Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the second annual Women in Product conference that took place in San Jose. Around 1,500 product managers, all women, all working at some tech-related product, at many, many different stages of their career. I was inspired not only by the women on stage but also by the women sitting next to me, listening, asking questions, and sharing their knowledge. Some of the talks I heard had familiar content but each one managed to teach me something new. That said, at the end of the day, these three talks are the ones I’m still thinking about.
First, Connie Chan’s lightning talk titled “Cross-Border Innovation” and focused on how the Asian app developers approached mobile product delopement. In Silicon Valley, current wisdom is to have a different app for each function or activity. For example, Google has over 100 Android apps, some with obviously close affinity and others with functionality overlap. Yet each has to be downloaded, installed and used on its own. The Asian approach, which Ms Chan called the Super App, melds different and varying functionalities into one app and leverages the existing audience to introduce new functionality. The assumption is that users will find what they need while gaining benefits such as a single login and identity without the need to re-enter payment credentials for each. To paraphrase Ms Chan, each functionality within the app shares distribution and traffic with the others, while maintaining mindshare and relevance. The Super App approach is so different than current Silicon Valley thought but yet makes so much sense from the marketing and growth perspectives. Bonus: extra insights from Ms Chan.
The second talk I liked was by Jen Dante of Netflix who talked about the importance of failure when building products. As PMs, we tend to focus on success so much that we often forget that we can learn from building products, features, and experiences that users don’t like. The consequences of rewarding only successful products or features doesn’t mean that failure won’t happen. Rather, failures will be hidden and the opportunity to learn from them will be lost. Fear of failure discourages bold product initiatives and will most often result in what Ms Danta called “consensus-driven decision making” which ends up being political and discourages bold moves. She introduced the audience to Netflix’s culture of discussing, measuring and yes, celebrating failure. Ms Dante’s closing statement: “when you fail, you learn.”
My third takeaway was from a talk by a PM I have long admired and gotten to know through her posts, Julie Zhou. She introduced us to the three questions product managers should ask at product reviews to figure out not whether we can build something, but whether we should.
- 1st question: “What people problem are we trying to solve?” where the focus is on people. Will the product or feature benefit actual users? Is there an emotional or social benefit aside from the functional one? What is the simple, human benefit?
- 2nd question: “How do we know it’s a real problem worth solving?” Well, the “know” part drives the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data about the product, while the “real” part means to ask if it is something significant to our users and if it’s worth solving.
- 3rd question: “How will we know if we solved this problem?” Which leads not just to acceptance criteria or the definition of a set of success metrics, but rather a softer, more intuitive approach. Ask yourself what will be different in the world if we do?
What I liked about Ms Zhou’s and Ms Dante talks is that both are working on complex products in large companies, both with a large number of users and revenue driven by those users, and both are in charge of major product decisions. Yet Ms Dante’s talk focused about the importance of numbers, Ms Zhou focused on more big-picture questions. For me, both are important to consider as part of the product development process and great to have in my toolkit.