Takeaways from Mind the Product

By: John Mathew

Mind the Product is a product management conference with over 1,500 attendees from 40+ countries and 300+ US cities. On July 15, thirty-five product and technology leaders from Mainsail’s portfolio along with members of Mainsail’s Operations Team attended the conference in San Francisco.

This year’s conference was centered around product discovery, which covered topics such as user research and product experimentation. Here are our top takeaways we learned from the conference:

When planning, banish the un-ordered list and prioritize

from Michael Sippey, VP Product, Medium

Developing new stories or pulling tasks from the backlog for the next sprint is a key part of any product manager’s role. When sifting through the backlog and deciding what to work on for the next cycle of work, give your team a ranked list of objectives in order of importance as opposed to an unordered bulleted list. Treat your act of prioritization like adding a feature; be open to feedback and criticism about the order and even question whether certain items belong on the list. A prioritized list will give your team direction and a collective goal to work toward.

During discovery, enlist help from others to make sure you’re answering your key questions

from Michael Sippey, VP Product, Medium

Product discovery should be anchored around three main questions, what problem are we solving, who are we solving it for, and how will we measure success? As you develop new ideas for products and move further along in the discovery process, reach out to individuals in your organization across functions (e.g. sales, customer success, support) to ensure that these questions continue to have answers. Garnering feedback from stakeholders outside the product and technology team adds perspective and fosters organizational buy-in as your products are deployed.

Start with “Learn” instead of “Build”

from David Bland, Founder, Precoil

Build ⤏ Measure ⤏ Learn is a common adage in modern product management. A product is developed and built (build), success is tracked (measure), and learnings are used to influence the next feature or update (learn). One of the biggest misconceptions of this cycle is that it should start with ‘Build’, but product teams should start with the ‘Learn’ element. You should always test with your product before you start building it; use data driven experiments to understand if your value proposition holds up in the market. Product experimentation should focus on desirability (do they?), viability (should we?), and feasibility (can we?). If you start with a learning mindset, it adds clarity to what you’re trying to build. Testing helps weed out early issues and streamline the ‘build’ process.

While testing, remember, you don’t own the voice of the customer

from Tricia Wang, Co-founder, Sudden Compass

At most organizations, there are many stakeholders who believe that they are the final arbiter of the customer. User researchers, product marketers, and product managers all have close interactions with customers and believe they know what’s best for them. However, despite the amount of customer interactions across functions, there is often, little collaboration or alignment on customer needs and priorities. This is because testing is often used for validation and not discovery; product managers will use testing to confirm their initial hypotheses instead of learning new things about the customer. Avoid confirmation bias during discovery and integrate research into the product discovery cycle.

Testing is an active process, connect the dots with feedback

from Steve Portigal, Principal, Portigal Consulting

A team has a great product idea and the product manager wants to get executive approval, so hours of effort are put into a presentation that outlines resource allocation, future timelines, and potential impact. But, once the day of the presentation arrives, it’s immediately shot down. The above scenario is a familiar one for product managers, which is why it’s important to review the product before it’s ready. To avoid this scenario, product managers should get into the cadence of getting product ideas in front of the whole team early and often, ensuring that feedback is constructive. It is important to build a culture of feedback within your organization and make sure reviews are accessible to the whole team. Keeping your team more involved early in the discovery process focuses your efforts and reduces the probability of wasted work.

Always show your work when communicating to stakeholders

from Teresa Torres, Product Discovery Coach

Finding organizational alignment in the discovery process is a tough task; often, without detailed explanations or high-fidelity prototypes, it’s hard for external stakeholders to grasp ideas. However, to some extent, these problems are self-inflicted. When presenting to stakeholders during discovery, it’s important to not just present the final answer but the process that was taken in order to get to the answer. If you’re presenting the final answer without alternatives, it by default, gives stakeholders a point of disagreement. Use an opportunity solution tree to present potential product ideas to your organization, the solution tree outlines the opportunities you evaluated in the process of reaching your final answer. Making sure to ‘show your work’ inspires confidence from stakeholders that your discovery process was collaborative and thorough.

Maintain an internal sense of doubt

from Teresa Torres, Product Discovery Coach

Developing products that deliver on customer needs and pain points is the heart of product management, but how can you be sure if the need that you’re addressing is the most pertinent? Maintaining a sense of doubt in the discovery process by questioning each desirability, viability, and feasibility question will help you avoid issues once you start to build a product. Don’t let your inner critic prevent you from proposing, developing, and testing ideas but maintain a level of doubt as you move further along in the discovery process to stress test your eventual proposal.

Mind the Product 2019 brought forth thoughtful and innovative ways to think about product discovery and research. We’re excited to explore how we can use the ideas and principles mentioned at this conference, and we can’t wait for Mind the Product 2020!

John is a Strategy Manager at Mainsail Partners. He works closely with operating partners and portfolio companies on strategic projects to accelerate growth.
More by John Mathew
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