Published on September 25, 2015
Last Friday was the fourth annual Mind the Product Conference held at the Barbican Centre in London. 1,200 passionate product people from over 40 countries flocked to London for the biggest product conference in the world.
This year, fresh from Beyond’s annual summer party the night before, Will Biggs, our Senior UX Designer, and I wrestled ourselves up and made our way to the Barbican Centre to take part (making our debut at 1.03 -1.07mins).
The day was filled with world-renowned speakers from Microsoft and Spotify, but two ideas that day stayed with me – here’s the highlights:
‘10x not 10%’
Ken Norton, Google Ventures
Using the example of Kodak, Ken Norton’s presentations addressed the classic innovator’s dilemma where new technologies cause successful businesses with established products to fail. In this case study he told the story of Kodak, an established photographic film business world-renowned for their “Kodak moments” and dominance in the industry, who failed to innovate or rather chose not to in the interest of protecting their existing market. Innovation – in this case the development of digital photography – would have resulted in the demise of the very business they were built upon. It was a costly decision – where are Kodak now?
The case study is an example of the loss aversion we all experience: losing ultimately hurts more than winning feels good, so we try to ‘under promise and overdeliver’ by avoiding big bets. Most people, he explained, tend to improve their work by 10%, following the same path. It’s a safe bet with less chance of failure, but it won’t drive you forward.
To continue to be a successful business your product sales need to be sustainable and, where the outlook does not look good, you need to continually innovate and be open to pivot.
Google’s principle of Moonshots is based on this principle of 10x not 10%. If you aim to improve by 10 x (eg. a factor of ten) then you have to tackle the problem completely differently. You start trying to solve the big external constraints – that’s how, he told us, 1.5 billion smartphones (40x the number of film cameras sold in Kodak’s best year) rendered Kodak obsolete.
Perhaps a more current example is the entry of tech companies into the auto market. The Economist recently wrote about Apple debuting an electric car in 2019. The article highlights that Apple’s most recent product, the Apple Watch, has not been the massive hit expected. Launching a car would be far more daring surely? Compliance and safety standards pose a tricky prospect for established car makers but these concerns haven’t deterred tech firms from driving full speed into the auto business. As cars become ever more connected to the internet, tech firms including Google are ultimately betting on their capabilities engineering operating systems to drive the car business forward 10x faster than established car manufacturers.
‘Product = people”
Nilan Peiris, VP Growth, at TransferWise
Nilan Peiris prophesied that to achieve customer-centric products, you need to do away with autocracy and hierarchy in your organisation and product teams. With conviction he stated that the people you hire will define the product you get. At Transferwise they have adopted a “holacracy” a new wave of organisation design that removes power from a management (read: executive) team and distributes it across clear roles, which can be executed autonomously, without micro-management. As a manager, he said that you have to guide a team through 4 phases: (1) Make sure that they understand which problem to solve. (2) Define a corresponding KPI and start measuring it. (3) Work relentlessly to move this KPI. (4) Once a team has proved its maturity by going through these three phases, get them involved in the product vision.
With this model, Product Managers cannot tell engineers what to do, and must abandon their conviction about what a product should be, basing decisions on data instead. With this, whole teams become responsible for designing solutions to solve specific customer problems – designers, developers and QA all become involved in the customer problem and can design products that successfully solve them. And the upshot is, while product teams focus on set features, anyone can change any part of the product as long as the data or customer insight supports the decision.
The challenge this brings, of course, is inconsistency – the design of one feature can be different from another – the TransferWise platform has it written all over it. But does it matter? If the features are successful at solving customer problems and resulting in the ever important transaction and business growth, do we care?
If you’re interested in the Mind the Product conference for your product team, visit http://www.mindtheproduct.com/
And why not view the photo gallery on flickr