Breaking into Product Management – Product Camp 2016 Wrap-up

A few people suggested topics around getting your first product management job or being new to the field. We asked them to team up and viola – a panel on breaking into Product Management was the result!

Faciliated by our very own MC – Steve Bauer.

Q: How did you get into product management?

  • Nadia Gishen became a domain expert in recruitment when working in non-product roles. She initially became interested in moving into product when she joined PageUp where she was able to gain an understanding of what was involved. She’s currently a Product Owner at PageUp.
  • Elena Kelareva was a software engineer and wanted a more business focused design role. She started at Google via a graduate internship which enabled her to learn about the Product Manager role and go for internal interviews. She’s currently a product manager at Google.
  • Darren Duarte’s background is in Mechanical Engineering and Psychology working with race cars, the aerospace industry & lean manufacturing. To move to his current role, he completed a product management course and emphasised the crossover skills he had from previous roles (hypothesis testing & project management). He’s currently an agile consultant at Elabor8. Darren sees his current role as a stepping stone to a Product Manager role. As a consultant he gets to see how the PM role works with other roles across different organisations.

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Q: Why did they choose to go into Product Management and not UX Design.

Darren felt his strengths were more inline with what was needed for Product Management. Part of being a Product Manager is also recognising where others are the experts to create strong teams – this is one of those cases.

Both Elena & Nadia are working with their strengths and like to pair with a UX Designer to work through user flows and journey mapping.

Q: What is required to be successful when applying for Product Manager roles?

It seems that “everyone wants a different thing” and needed skills can range across technical, UX & business. Job descriptions don’t provide enough information about what is actually required.

Elena found it really useful to do practice interviews with Product Managers in Google. However, it was very confusing when she provided the same answer to the same mock question at two different mock interviews and one interviewer liked her answer while the other didn’t.

Darren found that interviewers favoured candidates with a BA skill set.

The panelists recommended using a reverse interview technique (a two way interview) to understand not only what is needed by the interviewer but to gauge how well the role fits you and whether it is a good career move.

Q: How is a Product Owner role different from a Product Manager role?

Panelists observed that organisations may not have both roles.

Product Owner generally makes the final say in Agile story estimations, delivery and resourcing. They general work on the daily story management.

The Product Managers take a more strategic view, forecast product delivery based on understanding customer requirements. They may also be managing a product budget and look at product pricing and market positioning.

There was also general agreement that the Product Manager chooses WHAT gets done while the Product Owner focuses on HOW it gets done.

Some teams may also have Project Managers. There is a crossover between the Project Manager and Product Owner as both focus on HOW. There was a view that typically the Product Managers and Product Owners are closer to the voice of the customer than a Project Manager plus POs may also be familiar with how to conduct evidence based research (e.g. hypothesis testing).

Other things that came up in discussion

  • In some organisations the Product Owner role is a combination of a BA and Product Manager
  • Some organisations separate the role into Technical Product Manager and Product Manager
  • Sometimes there is a Product Strategy Manager role that sits outside the development team.
  • Brand Manager is another title that may be used to encompass the role of a Product Manager – it depends on the industry
  • Facilitation skills are crucial as a Product Manager or Product Owner as you rarely have line manager control of a project.
  • Look at becoming known as a problem solver who facilitates discussions across teams from different disciplines.
  • Commercial knowledge is very important.
  • The panelists have noticed a shift to needing technical knowledge about how the product is produced. This knowledge doesn’t need to be deep or specific but it needs to be enough to know what is involved as it assists with making commercial decisions.

Further Reading

Looking for more? Our panelists recommended:

What Dev Teams need from Product Managers – Product Camp 2016 Wrap-up

What do dev teams need from their product managers? Product and Tech work very closely with each other but not always very well.

Daniel Kinal, Senior Product Manager at MYOB, talked about how we can improve that working relationship.

Building trust with your team members is a big one. They need to trust you as well as you trust them. Having that trust helps your team work more effectively and autonomously.

The HR people at Google put a diagram together after doing some investigation into what makes a Google team effective and Daniel suggested that, as product managers, we should look at how we can contribute to all 5 of these elements as, not only do they help build trust, but they also directly help developers build better products more efficiently.

