital conference better than the face-to-face version?

We put together an ambitious event, aiming to set the bar high for all future digital Product Conferences. We wanted to maintain the high quality and customer-focused mentality from previous Leading the Product conferences, but reimagine it for the digital world. We knew it needed to be highly interactive and engaging for the entire day. So we streamed it live in HD with live chat, live voting and live Q&A, while also integrating side chat on Slack, interactive white-boarding sessions on Miro and break-out rooms in Zoom. Two other factors set it apart:

  • It had a central theme – the 7 Ps of Product (Problem, Purpose, Position, Performance, Price, Promotion, Practice). Brainmates’ new Product Management framework looks at the main levers to drive Product growth and success. Each of the talks was set on one of the 7 Ps – read more about them in this blog post.
  • It had a hero – Jane. In classic ‘Choose your own adventure’ style the audience followed the exploits of Jane, a fictional heroine. Throughout the day the audience helped Jane make critical decisions for her company and her Product career. Each answer set the day and Jane on a different path.

So was it successful? Yes! More than 700 Passionate Product People from Australia, New Zealand and around the world attended and the feedback they have given us has made us feel all warm and fuzzy.

Read on to find out the main takeaways from Leading the Product (Digital) 2020 and what our attendees thought of it.

PROBLEM – Caitlin Blackwell, Head of Product, Seek

Caitlin was the first speaker. She focused on the ‘Problem’ P and discussed using risks and rewards to solve problems and make better decisions. Here are some of the main takeaways from her talk:

  • Set goals for your business and focus on them first, before you look at problems. When you know your goals, you’ll be able to understand your key metrics and how they align with the overall organisational strategy.
  • Don’t focus on all the problems at once. Get specific about what you’re trying to do and what business outcomes you’re trying to drive.
  • The problems you need to solve should be based on your customers’ needs. So take the time to explore the customer journey.
  • Know the risks: while sometimes it can work out to take a ‘big bet’, you still need to have a strategy and avoid getting excited by shiny ideas.

PURPOSE – Frank McKenna, Chief Product Officer at Covidence

Frank tackled Purpose. He explained how having a clear purpose can unify diverse teams and motivate them to achieve more and deliver greater value to their customers. Frank suggested Product Managers should:

“Leverage the power of purpose to engage and align your team to do great work. Remind them that they are part of something bigger and that what they are doing is changing the world – one Product release at a time.”

Frank said that being clear on your Product’s ‘why’ could help:

  • Organisations to differentiate themselves in the market
  • Buyers decide if they want to purchase your Product
  • Product Teams to filter choices and make decisions
  • Product Teams to stay the course in times of turbulence
  • Organisations to stay motivated

According to Frank, as a Product Manager it’s your job to clarify and harness that purpose to lead your team to deliver great work.

POSITIONING – April Dunford, Author of ‘Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning’

April spoke about competing and winning against powerful competitors by creating a Product that stands out. Some of April’s (many) great points were:

  • The first thing you need to do is to make sure you are fighting a fight you can win.
  • Positioning defines how your Product is the best in the world at delivering value that a well-defined set of customers cares about.
  • Good positioning answers the question, “What is this thing and why should I care?” Great positioning also answers the question, “Why is this important to me right now?”
  • For better positioning, your company needs to decide to switch from doing whatever they were doing before to doing what they’re going to do now. In order to win that business, you’re going to have to compete against the ghost, and the ghost is the status quo or the “do nothing” approach.

PERFORMANCE – Steven Haines, Founder of Sequent Learning Networks and author of “The Product Manager’s Survival Guide”,

Steven shared with the audience his tips for optimising product performance. Here’s a quick glimpse:

  • Many PMs overlook the fact that Product Management is the business management of Products.
  • The fuel for this ‘business’ is data. Data helps us to understand how things work. It helps us to create, literally, visuals and tools of things that are going on. Then we can figure out what we need to do next. ‘You can’t fly a plane without instrumentation, you can’t manage your Product without business instrumentation that displays data and insights.’
  • Most of us are not spending enough time with customers. We talk easily of customer needs and motivations without leveraging the data behind it.
  • It is our job in Product to get into the numbers game. Money is the language of business. You’ve got to be part of that conversation so that you can create a holistic perspective in your health report.

PRICE – Patrick Campbell, Founder/CEO, ProfitWell and Christine Sou, Product Lead at TransferWise

In a rapid-fire presentation Patrick Campbell shared what 18,000 companies have taught his business about value-based pricing. Here’s some highlights:

  • Your pricing is the exchange rate on the value you’re creating in the world. Because there’s so much stuff out there these days, Product value has actually gone down about 60 to 80%.
  • The number that you want to focus on in your business is your ARPU (average revenue per user) or your average revenue per account: ARPA
  • Out of three layers of your business; acquisition, monetisation and retention, you’re often spending so much time on acquisition, but monetisation and retention is where more growth is going to come from in this new world.
  • The key is to find the features that add the most value and which your customers are willing to pay the most for – ‘Differentiable features’
  • If you get everything else wrong but your value metric is pretty okay, you’ll be okay from a pricing perspective.

