Diversity in product management needs to go beyond a gender agenda

There has been a lot of focus on gender equity (both in terms of representation in senior leadership as well as gender pay gap) and rightfully so. Women product managers are still significantly under paid and under represented.

Here in Australia, while women product managers are slowly making gains in leadership roles in product teams, a key reason Adrienne Tan, Laura Cardinal and I founded Women in Product Australia was to actively encourage and mentor women in, or looking to enter, a career in product.

While we need to continue to advocate and actively promote gender equity in product management (particularly within the tech and finance sectors in which women are still significantly under-represented) we should not confuse the achievement of gender equity with meeting the diversity test. Diversity and inclusion is so much more.

The diversity agenda goes well beyond issues of gender, race, religion and age and should not be viewed like stamp collecting. Having ‘one of everything’ is not enough – we must have a culture which is not only inclusive, but which also actively mobilises and leverages the different perspectives that diversity invariably brings.

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At a recent Women in Product Meetup, Senior Product Manager Katherine Barrett made the observation that:

If you look down at your feet and everyone in your team is wearing the same kind of shoes, then you are in the wrong team.

The statement really resonated on many levels. We often see similarity attraction bias within teams, particularly within the startup and tech sectors. In some instances, you could be forgiven for thinking that if you don’t have a beard, wear a black t-shirt, jeans and sneakers you don’t qualify for a career in product management.

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Good product managers know what many in social sciences are now evidencing – that effective teams not only have diverse backgrounds and experiences but importantly, are cognitively diverse and inclusive. Actively including and seeking diverse perspectives and thinking (cognitive diversity) leads to better outcomes.

According to the Diversity Council of Australia Inclusion@Work Index, if you work in an inclusive team you are:‘

  • 10 times more likely to be highly effective than workers in non-inclusive teams
  • 9 times more likely to innovate
  • 5 times more likely to provide excellent customer/client service

As product managers, we need to work both broadly and deep within our organisations to find innovative and compelling solutions to customer problems. Innovating and developing breakthrough propositions does not and cannot happen when we have a singular perspective and when we fail to constructively challenge and probe different ideas.

As well known entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernen so eloquently puts it:

“The history of innovation may play out in headlines as the triumph of the individual against armies of bureaucratic naysayers but you have only to read Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators to see just how untrue it is. Breakthroughs require challenge, doubt, question and support to achieve the reality we can all appreciate. That has always been true and still is.”

By actively seeking diverse perspectives we can insure ourselves against insular ‘group think’ that invariably leaves us developing at best, propositions which bring us market parity and, at worst, products that quickly become obsolete.

One of the challenges of cognitive diversity is that it is less visible than other diversity markers such as ethnicity, gender or age.

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So how can we make sure that we are actively seeking and bringing cognitive diversity to our product ideation and development?

  • When generating ideas, don’t jump too quickly into judgement and evaluation.
  • Actively create a psychologically safe place for people to put forward their ideas – don’t just give lip service to the edict “no idea is a bad idea”. How safe do people feel in speaking their mind and challenging the status quo? Having a nominated ‘devil’s advocate’ can be a good way to consciously address this
  • Acknowledge and create ways for different personality types and styles to participate. Introverts may need more time to reflect and may prefer the option to put their ideas on a post it note as opposed to speaking in front of a large group
  • Be observant. Check in with all your team and actively explore and understand the different ideas and perspectives
  • Don’t confine your thinking to the ‘expertise’ in your team or business. Actively seek out your customers for their perspectives. One of the reasons customer-led design is so powerful is that it actively disrupts convergent thinking. Your customers will have different and valuable perspectives.
  • Hire differently and with cognitive diversity in mind. I recently hired members of my product team using blind recruitment to manage for my own inherent bias with some interesting  (if not personally challenging) results.  Scott E Page author of The Difference, gives some invaluable advice on how to hire to maximise diversity and you can also test your own unconscious bias by taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test via the Diversity Australia website.

While diverse perspectives most often lead to better outcomes, they invariably create more adjacencies and therefore more solutions. As mitigation, any ideation process must have a way of filtering, assessing and ranking them or risk having an oversupply of solutions which, while ‘more’ are not necessarily better. Anyone who has experienced product feature proliferation knows that.

