What does it mean to be a global product manager?

In celebration of World Product Day we thought we should look at what it means to be a global product manager. Think about the many challenges of managing global products – how do you address the differences between users in different regions, for instance? And how do you ensure success? To get some answers, we [...] Read more »

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Responsible Thinking for Product Managers – Expert Advice and Steps for Success

So many missed that a profanity filter would prevent the residents of Scunthorpe from creating an AOL account, that the use of sat navs could ruin previously quiet streets for their residents, or that a social network for university students would end up interfering with democracy. Building responsibly isn’t a headline topic for every product manager. Mozilla [...]


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A Product Manager’s Approach to Growing Teams

When I joined TransferWise one of the things I wanted to bring to the mission was my experience building strong teams, because when you’re building best-in-class products that solve customers problems at scale you need high performing teams that can work quickly and efficiently. I’ve now been with the company for six months and it [...]


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Creating Cognitively Diverse Teams by Rakhi Rajani

As a Psychologist, Rakhi Rajani, explores the intersection between human and machine intelligence. In this MTP Engage Manchester talk, she covers how we can go about creating cognitively diverse teams to tackle the big questions of the future.

Key points:

  • In a world of commercial space travel and autonomous vehicles, human behaviours are changing – we need teams that can work on these new futures
  • Disciplinary hierarchies and boundaries curb innovation
  • We all look at the world differently –  divergent mindsets and people are the ones who are willing to challenge the status quo

New Social Norms

The legal system, the economy, and the environment are just a few of the things that have changed as a result of advances in technology. As a result, the way we interact is changing too, along with social norms. For example:

  • People are less able to process long-form content than they were a few years ago
  • We live in a world of data-driven lifestyles that are augmenting our skills
  • Brain structures in children and teenagers have shifted significantly
  • We spend more time alone which affects our social skills
  • We have less downtime

Rakhi Rajani at MTP Engage Manchester 20

All these things affect who we are, how we think, and what we do. They also affect the type of questions we ask, and the teams that we need to find the answers.

Changing the way we do Things

Rakhi explains that she and her team spend a lot of time thinking about building new civilisations on Mars. As humans,  she tells us, we are very good saying, “I did this here and it worked, so I am going to do the same thing over there” – something we do because it uses the most recent frame of reference we have.

When it comes to teams, we can’t simply take this approach when it comes to hiring people. We need different mindsets and perspectives from outside traditional academic disciplines.

The mindsets we need to tackle some of these questions are:

  1. Tactical – Meeting consumer needs through incremental innovation
  2. Strategic – Defining what we do in the medium term – 2, 3 or 4 years
  3. Moon shots – Trying things we’ve never tried before through exponential innovation

Breaking Free of Boxes

Additionally, companies like to put people into boxes – product manager, designer, engineer. This happens because it makes it easier for us to make sense of the world, but Rakhi argues that we need to go beyond these boxes to build the successful teams. She hires musicians and artists based on their brain structures and how they think about problems.

Rakhi Rajani at MTP Engage Manchester

Leaders also add to the mix, imposing constraints on people based on what we know they can do versus what they can actually do. Rakhi goes on to highlight two areas that block cognitive diversity if we don’t address them:

  1. Disciplinary hierarchy – “my job role is better than yours”
  2. Disciplinary boundaries – “I’m only a designer so I can’t be involved in that conversation”

Building a Digital Team From Scratch

Rakhi built a digital lab from scratch, hiring 120 people in 18 months from 4,000 CVs. She shares her learnings from that time:

  1. Hiring at pace means that you make loads of mistakes – define the rituals that make up your culture
  2. You have to be deliberate in the mindsets you need – we need people willing to fight for the things they care about and people who are willing to ask tough questions
  3. CVs and interviews tell you what you want to hear – ask “what did the teacher say about you on your parent-teacher evenings?”
  4. People look to each other for cues and the loudest cues win, unfortunately – create a model “first-team” to show their vulnerability, that then models behaviour for future hires

Lead Into the Unknown

Finally, Rakhi leaves us with a few tips for building teams for an uncertain future. First, leave your discipline baggage at the door. Next, remove functional bias and cherish the people who disagree. Finally, make space and curb the pace because diverse teams need to find their own language and rituals.

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Cognitively Diverse Teams – Live from MTP Engage Manchester – Rakhi Rajani on The Product Experience

Rakhi Rajani

At MTP Engage Manchester (February 2020), Rakhi Rajani (Associate Partner at QuantumBlack) joined us for our first-ever live podcast recording. Talking to Rakhi we learned why Engage organiser Adam Warburton called her the smartest person he’s ever worked with as we discussed building teams, hiring at scale, when you need troublemakers, and why she had recruiters ask candidates what their teachers said about them at parent/teacher evening.

