Thoughts on the Product Management Festival 2017 #pmf17

Tim Herbig at Product Management Festival 2017
Photo was taken by Product Management Festival 2017 Team

I had the incredible opportunity to speak at this year’s Product Management Festival 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland last week.
While I will share the summary and slides of my talk over the next coming weeks, I briefly wanted to touch on some of the aspects of the event I was able to experience (unfortunately, I had to leave at the end of the first day).

Speaker’s Dinner

Beautiful location at the Lake Zurich which was a breeze to reach. The standing table setting allowed for a nice mix of conversations but also prevented a closer atmosphere amongst the speakers.
Nevertheless, it was a convenient way to talk to fellow speakers and get a first impression for the quality benchmark of the upcoming talks.

The Venue

Picking a cinema allows for great stages with plenty of room to present on – But also huge audiences waiting for entertainment. The entry hall was perfectly morphed into a Product Management fair.

It was a bit odd that the regular cinema business continued during the afternoon, but I guess that’s hard to avoid if you don’t want to block the whole building when only half of it is needed.

The ‘Papiersaal’ location right next to the cinema grew close to me. I like the intimate atmosphere you were able to experience there, which was perfect for the AMA sessions. Also, the food seemed to be significantly better over there. 😉

The Talks

Personally, I’m not a fan of those split-up tracks which run talks in parallel. Not only because of the competitive pressure you (or at least I) experiences as a speaker, but also because I think attendees shouldn’t be forced to chose and it creates kind of a two-tier society within the society.
A pretty good way to accommodate this setup though was the opportunity to pitch your talk at the beginning of every session. I liked that a lot, and it helped form a speaker’s and attendee perspective.

Nevertheless, I think I mad the most of out of my remaining time at the conference after my (early) speaking slot. Here are my four favorites from that day:

Ram Papatla – Unconventional Product Innovation, for the Next Billion Customers!
No new insights from a product craft perspective (understand your users, apply machine learning gradually, serve compressed images in low bandwidth areas, etc.), but fascinating to hear from a product operating in such a unique market.

Daniel Strazzulla – Drowning in Feedback? How to Instrumentalize Customer Intelligence to Facilitate Strategic Decision Making
Particularly interesting for me, as Daniel shared great insights into how to structure user insights best in a SaaS environment, in which you’ll receive input from sales, customer support and direct clients. For everybody facing a similar challenge, I can now recommend NomNom.

Ask Me Anything with Mina Radhakrishnan
I was kind of skeptic how valuable those AMA sessions would be, but listening to proven product and business leaders like Mina in a more relaxed and casual environment than the big conference stage was a great experience.

David Pier – Balancing Heuristics and Data
Building a product which aims to help optimizers succeed, it was valuable to hear a hands-on story from someone like David about how gut feeling and focus on real customer success can support the prioritization of testing ideas and features to improve on.

Gregor put together an excellent summary of his overall takeaways from all the talks which were held at #pmf17:

Product Management Festival 2017 Key Takeaways

Should you attend Product Management Festival 2018?

As always, the answer begins with ‘it depends.’ If you haven’t been there and look for a new addition to your conference schedule, I think it’s a definite yes.
The conference has grown a lot, and I was pleasantly surprised by the average quality of talks I’ve seen at this scale (750 attendees).
It’s fair to assume that the conference continues to grow and will feature similarly impressive headline keynotes next year.

If you’ve been there already, you might think twice after the lineup has been published. After all, it depends on your personal learning goals for the year.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to speak at a Product Management conference, I can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’s a great experience!

The biggest difference between product and consulting work

Comparing Product and Consulting Work

For those of you who have been following my writing for quite some time now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise: I don’t believe much longer in the differentiation of domain product managers.
Instead, I believe in the power of deploying (product) skills in whichever domain is necessary and staying close to some core values (e.g., relentless customer focus).

But there is a particular distinction I want to point out to pay attention to when deciding whether you want to move in or out of working in an agency context: End-to-end responsibility for product outcome.

This all comes down to individual motivators you or team members of you are driven by, and it’s something I urge every people manager to pay close attention to when hiring.
A common motivator I heard about when talking to people which wanted to move into a consultancy/agency domain was the need for more variety of the product challenges they (which was also one of the motivators for me to give consulting a try).

While this is often the desired primary goal, a second one comes into play when it comes to shaping and shipping products for clients: You (can) give up end-to-end responsibility for your decisions.
As a product manager in a consultancy context, you may be responsible for the inner processes to build the product, but you’re not enabled to take full ownership for wrong decisions, mistakes, and potentially fame.

You might be able to push for decisions and initiatives but will always have to rely on the faith, trust, and patient of your client to see things through. While this may sometimes feel frustrating, it can be somewhat convenient for certain types of (product) people. It lets you focus on the upper part of the product funnel. Like the development and discovery of ideas instead of having to deal with hard facts down the road (e.g., ongoing backlog refinements, resolving delivery dependencies and organizing go to market).

