It’s always reassuring when you meet a person from your field who gets you and the daily gripes you face in your day-to-day job. So imagine how it feels when there are 1500 of you thrown together into one grand auditorium – it makes you understand how cults come into fruition.

Friday 8 September saw yet another ragingly successful Mind the Product (MTP) conference at the Barbican, London.

I’ve thrown together my top takeaways from each speaker at the MTP conference 2017. If you didn’t make it, for whatever reason, I should have you up to speed by the end of this post, and if I don’t you can get all the talks from the MTP website: boom.

Just before I give my snappy snapshot of each talk, I wanted to add my own top three takeaways from the last two days:

  1. Communication is key: sometimes it’s better to communicate silently
  2. A Mr-Darcy-free quote from Jane Austin: “I hate it when people use mothers as units of internet stupidity.”
  3. “No one uses apps anymore”

The talks

Workshop: User story mapping
By: Jeff Patton
In one sentence:
By mapping the journey your users take from beginning to end, you can define the problems and come up with solutions.
Top 3 takeaways:

  1. Shared documents don’t mean shared understanding – get rid of your documents and write stories collaboratively to build shared understanding instead!
  2. There is no such thing as requirements. Requirements imply it’s something permanent and necessary. In product we should be using stories instead – discussions about solving problems for our users that lead to agreements on what to build.
  3. Create user stories from beginning to end of the product journey. Pull out:
    • trends, turn them into epics and the smaller parts into stories.
    • the ‘pains’ and ‘rewards’ (aka ‘the delighters’ – although these will depend on your personas).

Then, prioritise.

Columns of post-it notes stuck on a desk
Our group mapped out our morning as a user story (yellow post-its), then pulled out pains (pink) and rewards (green) and marked trends to highlight what the epics might be (blue)

NB Prioritisation never starts with features, it starts with the strategy and vision, whether that’s ‘release to learn’ (aka “Nail it before you scale it”) or ‘release to win’ – but be sure to be clear on which it is.

Arch graph
Prioritising by Jeff Patton

Talk: Design sprints
By: Jake Knapp
In one sentence: Solve a problem and test it in a week with Jake Knapp’s 5-day sprint plan!
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. Day 1: Map – the whole team should map out the user stories to highlight customer needs
        Day 2: Sketch – as a group work alone to sketch ideas/solutions then discuss
        Day 3: Decide – agree decision maker to make the final call so it can be quick
        Day 4: Prototype – build a fake version to test (using InVision, Keystone, Flinto)
        Day 5: Test – get quick and dirty data with interviews. The team watches and takes notes. Pull out trends, then repeat and perfect!
      2. Don’t build then launch to get your data, test ideas to get data. Process should look like this:Graph containing ideas and data cycle
      3. Strip out the default stuff from your calendar and focus to get to the heart of the problem faster.

     

Talk: 10 steps to innovation
By: Blade Kotelly
In one sentence: If you ask the right questions and define the problem properly you’ll have a more focussed goal enabling you to make more innovative solutions more quickly (Blade calls this ‘experience centerlining’):
Top 3 takeaways:

    1. “Does user experience as a competency have a strategic role at your organisation?” he asks. Silence. Awks.
    2. “Great design is, at its core, addressing enduring human needs”
    3. Blade has identified a 10-step process to reach solutions. “Each step…” he says, “…is an opportunity for innovation.” The first six focus on research, the next three on design and the last step is testing:
      • Identify user needs
      • Gather information (watch what users do)
      • Stakeholder analyses
      • Operational research (the things that might limit you like budget or resource)
      • Hazard analyses (pull out the risks)
      • Specification creation (don’t be too vague or specific, somewhere in between!)
      • Creative design
      • Conceptual design
      • Prototype design
      • Verification (usability testing)

Graph showing research, design and testing

Talk: Product discovery
By: Teresa Torres
In one sentence: It’s a jungle out there for product managers and there are lots of traps waiting for us to fall into. Luckily we had Teresa to talk us through her process of: framing problems, discovering opportunities and generating solutions.
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. When you fall in love with your own idea you can lose sight of whether it’s actually any good! Does it solve the problem you need it to solve? Is that the most important problem?
      2. The whole team should be aligned around the problem. Define a clear desired outcome then together, map the opportunity space using the Opportunity Solution Tree! Don’t just come up with a solution for every problem, focus on one problem and come up with multiple solutions for it to get the best results.
      3. Which customer needs are most important? Use dot-voting in your team to pick top ideas, then experiment to filter down to one idea.Flow chart

Talk: UX and design processes
By: Jane Austin
In one sentence:  From her experience at Moo, Jane gave some practical tips on the best ways to work with your designer and your team at large.
Top 5 takeaways (I couldn’t pick just three!):

      1. Use happiness as an indicator:
        • “Happiness of your crew is a leading indicator as to whether it’s going to be a good product.”
        • Use happiness as a KPI for your product – what makes you (the user) happy or sad? Prioritise the biggest pain, and you get happy users!
      2. “Research should be a team sport” – everyone in the team should know the same thing at the same time. You won’t always agree, so disagree and commit – come to decisions fast. Trust!
      3. Craft a problem statement, add the assumptions and deal with riskiest assumptions first and from this you can create a hypothesis backlog.
      4. MVP: What’s the least we can do to give value and what’s the least we can do learn?
      5. Create a value vs tech difficulty matrix and populate with post-its to see if it’s worth doingPriority matrix