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The HR team determined that there are five key dimensions that make successful teams stand out at Google:

  • Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  • Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  • Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  • Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  • Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

A discussion with the wider group talked about how product managers can directly affect each of these areas. We are particularly well suited to helping with the last 3 as we can translate the strategic and tactical reasons for our development efforts to our team and also articulate the customer benefits. That said, it is also incredibly valuable to let developers view customer behaviour (e.g. through viewing UX testing sessions) to see how their handiwork impacts users directly.

How can you build trust?

  • Share the vision! Tech teams need to know where the product is headed in order to be thinking of the future when developing
  • Be transparent! Let them know if there’s an issue. They might be able to help or at least now know why X is like that.
  • Connect them to customers! NOTHING is better than seeing someone using the code you wrote to understand what works & what doesn’t. Understanding the customer’s problem before they even write a single line of code will also aid in development.

Daniel Kinal - What do development teams need from their Product Managers

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Comics and Product Narrative – Product Camp 2016 Wrap-up

Daniel Neville, who runs the Prototypes and Popcorn Meetup, ran this session. The topic was perfect to follow Shawn Callahan’s keynote on storytelling.

Daniel reminded us that anyone can sketch – even though people often think they can not. Simple sketches also mean it can be easy to understand.

He recommended the book “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud as a great resource. It’s a comic book that explains creating comics.

What does comics have to do with product management? Daniel encouraged us to use a visual narrative framework to illustrate the customer’s interaction with our products.

We talked about the 6 types of comic narrative grammar (framing) from the “Understanding Comics” (below). Referencing those 6, Daniel encouraged us to use a narrative structure to sketch out our own product stories or the customer journey map scenarios.

If visual iconography is the vocabulary of comics closure [framing] is its grammar 

Narrative Grammar:

  • Moment to moment –   illustrating specific emotional element e.g. as the customer moves through ordering a product.
  • Action to action – specific touchpoints with the actions involved
  • Subject to subject – different actors in a transaction e.g. B2B2C
  • Scene to scene – showing the passage of time and different stages in a journey map
  • Aspect to aspect – focusing on different perspectives withing a scene e.g. what is in the customers environment when they are completing a transaction, the types of distractions that may exist.
  • Non-sequitur

It was great to see some of the ideas that emerged out of this quick introduction to the principles of comics and narrative grammar.

Guest Post: Your First Product Management Job

A couple people at this year’s Product Camp Melbourne suggested topics around getting into product management, getting hired into their first product management job and wanting to know more about the role. We combined them all into one session, got a few people to be on the panel (which morphed into a round table discussion) and away we went.

One of the attendees, Darren Duarte, has provided the following session notes:

A morning round-table session had a great turnout from people wanting to get into Product Management and those wishing to share their experiences. It was a natural two way conversation from both perspectives.

Getting into the role – perspective from someone who has hired:
The first step in the recruitment process – getting through HR or a recruitment consultant – is the most difficult. To have the best chance of getting through this 1st stage, your resume & cover letter should focus on the transferable skills & experiences which are similar to Product Management responsibilities. Your resume should also tell the reader what value you can bring.

Building your network through events like Product Camp and Product Anonymous makes it easier through this first stage. It also shows you are interested in learning.

Many hiring managers know that Product Managers come from diverse backgrounds and that’s ok (e.g. Coding, Business, Science, Project Management, Engineering, etc.). Experiences doesn’t necessarily need to come from the same industry.

Words of wisdom from the group:
One person was previously a Project Manager who identified gaps in tasks that needed to be done in the organisation. They naturally went ahead & completed those tasks. It was only later that they realised they were doing a Product Management role. Having worked in the organisation and previously done the work meant becoming a ‘product manager’ didn’t feel to different.

Others have completed short courses in Product Management – either at Brainmates or General Assembly.

Maybe you have identified the need for a Product Manager in your organisation? If so, have a conversation with management about the value the product manager role brings to the organisation. When structuring a new Product Management position in an organisation, it should be at the right level of influence to support the products.

Thanks to Amanda Ralph, Chris Duncan, Marie Phillips, Liz Blink and all others who contributed to the conversation.

Product Camp 2015 – Camp wrap-up

It’s hard to believe the 6th annual Product Camp Melbourne was 2 weeks ago!

After months of organisation, the day happens in a flash & then a flurry of getting wrap-up posts together (THIS never happens as quickly as we hope!).