When you work in a product company on a product you can (hopefully) entirely own, nobody and nothing will rescue you from dealing with those hard things. It’s part of the overall deal of working on your product with full responsibility.

So, when you’re currently working in an agency/consultancy context and are looking for the next step out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to join a product company and try owning the end-to-end responsibility of a product without the comfy possibility to put mistakes on irresponsible client decisions.
On the other side, when you’re currently part of a product company and consider switching into a consulting role, I’d like to challenge your critical drivers for this switch.

In the end, the lack of the overall responsibility was one of the critical factors for me to go back into product.

Don’t ask your customers which new product they want to pay for. Here’s what to do instead.

Quantitative Validation rules for Paid Products

Expect to hear more in-depth advice from me on validation of product hypotheses in the next couple of weeks as the (product) conference season comes to an end mid-November for this year.
But while recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I couldn’t help but to (publicly) shout out advice for anybody who’s tinkering with the idea of introducing a new paid product or feature to its user base.

In this episode of the Online Marketing Rockstars Podcast (sorry, only available in German), the founder of Happybrush gets interviewed.
Happybrush is a vertically integrated brand offering electronic toothbrushes, looking to disrupt the market which is dominated by companies like Procter & Gamble or Braun. The current offering includes starter sets, single brushes, toothpaste and some smaller accessories.

When asked about why they’re not offering a subscription model for the brushes or toothpaste to lever higher CLTVs, the founder says this (freely translated):

We’re looking into this, but are doing quite good so far without it. Nevertheless, we have already asked existing customers whether they’d want a subscription model and how it would need to look like/behave for them.
Don’t do stuff like that for a feature or a product which involves payment and believe you have a foundation for building it. Qualitative validation (this is what they’ve done here) will only get you so far.
As this technique focusses on what people say and not what they’ll do, you’re missing they critical psychological validation moment.As long as people like you and your newsletter template looks shiny, they probably tell you that they’ll buy anything at least halfway meaningful. But when the moment of committing the form of entering credit card data arrives, they, e.g., have to consider what to drop instead to pay you now.

Here’s what I’d expect from a vertically integrated brand instead when trying to validate a new product idea:

  1. Use every available channel to ask your existing and non-existing customers about their most significant problem within your area of expertise (e.g., brushing their teeth) you’re not able to solve for them yet.
  2. Develop one or multiple fictional paid solutions for that problem (flashy product name and three essential USPs are enough).
  3. A/B/X Test a “Subscribe now” button for the particular new product ideas (e.g., a subscription for dental floss) including a suggested pricing (test the pricing if you want/have the traffic as well) in your newsletters or even order confirmation/billing e-mails.
  4. Offer a discount code for this product ‘arriving later this year’ to those who showed an honest interest in purchasing as an apology for not being able to order right away.
  5. Take the data and do the math whether those conversion rates would back up the business behind this new idea.
But never make a paid product decision based on qualitative user feedback.

Why your next KPI to optimize for should be an opt-out rate

While my full wrap-up of this week’s Productized Conference I wanted to share an interesting thought with you, which got presented by Atlassian’s Claire Drummond and Dragana Boras.

When their team recently rolled-out the excellent new version of Confluence, they established a <5 opt-out rate from the new design as their KPI to optimize for in the first place and to base roll-out decisions on (they even managed to lower this metric to <1,1%).
This caught my eye because it seemed unusual to me to set a ‘negative’ metric as the primary goal to aim for when rolling out an improved version of your product.

But when you look (or think) below the surface, it’s an intriguing way of looking at things.
When thinking of KPIs, I usually group them into additive or destructive categories. Additive metrics are associated with generating value – Usually meaning growth (downloads, sign-ups, contact requests, songs played, upsells, etc.)
Destructive metrics, on the other hand, reduce value for your business. Perfect examples are profile deletions, subscription cancellations, contact deletions and even opt-out rates.

A simplified funnel for that might look like this:

Typical Product Funnel KPI Optimization

Usually, we tend to push for additive metrics when setting the success criteria for a new future. When you’re looking at a self-reflected product team, you might discover a destructive metric as a pre-defined boundary for the project.
It just doesn’t seem ‘ambitious’ enough, to look at the lower part of the funnel.

But what defining a destructive metric as your primary goal shows to me instead is how much you care about the satisfaction of your existing users.
It’s not about hockey stick user growth at any cost or just squeezing some more % of WAU users out of your platform.
It’s about building something which truly resonates with your most loyal users and looking at them not invalidating your efforts by just leaving.