Talk: The history of iterating
By: Scott Berkun
In one sentence:  This is talk was really just about making us all stop and think for a minute – in case we accidentally throw the next light bulb (or some other revolutionary invention) into the rubbish.
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. “All ideas are made of other ideas.” As it turns out, most of our problems aren’t new. For centuries we’ve had problems in travel, communication etc and always come up with some version of a solution. Scott recommends we: “study the history of a problem to find new ideas for solving it.” By iterating, we learn more and can develop and elevate our products.
      2. Good ideas often look weird! For example: in their time, trains, Eiffel Tower, computer mouses, all looked strange. “All masterpieces begin as experiments” – so don’t throw ideas out cos they’re weird!
      3. Our minds are naturally creative – when humans are suitably motivated by a problem, creativity is unavoidable!

Talk: Calm technology
By: Amber Case
In one sentence: Just because it’s techy doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Amber highlighted how our devices are taking over and replacing everything – would we want technology to replace our first kiss or our kids growing up?
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. Calm technology: technology that doesn’t ‘interrupt’ us and considers social norms. It doesn’t have to be heavy code; sensory triggers like lights, vibrations and sound are enough to help us
      2. “The scarce resource in the 21st century will be attention”
      3. Tech should work even when it fails – for example, you can still walk up and down escalators when they break down!

Talk: Creative spaces
By: Sarah B Nelson, IBM
In one sentence: Where you work can have a big impact on performance. Sarah discussed how a happy home makes a happy team!
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. “Create a space that you want to go to every day”
      2. Don’t have a space? Work as a team to ‘hack a space’ – if you’re on a limited budget, create post-it murals!
      3. “Get what you need by breaking the rules first!”

Talk: Design in the era of algorithm
By: Josh Clark
In one sentence: Data is everything, especially when you’re feeding it into machines for user-centred outcomes, so make sure it’s good!
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. Improve your data: Machines only know what we feed them (this is how machines/algorithms can end up harbouring bias and perspective). The design and presentation of your data also impacts the algorithm so it needs to be accurate! Here’s an example of when it’s gone wrong:Funny pick-up lines generated by algorithms
      2. Be aware: Machines make mistakes
      3. Be loyal to your user – only capture the data you need and be transparent about what it is you’re capturing.

Talk: Transforming to a product culture
By: Lea Hickman
In one sentence: Lea looked at how you can pacify conflict, align goals and nurture relationships within your organisation to create a better culture for product.
Top 3 takeaways:

      1. Rules of engagement
        • Right from the start, collaborate with your team and stakeholders
        • Revisit often (continue to nurture these relationships)
        • Be transparent (don’t only give good news!). This establishes trust with your stakeholders
        • Shift from being output driven to outcome driven (from tasks to goals)
        • Ensure business goals and product goals are aligned
      2. Building credibility
        • Autonomy (make sure this is in the context of business goals otherwise people will go off and do any random thing!)
        • Accountability (they’re accountable for business goals)
        • Integrity (you do what you said you were going to do)
      3. Sustainable teams
        • Shared values
        • Empowered teams
        • Results driven product

Talk: Lessons deploying lean enterprise at scale. How high performance organisations innovate at scale.
By: Barry O’Reilly
In one sentence: Barry pulled apart key features of an organisation from culture to behaviour of senior management, to show how you make big change by starting small.
Top 13 takeaways (oops):

      1. Shook’s version of culture: Change the way you behave then you change the way you think.Graph showing Shook's version of culture
      2. BJ Fogg’s model for behaviour designGraph showing BJ Fogg's model of behaviour
      3. If you want to stop the behaviour, remove the trigger! (Barry removed Facebook from his phone – but subsequently has received 171 emails from Facebook to date!)
      4. Sound familiar?Slide of a quote
      5. Tiny habits: Barry suggests that we try and implement new ‘tiny habits’ as a way to gradually change behaviour. One example he gave was to end a meeting five minutes before the end and ask each person in the room if they think the meeting has achieved its desired outcome. People tend to mimic role models so start introducing small new behaviours and, with any luck, they’ll catch on!
      6. Transform yourself not others! Leaders need to get their hands dirty and should be speaking to real customers as much as the rest of the team. If they want change, they need to lead by example.
      7. Don’t be afraid to show you’re vulnerable as this provides a safe space for others and creates trust Quote on a slide
      8. No one uses apps anymore! (This received a long and strong applause!)
      9. There’s a strong conflict between what companies think and what customers say – don’t take this for granted.Graph showing difference between audience and business
      10. Transformational target conditions
      11. “Great leaders don’t have better answers, they ask better questions”!
      12. Use this matrix for first experiments:First experiments matrix
      13. Use purpose to empower, for big changes start small and transform yourself not others!

 

If you’ve never been to a Mind the Product conference, I can’t recommend it enough, even if it is just to meet like-minded people and realise that as someone who’s working in product, you are certainly not alone. Also, there’s beer.

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