Thanks all who attended! And thanks for your great feedback! Many of you said you thought this one was the best yet so THANK YOU for making it a great day!

Steve Bauer welcoming everyone & kicking off the day! Product Camp Melbourne 2015

Crowd shot

Product Camp is an un-conference so all talks are participant lead & driven with the exception of the keynotes. Before the day, we ask those interested in leading a topic to add their idea to the Camp Uservoice. You can still add topics right up to the last second before voting begins though. This year we had a range – some great prepared presentations as well as round table discussions on a specific topic.

Everyone who puts up a topic idea, gives a explanation & then the voting begins.

Product Camp Melbourne 2015Something we’ve been doing the last few years is a speed networking session. This gives you the chance to meet several people really quickly – and allows Liz to have a reason to stand on a table and have a whistle 🙂 Product Camp Melbourne 2015

Product Camp Talks

Whether you missed the day or want to revisit some of the talks, we’ve pulled together the following notes:

Camp Wrap-up: Transformation is just scaled up product management

We started the day with a keynote from Megan Fisher from Sensis talking about her move from product management to corporate transformation.

Megan wasn’t sure this role was for her when she was approached about it. She was product, not transformation! It’s only after she started getting into it that she realised transformation is just a big scale product management role.

Megan FisherMegan kicking off..

  • Develop your Principles
  • Sponsorship & Ownership
  • Test & Learn
  • Create the right decision making framework
  • Do Showcases

Develop your Principles

Megan presented the principles they have been using in their transformation project. These need to be appropriate to your business so develop your own list for your transformation or product management area. These agreed principles will help not only yourself guide what should end up on your roadmap or backlog, but will assist others in knowing what to focus on when you aren’t able to be in every discussion. In their case, along with test & learn, easy upgrade path, success milestones, and DIY focus, being able to simplify the product, process and technology were key.

Sponsorship & Ownership

Have a sponsor that suits the change. You need someone who’s advocating the change. As a product manager you are always a change advocate, but you need support beyond just yourself. Your line manager might not be the right person for doing this. Make sure your stakeholders are involved early and involved in creating the requirements. They should also have accountability.

Test and Learn

While you should take the time to try to get it right – be aware that won’t always be the case – especially the first time. Building a test & learn approach from the beginning is a great way to approach this. Having a user group (internal or external) so you can talk with users is recommended. This might seem obvious when using agile practices in the product development world, however we often forget to plan time to go back and apply the learnings! If every iteration, next release plan is booked up before you’ve gotten feedback from the previous release then you aren’t really using a test and learn approach.

Enjoy the transformation. Don’t run away because as a product person, this is where you really get to learn

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Decision Making

Understand when your company is comfortable with making decisions – including how much analysis is needed and how much discussion is required. Understanding how to make better decisions is also something to consider and that can include who needs to be involved as well as how to get the information out there that a decision has been made (Yammer? Forums?).

Showcases

Showcases are great for many reasons – they show what you already delivered, they create buy-in & engagement and help everyone be transparent with both mistakes and success. Showcases can also help people get accustomed to change. Megan found this was a great way of getting involvement. Their showcases involved up to 100 people for 3-5 hours. They would start in a big group & then have smaller break out sessions. Remember – we product people can see the future for our product but not everyone can. Some of our audience isn’t used to looking into the future so showcases can help them begin to see & make adjustments. In Megan’s case the showcase would start with an intro to the whole forum & then breakout into small groups. The key strategy in creating engagement was to get the business owner stream leads and the future users of the new functionality to do the talking. Not just the “product” people. These smaller sessions were no more than 30m for each topic demo and no more than 20 people in the group so that people could see and felt able to ask questions.

 

Q&A

Division btwn decision makers and those providing info. Comittee decision never good. Understand the escalation path.

Product Mgr or Product Owner, Service design thinking & #prodmgmt newbies

Another afternoon session included:

  • Product Manager or Product Owner – Nick Coster
  • Using Service Design Thinking to make Awesome Products – Lisa Overton
  • Panel discussion on Getting into Product Management – facilitated by Liz Blink

Product Manager or Product Owner

This old nugget! It’s amazing how many times this has been a topic of conversation at camp! Yes, a product manager should be different to a product owner – both the responsibilities and the person performing the role. Nick talks through it all…

Video footage coming…

 

Using Service Design Thinking to make Awesome Products

Lisa Overton talked about service design (& even worked in a cat photo!).