Especially when you’re running a subscription-based product like Atlassian is doing with Confluence, it’s highly recommendable to look at the destructive metrics of your existing user base first and to only optimize for additive metrics when adoption within the core user group has been proven.

As destructive metrics like churns or profile deletions are much harder (and costlier) to reverse then ‘just’ iterating product nuances to boost additive metrics, I think it’s a healthy approach more of us should adopt for future overhauls of their products.

Designing (for) Facebook compared to Designing (for) WhatsApp

Charlie Deets recently switched design teams from Facebook to WhatsApp, and he shared some of his key insights comparing the design approaches at both companies.

The first thing which stood out for me was that it became clear that Facebook only guides its product teams with an incredibly broad company vision (‘connect the world’) and let them derive new ideas and the execution (+testing) from there.
While at WhatsApp, the company is lead by core product principles.

  • The interface should feel native to the device the person is using
  • The app should be lightweight and require as little storage as possible
  • The interface should be simple
  • User actions and animations should be quick to respond
  • Features should provide obvious utility, so they require little introduction

You might say that this approach seems small-minded, but I’d argue that WhatsApp is still the most focused and carefully evolved app out there on an incredible scale. And even though Facebook’s impact and reach are not to be discussed, it indeed isn’t known for particular small steps following imaginative strict product principles driving the decision making process.

This becomes even more clear when you take a look how features are designed, built and tested at both companies:

At Facebook, you start with a problem. Then you propose a solution to that problem. If that gets the team excited, you test it in research. If it tests well, you start to build it and you take it, out for a small test to see if it solves the problem. If it solves the problem well, you build it out to have a rich feature set and release to a wider audience. The process is iterative and it has a lot of checks and balances naturally built in. It’s a mature process and it works well.
Compared to the design approach he experienced at WhatsApp:
At WhatsApp, you start with a problem. You work on a spectrum of solutions. You start to whittle it down to the solutions that seem to solve it best and adhere to the principles of the app. You grind on the best solution until you think nothing is wrong with it. Then you keep grinding on the solution until nothing is actually wrong with it. Developers build the solution and you roll it out to everyone in an app update. The process is also iterative to some degree, but mainly in the design portion. There is additional pressure on design to get it right out the gate.
Facebook is known for experimentation in public, but WhatsApp doesn’t seem to have adopted this radical approach. I think it’s hard to say which direction is ‘better’ but it’s interesting to see that an obviously product-driven company is focussed on designing within its own environment before ‘putting it out there’.

I love insights like this and hope we see more like that getting shared within the community.The good thing about this comparison is that you can use either side to support your own way of building and releasing new products. 😉

Career Paths in Product Management – Building Products vs. Building People

At one point in time, every PM will arrive at the point at which she has finally gained enough professional experience at her current or past job to climb the corporate ladder. Promotions become a thing and product management career paths need to be discussed.
And thereby it’s not about leveling from which level, but about the act of leveling itself.

While this may seem natural at first sight and was the de facto only way to gain recognition of a good performance, things have changed a bit in the past.
Growth trajectories of people are no longer only focussed on the vertical direction but the horizontal axis.

In the context of product management, this means that you have to choose between continuing to build products yourself compared to instead focus on building people who then build great products.

When you arrive at the point in time mentioned above in time, I strongly advise you to take a moment to check your real inner motivators instead of immediately jumping on having a new business card entitling you as Team Lead Product/VP Product, etc.

This also the very first thing I check with applicants. By focussing on motivators of someone in the first place you can avoid a couple of uncomfortable situations to find yourself in 6 months down the line:

A great product manager joins your small team with already clear leadership ambitions, which you didn’t check in the first place and only discover a couple of months in. One of 3 things will happen:

  1. You’ll have to put him off again and again when he’s asking for a leadership opportunity. His excellence in building products will decrease, and he’ll eventually leave.
  2. You give him the title he wants, without a team though. The title will delay the disappointment, but he’ll eventually leave.
  3. You give him the title and start unplanned hiring to create an artificial team for him. He may be happy, but you created unhealthy growth (and thereby financial burden) for your company and put way too much on the line. Only to satisfy the needs of one employee. On whom you didn’t do your hr homework.

You promote a great product manager to a leadership position who accepts out of politeness but has no leadership ambitions at all and is more than happy in an executive role. Here’s what’ll happen:

  • She’s leading people based on the corporate hr playbook but remains at the same time way too involved in operational details of daily product building because that’s way more interesting (and challenging) for her.
  • Her team grows frustrated and eventually starts to quit.
  • She discovers her true motivation based on building products instead of building people and quits as well.
  • You have to re-hire a product leadership position and the individual contributor roles of that team. Just because you didn’t check the real motivators of your initial hire.