In her talk, Christine Sou looked at how to differentiate through pricing. One of her recommendations was to be more transparent about how you charge for your services. Christine reiterated that “The most important thing to keep in mind is that pricing is part of the Product experience”. Here are some more of Christine’s insights:

  • When you think about the ‘cost’ of a product, don’t just think about the time spent on engineering. Consider also the expense of marketing, customer support, etc.
  • When the cost goes down, the magic happens! You can reach more customers and accomplish more than you thought. What can be automated so you can reduce the price of your Product?
  • Transparency around price happens when the customer understands exactly what and why they’re charged a certain way.
  • Consider the jeans brand Everlane, which broke down its costs and shared with the customer all the material and labour costs that went into producing that pair of jeans. It was a gamble but it helped generate trust.

PROMOTION – Klaas Raaijmakers, Head of Product, Stan.

Klaas discussed how Product-led promotion can unlock growth opportunities. He explained how in Product led Promotion, we look at the inherent functions of the Product first and foremost. Then we look at the functions of the Product that have the ability to stimulate, initiate and ultimately cause its users to promote it.

  • As we look for growth, Promotion should be part of our toolbox as a Product Manager.
  • Your users can be empowered to promote your Product, especially if you encourage them to invest more time and money in it
  • Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, TikTok, etc have connectedness at the heart of their value to users. With every additional friend that is using this service, the value becomes more for each user. Therefore, increasing their involvement and commitment to this product.
  • Increasing the level of commitment combined with a frictionless ability to involve users will lead to increased organic Product led growth.
  • Commitment goes up as your users invest in the Product – as they make the Product more personal.

PRACTICE – Kate Leto, author of ‘Hiring Product Managers’ and Jeremiah Lee, Engineering Manager at InVision,

To support the ‘P’ of practice, Kate Leto shared her expertise on how to build a balanced product practice through hiring. Kate suggests we should abandon the traditional model of writing skills-based job descriptions and instead build the concept of ‘Product EQ’ by approaching hiring in a simplistic and authentic way. Some of her main points were:

  • Only 11% of employee turnover was because somebody didn’t have the technical skills to do the job. With this in mind, it makes sense to think about human skills when you’re hiring
  • A lot of job ads and descriptions seem almost impossible to achieve so you need to focus on: the purpose of the role; the accountability; the technical and human skills required.
  • Kate recommends a “role retro”. 6-12 months after a person starts, to ask: Did we represent the role as well as we could have? Have that frank conversation and learn from it, because you can go back and include that learning within your hiring loop.

Jeremiah spoke on how Spotify’s famed ‘Squad Goals’ had failed it, recalling his experience working there and talking to current and past employees. According to Jeremiah, Spotify’s squad model focused on team autonomy, however, in doing this it didn’t clearly set out the (essential) processes for accountability and cross-team collaboration. Allowing every team to have a unique way of working meant each team needed a unique way of engagement when collaborating. Overall, organisational productivity suffered. Here’s what Jeremiah thinks we can all learn from this to improve our Product Practice:

  • Autonomy needs to be balanced with accountability. Someone needs to be ultimately responsible for each outcome so they can truly own the decisions. If they donʼt feel like they own the decision, they donʼt really have autonomy.
  • Autonomy requires alignment. Company priorities must be defined by leadership. Autonomy does not mean teams get to do whatever they want.
  • How success is measured must be defined by leadership so people can effectively negotiate cross-team dependency prioritisation without having to escalate.
  • A common practice for cross-team collaboration must be defined. Autonomy does not mean leaving teams to self-organise every problem.

While autonomy is a nice idea, When companies becomes big enough, teams need dedicated support to guide planning within the team and structure collaboration between teams.

Lightning Talks

As well as the 9 longer speakers two ‘Lightning Talkers’ (Quinnie Chen and David Wang) shared insights in quick 5-minute speeches.

Quinnie shared the three 3 Product Management tips she has learned from becoming a mother

  • Watch the baby, not the clock: In parenting or Product we shouldn’t slavishly follow a schedule if it’s no longer right. We need to keep an eye on the overall goals and look at wider impact.
  • Use instinct + evidence: we need to trust and use both in tandem to get the best results.
  • Be kind and embrace difference. To build the best baby and Product we need to realise and appreciate that combining different approaches and ways of doing things will deliver the best result.

David Wang shared his ideas on how Product Managers can benefit from the approach of mixed martial artists to become better at Product and advance their careers. David suggests we we should:

  • Categorise everything as either mindset (knowledge) process (ways of doing things) or tools (like roadmaps, platforms etc).
  • If we can fit each idea or piece of information into this simple 3-step approach then we’ll build up our skills and knowledge and become better Product Managers (and Product Management Mixed Martial Artists!

So, was the digital event better than the face-to-face version?

We think so. The new format allowed us to do things that were impossible in a face-to-face event. Many people told us they were reluctant to come as they didn’t think we would be able to create the same feel of community and the same opportunities to meet people and to network. But in fact, they thought those were BETTER in the digital format. The multiple tools and ways of engaging allowed many more different ways to experience the conference. It made it much easier for everyone (and introverts in particular) to choose when and how they should engage with others J

Our digital Conference allowed people to join from wherever they were – so we had attendees from all over the world! Also, people who couldn’t afford to travel (due to time or money) were much more able to attend.

We did miss seeing people face-to-face though, that’s something you can never fully recreate or duplicate. We missed sharing actual coffee with people (and the party afterwards). But of course, this is our analysis, what did attendees think?

Here’s a flavour from social media, you can also do your own search for #LTPCON on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Still thirsty for more commentary? Scroll through 178 (unedited) comments which were posted in the public chat next to the live stream straight after the Conference finished.

What’s next?

Jake Waddell