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Once you have collected and explored possible solutions and ideas then you need to decide what to do and how to proceed. In essence, move from the divergent thinking you have to this point actively sought, to the convergent thinking needed to make a conscious decision.

  • Apply clear criteria to assess your ideas. There are many frameworks you can apply. I personally like to use value driver trees in defining the criteria as it removes any emotion and forces you to link and assess any solution back to the value it will deliver. Jim Semick from Prodplan also outlines a range of great tools and frameworks to assess and prioritise ideas.
  • The IDEO Design Thinking model using Desirability/Viability/Feasibility can also be a very effective framework for assessing ideas:

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  • Maximise psychological safety – as with the ideation phase, it is important that people feel safe in  putting forward their assessment of the ideas under consideration
  • If you have a well defined product roadmap use it in the assessment and prioritisation of any new ideas. Saying no to an idea and staying the course, can be just as important as taking on new initiatives and solutions
  • Don’t confuse collaboration with consensus.  While stakeholder perspectives are critical input, you must have an ‘ultimate D’ – the person who has authority (and ultimate accountability) to make the decisions about the product strategy and prioritisation when there are divergent views such that full consensus cannot be reached.
  • Beware the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). While Executive opinion and input is important, it should be contextualised and supported with data and rational criteria. The HiPPO effect is authority bias in action and can very quickly undo all the good work that has gone into bringing the power of cognitive diversity to bear.

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Cognitive diversity is a critical component of good product development and management. While we should not lose sight of the need to achieve better gender equality, the diversity agenda in product management needs to move beyond this to ensure that we bring the full capability of our teams, customers and business in solving complex customer problems and needs.

 

Design led thinking for the B2B product

 

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Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for.

While design led thinking and human centred design has been widely adopted in B2C product design, the adoption of this approach within non-tech and B2B contexts has been slow to gain traction.

In a B2B market context, just as within B2C markets product managers cannot afford to overlook creating exceptional experiences and propositions for their stakeholders. Functionality alone, is no longer enough to remain competitive and relevant.

Join me at the Women in Product Melbourne Meetup as I share my experiences in applying a human centred design approach in a B2B context within the financial services sector to deliver leading and differentiated propositions to market which your B2B customers value.

 

Crafting my product philosophy

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When Ravi Kumar asked me to share my product philosophy for a new product website he is moderating, I had to stop and really think.

How would I describe my product philosophy in a way that is meaningful and can provide value to others looking to refine and grow in their role as product leaders?

I’d love to be able to tell you my product management philosophy is tightly crafted and that I am always on point in delivering to it. That would be false. Like everyone, I have good days and bad and both product successes and failures in my role as a product manager.

Through it all however, I do try to stay true to my Product Philosophy – my ‘true north’ when it comes to product design and delivery and in managing product teams. For me the bottom line is creating value – delivering useful and engaging propositions that solve for customer (or in my current role member) needs. To help me get there I try and keep grounded in the guiding principles detailed below.

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 Product management is not about ‘shiny, new baubles’

So much of the narrative around product management is focussed on creating the next ‘new thing’ – the shiny, new bauble.

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While the development and design of new propositions is part of any product manager’s accountability, it is important not to get distracted from the ongoing management of the proposition in market and ensuring that it is delivering value to your business and most importantly, your customers.

An idea is not an opportunity

Great ideas are never in short supply, but great ideas that solve for a customer problem or need are.

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I often tell my business stakeholders, “An idea is not an opportunity. You need to know what value your idea will deliver; what problem it is solving for.” The idea then needs to evolve, be tested and refined to ensure that it is addressing the need you have identified.

Your customers should be at the heart of everything you do

Never lose sight of your customers when designing your product or service – whether your customer is in a B2B or B2C context, they should be at the centre of everything you do.

Tony Ulwick’s Jobs To Be Done  framework is invaluable in framing and uncovering the customer problem or need you are designing for.  In applying the JBTD approach, you will also in be in a better position to align your existing products with specific market opportunities as well as develop new ones to address unmet customer needs.

Know and understand your measures of success

Too often I encounter product initiatives which are poorly defined and unmeasured.

