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Mind the Product London 2018

“Product people” from more than 50 countries gathered in London one Friday in October this year for a day of talks about the perils and pitfalls of product management. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

The day before had been filled with workshops carefully designed to help each of us hone our craft. I spent a day learning how to apply a financial value to cost of delay for a potential feature. The workshop was run by Özlem Yüce, an economist turned product advisor whose clients include TUI, Vistaprint and Ericsson. My mental maths has never been one of my strengths, but the whole day was fascinating, inspiring and left me buzzing to apply as much of what I’d learned as I could.

The main event took place at the Barbican the following day. 1,700 people piled into the sold out auditorium to listen to talks from the likes of Ivy Ross, VP Design for Hardware at Google, Ryan Freitas, Director of Product Design at Facebook (with a background in Uber), and Joe Leech, a Product Strategy Consultant who has worked with eBay, Marriott and Disney.

We were welcomed by the man himself, Mind the Product co-Founder and co-Author of Product Leadership Martin Eriksson, and reassured that we were all “imposters”. No, this wasn’t an insult. Eriksson argued that this was a good thing. It was something we should embrace. Cue an anecdote about the one and only Neil Armstrong feeling like an imposter in a room full of creatives.

Indeed, throughout the day we were regaled with stories of outsiders, imposters, who put this secret strength to good use. A study of human behaviour demonstrated that for a particular puzzle, while groups of friends had a completion rate of around 48%, a group of friends with one outsider completed the puzzle 75% of the time.

We learned how eBay transformed their website and avoided customer ire. Well, at least they did the second time they tried. Attempt one involved the e-Commerce giant changing their background colour from yellow to white overnight and dealing with a deluge of customer complaints. According to psychology expert Joe Leech they then did the wrong thing. They changed it back. They bowed to the pressure of customers who thought they preferred yellow to white.

But the story doesn’t end there. The next time they tried to change the colour of their site from yellow to white, they did it gradually. They changed the background colour a shade at a time over the course of 6 months. And no one noticed. They didn’t receive a single complaint.

Sally Foote, Director of Product Innovation at Photobox, gave a stirring speech about her own experience of making her legacy technology a strength rather than a weakness (and all the things you could do with a square photo).

But by far the most inspiring talk came at the end (isn’t that always the way?), from the marvellous Janice Fraser, Chief Product Officer at Bionic. She talked about radical acceptance, understanding bias with the team and the U-BAD model for diagnosing “buy-in”. To Fraser, before someone can “buy-in” to an idea, they first have to Understand it, Believe in it, be willing to Advocate for it and have a say in the Decision making around it. Without any one of these elements it can’t be considered “buy-in.”

After two very busy days of conversation and thought-provoking speakers, I am excited to say that I Understand what I need to do,  I Believe  I can do it, I’m willing to Advocate for the changes that need to be made and now only have to Decide where to start!

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