Product Teams: Get to MindTheProduct 2016
The Conference for Passionate Product People
MindTheProduct 2016, San Francisco edition, brought together 1,200 creatives from 12 countries and 38 states. From Martin Eriksson’s opening to his closing remarks, excitement filled the air. As he stated, this is a conference by product people, for product people. The wide variety of experiences and jobs that were represented and make up the MTP (MindTheProduct) conference was very encouraging.
Product managers, UX designers, sales execs, project managers, engineers, scrum masters and everything in between were represented at MTP. Companies varied from enterprise level to 4 person startups. Attendees were there to learn, share, and collaborate together. I couldn’t have been more impressed with my fellow attendees. They were cordial and willing to share experiences and stories from the field.
Months ago when the speakers were announced, it was clear that it was going to be a great day to learn from the best. MTP secured a lineup of speakers that set your expectations for the day high. And I must say, by the end of the day, I was not disappointed at all. If anything, I wanted more. I wanted to figure out how to make the trip to MTP London in September and back to SFO next year. So, what made this day so magical?
The quality of speakers and their experiences set this day apart from other conferences I’ve attended. Whether you attended to finesse your skills as a product manager, designer, or anything else, every talk was relevant to our industry and played nicely together for a well rounded, holistic picture. The overarching advice of each speaker was similar:
- Figure out how to stay ahead of your competition by making your product the best it can be
- Stay ahead of trends and how they can enhance your product
- Each discipline (product/design/etc.) must work together to make sure the above is happening
Highlights from the Experts
While each speaker brought so many valuable ideas, lessons, and experiences, I’ve picked a few of my favorite takeaways from each talk.
Ken Norton – Partner, Google Ventures
- Ken’s presentation compared product managers to classical music conductors and Jazz bands. Most people think the same thing about PMs and conductors: “What the hell do you actually do?” The band (or development team) knows exactly what we do. But to the outsider, we just stand waving our hands around looking busy. 😉
- While the conductor analogy brought laughter to the room, his explanation about why Product Management is like a jazz band was perfect. Jazz music is a mess compared to classical music. That makes it beautiful. There isn’t a clear path that is “right”. You learn and change as you go, just like you should do as a product manager. Sometimes, your sheet music has to be thrown out. And some of the best performances come from that.
- Growth comes from being uncomfortable, and in the technology industry, not growing will be your death. One line resonated with me above everything else:
“Always work on something uncomfortably exciting.” – Larry Page
Nathalie Nahai – Author, Speaker, Web Psychologist
- Your product can do 2 things and it can be naughty or nice in 3 areas: Conversion, Adoption, and Monetization. (I highly encourage watching her slideshare above. She provided so many great examples of both naughty and nice across with areas.)
- Naughty: Win/Lose- undermine your customer’s goals for your benefit
- Nice: Win/Win- Assist your customers to achieve their goals
- She closed with a fantastic line: “As product designers, you are both the architects and users of our future tech, what kind of world do you want to build?”
Scott Belsky – Founder, Behance; VP Products, Adobe
- Humans seek novelty and familiarity. Our goals for products should be to use familiarity. Don’t over create and make your users learn new patterns to use your product if patterns are already available that suffice.
- Scott provided examples of Behance doing just that. Instead of naming groups “Groups”, they went with “Realms”; no one understood what it was representing. From there, they tried “Circles” and had similar issues. When they used common nomenclature and went with something as simple as “Groups”, users understood exactly what they were doing. Find other ways to differentiate your product rather than over creating and confusing users.
Abby Covert – Information Architect
- Plain and simple: we need pictures. Whether your product is very confusing with multiple integrations, or super simple, pictures get and keep everyone on the same page. This can be as easy and informal as a whiteboard drawing or creating complex architectural workflows. Help alleviate misunderstanding by showing the team how your product works.
- As an offender, one line especially resonated with me: “If you are in a meeting with someone who is talking with their hands, there is a diagram dying to get out.” Spot on, Abby. Preach.
Peter Merholz – Co-Founder, Adaptive Path…and founder of the term “blog”
- Peter dove into the thought processes of establishing good user experience design for products (see his slideshare preso–it will walk you through the process in detail)
- In short, “The experience is the product” and “Everything is, or is becoming, a service”
Ashwini Asokan – Co-founder and CEO, Mad Street Den
- With a talk titled Brains, Bots, and Bullshit, I knew it was going to be fun listening to Ashwini. And she proved me right.
- AI (Artificial intelligence) has become a technology looking for a problem to solve. We need people thinking beyond sci-fi robots that kill us, and thinking more toward what AI actually provides.
- AI is here, so as product managers, how can we utilize it to enhance our products and meet customers needs? We shouldn’t be focusing on creating stand alone AI products and bots, but integrating and enhancing with our current products.
Laura Klein – Author of Build Better Products
- Laura focused on making the best team: The Heist Team. Think about any action movie where a heist is being planned. What do these teams have in common? The team is made up of experts within their given domain. They come together, learn the goal, and go out and figure out how to accomplish it. The team is happy, because they all know everyone else is also an expert and each member can be trusted to excel. This produces desirable outcomes. Our product teams should be structured in similar fashions. This isn’t to say everyone will like each other, but everyone knows the right people are on the team to succeed.
Maria Giudice – VP Experience Design, Autodesk
- The phrase MVP (Minimum Viable Product) needs to be axed and repositioned as the M❤P (Minimum Loveable Product)
- The statement “We are all designers” was perfect. Not in the sense of a UX/UI/Visual designer, but we all need to work on and toward the design of the product vision together as a product team.
Des Traynor – Co-founder, Intercom
- I don’t even know where to start. Des’s talk could be an entire blogpost of how to do awesome. His information, delivery and humor was the perfect way to end the conference and the day. His closing line summed up the entire day: “And that is why… we mind the product.” Mic drop. Crowd goes crazy.
- For your product to succeed, you must: Make it work->Make it grow->Keep it relevant
- Get busy living or get busy dying, it is your choice. Your product is already obsolete – if your product has traction, someone else is already building your replacement. Customers don’t sit around waiting while you write up Jira tickets
- The internet used to be built around pages. Now, it’s being rebuilt around people.
- The biggest highlight was a Video of Steve Ballmer mocking the iPhone’s cost and lack of a keyboard and why it would fail. The iPhone didn’t kill the windows phone; it killed Windows.
- One of my favorite tweets about Des’s talk was this (from a fellow MTP speaker):
MindTheProduct SF 2016 left everyone wanting more. Not because it didn’t deliver, but because it over-delivered. The feeling of being in a beautiful symphony hall surrounded by brilliant minds is empowering, refreshing, and sends you back to your day job ready to make changes.
The MTP team chose a venue that was perfect. The atmosphere was uplifting, laid back, and allowed attendees to be creative. This tweet said it best:
To paraphrase Martin’s opening remarks,
Tweet all day long about this conference. Make everyone who isn’t here jealous, because they should be.
That is an accurate summation of the day. If you are on a product team, I highly recommend you figure out how to attend MTP 2016 London or 2017 SF. It is well worth your investment of money and time.
Any fellow attendees have key takeaways to share? I would love to hear them and have my brain refreshed.