‘Product innovation’ is not a leave pass to skip essentials such as benefit design and forecasting (both financial and non-financial). You need to be able define and measure success and most importantly, translate these into actionable product performance insights.

Value Driver Trees can be very helping in focusing and defining key attributes of your product and proposition to measure.

Once you have defined your measures of success then you need to measure and track them! Good product portfolio management should incorporate ongoing measurement and analysis of key product and business metrics, which should then form the basis of business priorities and your product pipeline.

Get stuff done

It may seem obvious, but you need to get stuff done. To gain the confidence and trust of the business, you need to build a strong record of delivery.

In my experience, having some ‘runs on the board’ means you have greater leeway to explore and develop more innovative propositions (often with less certain or known returns/benefits) if the business is confident in your ability to deliver, assess and pivot when needed. This is particularly true for larger corporates who may have more structured governance and risk frameworks to navigate.

Everyone in the product team needs to embrace continuous learning

Never stop learning and help your team to continuously evolve and develop their product management skills.

Learning brings new perspectives, tools and thinking to your product strategy and will ultimately deliver a better customer outcome and value.

In the age of online learning there are many opportunities to extend your learning beyond the physical borders of where you live, both formally and informally.

I recently enrolled in Dan Ariely’s Changing Customer Behaviour course online. It explores the psychology of customer decision making and behaviour and I am finding it very useful in reviewing and assessing both our product set and how we take them to market to deliver more optimal customer outcomes.

Product conferences, meetups and product camps are also a great way to connect with the product community and learn from others. I

There is no such thing as over-communication

Effective product managers need to be highly skilled story tellers. As product managers, our stakeholders tend to be many and varied, as we work deep within our business as well as broadly across it. Frequent (and targeted) communication can be the difference in getting stakeholder support (or not).

Don’t underestimate the power of communication and storytelling in building the advocacy that is critical when you meet the roadblocks and challenges that invariably occur when developing and managing your product portfolio. Keep working on your storytelling skills. Find ‘friendly’ stakeholders within the business and leverage them to practice and refine your communication approach.

Have fun

Having fun at work is often under-rated but I think it shines through in your product proposition and the way you engage across the business. Of course, you need to be serious about your work and role, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun in the process.

As a product manager, you must motivate, inspire and mobilise the business. If you are a ‘grumpy cat’, then you will find your effectiveness very limited.

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My current go-to product related reads

This is Service Design Thinking, Marc Stickdorn

The Secrets of Big Business Innovation, Dan Taylor

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries

Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely

Good Charts , by Scott Berinato

Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan

Product Conferences and meetups

Leading the Product

Mind the Product

Product Management Festival

Product Camp

Women in Product Melbourne

 

 

What I learned from Noma and the Barkley Marathons

There has to be an upside to being in bed with a nasty virus for a week, right? For me it was the opportunity to watch two documentaries – The Barkley Marathons and Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo

While vastly different films, both explore what it takes physically and psychologically to be the best; to push through the possibility (and reality) of failure, and to design, create and do what has not been done before.

In product innovation and management, we are often designing and delivering products (and enhancements) in previously unexplored territory; dealing with customer and business problems for which there is no obvious or known solution.

While for Noma and the Barkley Marathons athletes, their ‘product’ may be different to our own, the processes, commitment and attributes needed for success are the same:

Persistence

In getting to the goal there is often no straight line.

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You need to iterate, learn, revisit, refine and work consistently and persistently towards your goal.

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Context matters

You need to know your customers and your environment. Take the time to know and navigate your market.

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If you don’t take the time to explore, listen and learn how can you design and build a proposition your customers will value and relate to?  How will you be relevant?

Embrace the possibility of failure – move outside of your comfort zone

Barkley Quote Failure

As Noma founder Rene Redezpi says, “it’s so easy just to go back to what you know. As soon as you feel comfortable in a situation, get rid of that situation – that’s when new things happen.”

Teaming and diversity are essential ingredients

An effective team works together and supports each other around a common goal and purpose. They are committed to it and while they might ‘fail’ as individuals, as a team they come together and drive for success.