So, whether you’re a product leader hiring for a team or a PM who is approaching a ‘critical’ level of experience: Check your true motivators and whether you’re more driven by building products (and want to continue to deepen your knowledge around that) or building people (with all the trade-offs of being involved continuously of the daily product details.

How Alignment supports you in Stakeholder Management

Why do Stakeholders always come up with Feature Requests? Because they’re like users – They don’t know what they want.
Influencing the roadmap solely with specific feature requests is their way to remain involved in product development continuously.

Why do they want to stay involved? Because they’re not convinced that the end results will match their expectations. You haven’t earned their trust (yet) and they may also have a hard time giving up micro-level control over ‘their’ product.

It’s your responsibility as a Product Manager to reverse engineer their feature requests using alignment tools to get to the bottom to what they want.
Only then you can come up with better solutions than they can imagine.

So, the next time you’re frustrated with the way stakeholders articulate their need, remind yourself to treat them like your users.
Develop empathy for them, get to the bottom of their actual problems and deploy ideation and creative techniques against those problems to come up with better products.

I know, in an ideal world, we’d all be on the same page already. But on the bright side, you can count on an educational effect on your stakeholder’s minds as a byproduct of problem-centered product development.

But be certain that this is your responsibility. The worst you could do would to just built those specific feature requests.

How LinkedIn Premium does Churn Prevention

I looked at the cancellation process of theLinkedIn Premium membership to find out how the professional network tries to prevent its paying members from churning.

You can find the complete transcript of my teardown right below.

  1. Alright. So, I think I’m done with LinkedIn Premium for now. Where could I go to cancel my subscription…?
  2. Maybe up here, right next to my (pretty) face
  3. Ok, that’s fairly obvious and accessible. Let’s take a closer look.
  4. A bit grey to spot at first sight but at least in the right place. Kind of a dark pattern to make it look disabled, though.
  5. Clear and concise comparison of my current (‚Premium Essentials’) and potentially future membership (‚Free‘) status
  6. The ‚Continue‘ button is also even the highlighted one (fairly uncommon for cancelation processes).
  7. Neat idea: Routing me to the FAQ section or offering me a different membership type as additional paths to pursue from here. But let’s continue with the cancelation process.
  8. Rather ‚… – you have to provide feedback‘. The confirmation button is disabled until I’ve selected one of the provided options. I’m wondering whether I get a tailored offer when selecting a reason…
  9. Let’s pick the most obvious reason. Of course it’s too expensive. Every membership is too expensive. Always.
  10. Oh, looks like the last button was already the final one and I get offered a nice discount for coming back. I’m not a friend of those, as they devalue the original membership value.
  11. But, you know what, works on me. I’m a sucker for discounts (and honestly: who isn’t?). Let’s claim the offer. I’m wondering whether I would have gotten it when I had selected a different reason…
  12. Plain confirmation of my successful comeback to the membership and straightforward display of my 50% discount rate right on my account page.
  13. But, in the end, they were not able to keep me around even with the discount. I went through the process one more time and completed the cancelation without being offered any further discounts.
  14. What I like in this ‚canceled‘ state my account is now in are the visible but non-intrusive hints for ‚reactivating‘ (better than resubscribing) my Premium status. Nicely done, LinkedIn!

Productish Podcast Episode 35: How Product Thinking influences Discovery & Delivery Processes – With Nikkel Blaase, Product Designer at XING

In this episode of the Productish podcast, Tim and I are joined by Nikkel Blaase, Product Designer at XING. We’re discussing the impact of Product Thinking on Discovery and Delivery processes in organizations, which prerequisites must be met to implement this mindset and what comes after Product Thinking.

Note: This episode of Productish is in German.

Listen to it on iTunes or SoundCloud and don’t forget to subscribe via RSS or directly on iTunes.

Back to Product

Becoming Director Iridion

When I joined ORBIT mid-2016 I was driven by three goals:

  1. Learning how to build up a company with two incredible entrepreneurs (thanks for inviting me on to this journey, Sven & Johann).
  2. Establishing a product culture ‘of my own’ by forming an impactful product management and design team.
  3. Diversifying my ability to apply product management frameworks in discovery and delivery by working with clients from a broad range of industries.

Now, one year into the consulting business, I had to admit that despite all the various challenges I was able to tackle, nothing drives and motivates me like building for the outcome of ‘my’ product.

That’s why I was so intrigued by the opportunity which resulted from conversations with André and Thorsten: Leading the overall efforts for the conversion management suite Iridion as its Director from October 1st on.

I’ll remain located in Hamburg and can’t wait to further shape and scale this already great SaaS product with our distributed team while leveraging a close connection to the Web Arts HQ in Bad Homburg.

So, when you personally or the company you work for/with are centered around (conversion) optimization, let’s talk about how Iridion might fit into your workflow. Reach out to me via e-mail, and we’ll set up a call or meeting.