Collective Thinking - Lessons Learned from the Industry

By Mike Belsito November 06, 2019

Just a few weeks ago, the stage that once was graced by legendary acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, B.B. King and The Jackson 5 became the platform for giants of the product industry.

John Zeratsky, Jason Fried, Jessica Tiwari, Nikita Miller and 20 other speakers led three days of thought-provoking presentations, workshops and fireside chats for a crowd of 1,200 product professionals at the fifth global edition of INDUSTRY: The Product Conference. The event even included a special fireside chat with Grammy/Academy/Emmy award-winning artist Common, which ended with a brief, impromptu freestyle performance.

While it’s impossible to convey everything discussed, some common themes naturally emerged. 

Remember Who You’re Building Products For

Several speakers reminded us of the importance of not only having empathy for customers, but also making sure that we fully understand their needs and relate to them in a deeper way. Without this granular understanding, we risk building products that simply don’t resonate or, worse, fail to meet customers’ needs in the slightest. 

UX designer and entrepreneur Sarah Doody said the best competitive advantage we have is how well we know the people for whom we’re building products. The best product people know that what people saycan be very different from what they do. Rather than rushing to build a solution, we first need to make sure we’re properly validating our assumptions. 

Common talked about the importance of pushing ourselves into different environments—even the uncomfortable ones—to relate to our customers. Learning from people in their own environments is important to truly understanding them. Otherwise, yes, we’re creating for them—but without the proper context to know if what we build will resonate.

 

Manage Your Time, Don’t Let It Manage You

Time is among our most critical resources. While it’s true that we can’t add hours to the day or week, some INDUSTRY speakers suggested we can become more thoughtful about the time we have. In doing so, we create more time for ourselves and our work.

John Zeratsky, co-author of Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, implored attendees to be proactive about their time. Taking small steps and changing habits can make a difference. For example, rather than letting your email inbox serve as a de facto to-do list that other people create for you, manage your schedule to answer and respond to emails only at certain blocks that you schedule for yourself. Then, schedule other blocks of time to do the work you’re meant to do that day.

Jason Fried, CEO and co-founder of Basecamp, and Bob Moesta, CEO of The Rewired Group, hosted a fireside chat to discuss how Basecamp employees approach work, including a unique perspective on how projects are handled. For instance, there is no roadmap, and work is scoped no further than six weeks ahead. According to Fried, scoping work any further ahead is a waste of time because, even in six weeks’ time, both the company’s and customers’ needs can change a great deal.

Basecamp views projects as not only being made up of a series of equal tasks. Some projects include unexpected tasks that result in the overall project taking longer. Understanding where these unknowns are and addressing them from the outset moves projects along more quickly.

 

Product Is a Team Sport

We can’t create products on our own. Our colleagues in UX design much of the product. Our engineering colleagues develop the software. Sales and marketing teams are on the front lines, ensuring that customers are aware of and purchasing our products. Many speakers at INDUSTRY talked about product’s role among these other groups.

Elevate co-founder Claire Suellentrop reminded us that our marketing colleagues can be our best friends—if we keep them informed and aligned. Think you know the right time to inform marketing about a product or feature that may need a relaunch? Plan to inform them a couple of months before that. Remember: The marketing team likely has other activities and projects you don’t know about, and those projects may have multiple dependencies. Treat the marketing team like an extension of your product team with a regular communication schedule. This will lead to higher chances of a successful launch when the time comes to introduce your product to the world. 

Jessica Tiwari, vice president of product management at Upwork, spoke about how to manage a distributed product team. Remote work can be incredibly rewarding for product managers, but it must be done right so everyone is satisfied. You must be armed with the right technology so that the team effectively and efficiently communicates and works together. Each company will have its own remote product stack, but for Upwork it includes JIRA/Confluence, Google Hangouts, Google Suite, Miro, InVision and its own proprietary chat platform. Also, make sure you hire for the skill sets that fit well in a remote work culture. You can hire precisely skilled professionals, but they also must be self-disciplined, collaborative and flexible, and have a high degree of accountability.

 

A Look Ahead

The 2019 global edition of INDUSTRY was the largest to date. For the team at Product Collective, 2020 is already on the horizon, with the European edition taking place March 9 to 11 in Dublin. We’ve already announced several speakers: legendary video game designer John Romero; Nordstrom/Verizon board member Shellye Archambeau; Oji Udezue, vice president of product at Calendly; Gib Biddle, former vice president of product at Netflix; and more. To learn more, visit INDUSTRYConference.com. And if you’d like to get a flavor of what happens at these events, look for videos from many of the sessions at ProductCollective.com/videos.

Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito is co-founder of Product Collective and co-organizer of INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, an adjunct professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University, and co-host of the Rocketship.FM podcast. Connect with him on LinkedIn

Listen to Belsito talk more about this event in the Nov. 22, 2019 PragmaticLive Podcast.

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