As Katzenbach and Smith note in their book, The Wisdom of Teams, “the hunger for performance is far more important to team success than team-building exercises or incentives”

In the Barkley Marathons, Barkley ‘virgins’ team with Barkley ‘veterans’ for support, guidance and mentorship. Experience counts and teams with diverse experience are inherently more successful.

End of Loop

Each member of the Noma team brings a unique contribution and skill. That is where the magic happens. Without the different perspectives, experiences and ideas the magic would be lost.

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Great teams have fun! Camaraderie, teamwork and fun – all combined lead to breakthrough results.

And finally…

It’s easy to get lost in the BAU of our day to day priorities and roadmap, but there is great value in reflecting and being more deliberate in our approach to designing and building compelling products. Like the athletes of Barkley and the team at Noma, we need to continue to challenge, align around a common purpose and find the simple in the complex.

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“Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken” – Women in Product November Meetup

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In our second Women in Product Meetup, Sally Capp, Victorian Executive Director of the Australian Property Council will share her experiences as a senior woman in business, in particular how she has managed to stay true to herself and lead with authenticity throughout her career. Not to be missed.

Make sure you secure your place via Women in Product November Meetup – Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken.

Women in Product Melbourne Meetup

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Join Laura Cardinal (Global VP Product, Xero) and the Melbourne Women in Product Community for our inaugural event as she shares her own personal experience as a senior woman in product.

An opportunity to listen, share and learn as we discuss:

  • What it’s like being the ‘only one’ in the room, and how to not lose your sense of self when your human need to belong is so strong.
  • Whether or not it’s ok to cry at work and what to do about it when it inevitably happens.
  • Why we need to get over whether or not it’s appropriate to use words such as ‘girls’ or ‘guys’.
  • Why how much of our own reality is shaped by our own perceptions and what we can do about it
  • Why we need to stop blaming our vaginas, penises, cultural background, weird brain or personality quirk for everything that goes wrong, and;
  • How we can all build resilience, be our best selfs and just get on with having an amazing life and career

See you at Women in Product Melbourne Meetup (and yes, there will be wine…)

Developing your product dashboard and reporting: Actionable insight, not a magic 8-ball

I’ve previously written about the need for Product Managers to actively manage their product performance and financials. At this year’s Product Camp I ran a session on developing product dashboards. The focus of my presentation is re-visited below.

Many product initiatives have failed due to lack of underpinning evidence-based analysis and reporting. In order to actively manage performance you must measure, analyse and report on performance.

For many the question of what to measure and what aspects of product performance to report on can, at times, be overwhelming.

There are many different views on what should be measured and reported; from those who advocate “the single magic number”, to product dashboards that resemble something out of a NASA space mission.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m not a fan of the single magic number theory.

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Product Portfolio reporting needs  to measure a range of core Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or OKRs to derive meaningful and actionable insights. Only measuring a single metric means you risk not identifying other core value drivers within your portfolio.

A key part of the product manager’s role is to surface and report performance findings and recommendations to Executive and Board management. Whether you work in a company, not-for-profit or start up, you have stakeholders to whom you are accountable to reassure and evidence that, as a whole, product performance is tracking to plan and delivering value – value to your customers; shareholders; investors.

That doesn’t always mean profit. Depending on your business model and stage of business maturity, a measure of performance may even be loss making. For example, I have had product lines within my portfolio which were deliberate loss leaders. At a given time in the business, the decision was made to sell and launch certain products below cost. This may have been in an effort to penetrate new markets, grow market share or with a view to up-selling to other profitable product lines down stream.

Some common reporting metrics include:

  • Revenue (including revenue per product line/per segment or customer)
  • Costs (in insurance this would include claim payments). Within cost, you may also want to break this down by channel and look at the cost to acquire, cost to serve and cost to retain. This can be very useful in determining where to allocate scarce resources and marketing/BD expenditure.
  • Margin performance across your whole product portfolio and within each product line/series
  • Sales volume: value by product, channel and location, including prospects and sales conversion
  • Customer retention and satisfaction. Where are you retaining and losing customers? Is your future customer retention at risk?