She shared some resources in case you want to learn more – check the last slide in the deck.

Getting into Product Management

We had a couple ‘newbie’ product management topics so we combined them together and got a group of experienced PM’s in a room to share their insights with those keen to know more about the role.

The story is so familiar – those in product management have fallen into it from all sorts of directions, backgrounds or experience. That can be great – because it means anyone has a chance to get started in product mgmt. On the other hand – that can make it hard to know how to pitch yourself to the role.

We talked about attitude being a big part of being a great product manager so looking for ways to show that on your CV can be tricky. However don’t be afraid to call out examples that show you have the balls to do the job and get the attention of the hiring manager. Especially when you need to cut through the domain knowledge bias.

Ask someone to read your CV and help you draw out relevant experiences to impress those you are asking to hire you. Once you can get into the interview stage you will have a good chance to further show your can do attitude and capability, but the words on the paper need to help get you that opportunity. Probably true advice in any industry but the broad range of skills needed in product management makes this part of the job hunt especially challenging.

JTBD, Customer feedback & (bad) business cases

Our 3 afternoon sessions included:

  • Advanced JTBD (jobs to be done): Focus your Product Innovation Effort
  • Using Customer Feedback as a source of Innovation
  • STOP writing bad business cases!

Advanced JTBD (jobs to be done): Focus your Product Innovation Effort

Product Camp Melbourne 2015Russell Kallman had 2 groups explore what they wanted to get out of coming to product camp by using the JTBD methodology. (Thanks for the research Russell!!!) Go read Russell’s summary of the session and JTBD on Medium. IMG_0212JBTD

Using Customer Feedback as a source of Innovation

Ben Motterum explored different ways you can get feedback from your customer in order to make your products better. Ben had six areas he covered that can be a great source of inspiration for ideas directly from your customers. A number of people in the room had used one or two of these approaches but not all of them, with the exception of Xero and Sportsbet who were excellent champions of working closely with their customers. Good discussion followed as those who hadn’t tapped into all of these options asked for advice on how to get started from those who were successfully employing these techniques.

 

STOP writing bad business cases!

Nick Coster talked about what the value a business case can have – helping to make a decision, understanding the risks, prioritising – but pointed out they often aren’t read. He gave tips on how to write a bad business case (ie… stop doing this!!) & tips for doing a good business case including using a business canvas. Slides below.

Camp Wrap-up: Product Management Finance (& a Tardis)

Amanda Ralph, Head of Product at Kinetic Super, gave our 2nd keynote of the day – If only I’d had a tardis: Why you shouldn’t rely on time travel to manage your product financials

Amanda said product managers need to be comfortable with finance and in her product roles, she has always owned the P&L or was directly responsible for the numbers trending the right way.

The core role of the product manager is to create value for both the customer and the business – including financial value. In order to do this, you need to predict and measure. Being the voice of the customer is not enough.

Understanding your product’s financials will help you identify value as well as threats and problems. You’ll be able to see what you need to fix and which good things you can possibly push harder.

There are many things you can measure:  

  • Revenue
  • Costs – like costs to acquire, serve, retain
  • Market share
  • Channel Effectiveness
  • See Amanda’s slides below for more

Metrics

Amanda also talked about metrics. When defining your metrics, make sure they are:

  • Measurable
  • Align to your product & business objectives
  • Actionable

Always ask yourself – what is the business driver for that metric? Amanda expects her team to know where their product is according to 5 metrics.

The communication of metrics is also important. You can create a snapshot dashboard with the ability to drill down and use traffic light colors to indicate status. How frequently you communicate depends on what makes sense for your product. Later during Q&A, someone asked whether one metric (i.e. the ‘lean’ one metric to focus on) could suffice. Amanda does not believe 1 metric gives you what you need.

Value Driver Trees

Amanda recommends using value driver trees.

She said they’re really difficult to do but the great thing is they really make you think about the value you should focus on. Amanda recommended this this Slideshare from Chris Doran to learn more.

Product Camp Melbourne 2015

We want to thank Amanda for the great talk and for spending part of her birthday with us!