Whatever you decide to include within your product dashboard, you need to balance the scope of what you measure against your key objectives and ability to action and deliver insights. Just as the single magic number approach can  risk missing important metrics, equally a ‘smorgasbord’ approach to your dashboard can simply serve to distract and overwhelm the business.

Critically you need to measure the right things.

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted..” – William B Cameron*

*In an earlier version of this post I incorrectly attributed this quote to Albert Einstein. Thank you to Josjua J Arnold for the correction


Spending some time thinking about the what your dashboard is trying to achieve and the business value it will deliver is also important:

  • Scope – is it broad or focused on a specific part of the product portfolio?
  • Operational versus strategic
  • Time horizon: Looking back, real time, snapshot, predictive  (current month; YTD; Month LY; YTDLY; actual performance against forecast/plan)

Whatever you decide to measure, the metrics you choose to track and report on should be SMARTSpecific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Timely

Using the SMART framework will help you ‘join the dots’ and make connections across different elements of your product portfolio. In making connections you can identify interventions you can undertake to make the most of opportunities or address issues within your portfolio.

Design matters

You can’t afford to overlook good design.Use customer led design theory in the development of your dashboard. If you need to include reams of narrative to explain particular metrics then it is probably an indication that the metric you have chosen needs to be better defined or is too complicated.

As with any presentation, you need to think about your audience:

  • Who is the report intended for?
  • How high level or detailed does it need to be, given your audience?
  • Can visual communication aids such as graphs, traffic lights and charts be more effective in communicating key information?
  • What decisions do they make? What questions do they need answered to help them make those decisions?
  • How proficient are they in understanding and measuring key performance indicators/metrics?
  • How much time do they have to review the dashboard?

Think also about the way in which your audience is likely to consume your product dashboard and any associated reporting. By this I mean, are they likely to consume the report electronically, or via paper based reporting? Will they be able to view your report in colour or do you need to design your report to be able to be read in black and white? It’s not dissimilar to designing software and needing to understand the inter-operability environment in which it will be most commonly used.

I once had a boss who was colour blind. I had very enthusiastically developed a dashboard report, based on RAG (Red/Amber/Green) traffic light reporting. Very informative for me but unreadable for him. My solution?, I added status wording below each RAG indicator. A good lesson for me in making sure I knew my core audience!

Some design resources which I find helpful:
Your product dashboard and reporting is not static. It will evolve and iterate over time. As business needs or market conditions change, your dashboard needs to reflect the changing priorities of the business.

As with all prototypes and products, actively seek feedback from your key stakeholders. Do they find it useful? What areas of the dashboard do they most regularly refer to? Any suggestions they may have?

Use that feedback to keep iterating and developing your dashboard

The insights you gain from your dashboard should be a primary tool in the ongoing prioritisation and management of your product portfolio. Gut and intuition have a part to play (and something we develop over time) but having a well defined dashboard will help you amplify opportunities, and intervene early when issues emerge.

Women in Product

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Women in Product (Melbourne and Sydney) is a place for women to openly talk and discuss all topics related to Product Management, Product Design and Product Development.

Founded by Adrienne Tan (Brainmates), Laura Cardinal (Global GM and Vice President, Xero) and thatproductchick, Women in Product was started to provide support and mentorship for women in Product Management.

If you are a woman in product making and managing products and services, please join us and:

  1. Learn more about the broad domain of Product Management
  2. Obtain Product Management tools and techniques
  3. Raise your profile in the Product Management community
  4. Discuss gender specific issues in Product Management
  5. Network with like-minded people

Our first event is kicking off in Sydney on the 12th of September, with our first Melbourne event currently in planning.

Hope to see you there.

 

Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero

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Really excited and humbled to have been selected as a judge for the 2016 Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero. Over 130 entries from across Australia.

Looking forward to learning from the next generation of amazing tech and product women as they strive to solve a problem in their local community using technology for social good.

The world can always use more superheros.

Women in Product Melbourne

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I’m really proud to announce that Women in Product Melbourne is officially kicking off!

In partnership with Women in Product Sydney, we are looking for other passionate product chicks to join us as we collaborate, mentor, inspire, chew the fat and support each other in all things product.

If you know a woman in product (or an aspiring one) please invite them to join. See you at the inaugural meetup event. Stay tuned…