Quote of the Episode

To me a cognitively diverse team is one where you look for folks who process information differently. I’m looking for story-tellers, naysayers, people who are dreamers, reflectors, fighters. People who are approaching the world from a different point of view, people who think about information in different ways. And the ability to bring those people together in a team situation, where normally we just go “I just want cultural fit, find me people like that person over there”, which often ends up in stagnant teams.

Listen if you’d like to learn more about

  • Cognitive Diversity
  • Building Teams
  • Human Behaviour
  • Artificial Intelligence

Links mentioned in this episode


The Product Experience is hosted by Lily Smith and Randy Silver.

Lily enjoys working as a consultant product manager with early-stage and growing startups and as a mentor to other product managers. Lily has spent 13 years in the tech industry working mainly with startups in the SaaS and mobile space. She has worked on a diverse range of products – leading the product teams through discovery, prototyping, testing and delivery. Lily also founded ProductTank in Bristol, the Product Managers’ meetup with regular events and talks on Product now with 800+ members and growing. Now the Product Director at Symec, Lily also runs ProductCamp in Bristol and Bath.

A recovering music journalist and editor, Randy has been working as an interactive producer and product manager across the US and UK for nearly 20 years. After launching Amazon’s music stores in the US and UK, Randy has worked with museums and arts groups, online education, media and entertainment, retail and financial services. He’s held Head of Product roles at HSBC and Sainsbury’s, where he also directed their 100+-person product community. Now a trainer, Discovery and Leadership consultant, he’s spoken at Mind the Product Engage (Hamburg and Manchester), the Business of Software, Turing Festival, a number of ProductTanks (London, Zurich, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford, and Brighton… so far!) and at conferences across the US and Europe.

The Product Experience logo


Our theme music is from Hamburg-based Pau, featuring ProductTank Hamburg’s own Arne Kittler on bass. Listen to more on their Facebook page

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How do you Build a Winning Product Team?

It’s not rocket science that awesome products come from awesome teams, so what’s the key to creating and managing a team that’s designed for maximum impact?

Here, taking advice from a number of product pros, we look at a selection of ways to build product teams and empower them to achieve success.

Choose a Diverse Group of People

In his 2019 #mtpcon London talk – High Performing Teams, Richard Banfield discussed a variety of things that help to drive success in product teams, one of which stands out because of its simplicity – choose a diverse group of people.

Richard said that a team made up of people with lots of different experiences, knowledge, and skills shows everyone that it’s alright to be different.

What’s more, it indicates that those who stand out or are different, are embraced and that their opinions are respected.

Of course, sharing may be more complicated because not everyone has the same frames of reference, but overall the benefits far outweigh any communication challenges.

In fact, studies such as the 2015 McKinsey report – Diversity Matters, have shown that working on a team with people who are different from you can challenge your thinking in such a way that it can actually help to sharpen up its performance.

Create Conditions for Success

For a team to be successful, it must have the right conditions to thrive in. This is the advice of Ezinne Udezue.

In her 2019 #mtpcon London keynote – Helping Teams to be Successful, she explained that to create the right conditions for your team, you must:

  • Take time to learn about the people you work with – the better you understand people, the more you can empathise, trust, and work with them
  • Focus on impact – keep asking if there was a better or quicker way to achieve the same goal
  • Develop empathy – learn what’s it’s like to walk in your customers’ shoes so that you can build the products they really need and want
Take time to learn about the people you work with
Take time to learn about the people you work with (Image: Shutterstock)

Cultivate Psychological Safety

During an early episode of Mindset, Mind the Product’s, Rosemary King and Head of Products at Allplants, Laurel Gray discussed the importance of developing psychological safety to enable success and happiness within a team.

Laurel suggested that product managers can help to cultivate psychological safety by first talking about it openly. Without doing this, people might often say they feel psychologically safe, without really knowing what it is or why it’s important.

She recommended looking into Google’s Project Aristotle – a study conducted by Google to better understand the traits of its highest performing teams. The findings indicated that it wasn’t the number of PhDs, or even the number of hard skills on the team, that drove performance, but rather whether or not the teams demonstrated characteristics of psychological safety.

With a culture of psychological safety firmly in place, people have the courage to disagree, share ideas, and to feel safe to make mistakes without blame or recrimination, all of which can have an incredible impact on the performance of a team.

Hire Well and for the Right Roles

In her 2019 #mtpcon London talk – The Secret Sauce to Hiring Great Product People, Kate Leto talked about getting your team right from the start.

We all know that bad hiring decisions can be costly and Kate explained that, while we often think about product/market fit, we rarely think about person-organisation fit. One way to build a successful team is, therefore, to hire people who we know will fit into that team well.

Another, she told us, is to create the right role for your team, and your organisation, by not writing a job description that’s simply cut and pasted from another.

Write a job description that really details what you need
Write a job description that really details the reality of what you need (Image: Shutterstock)

Instead, she recommended creating a job description covering:

  • Purpose – be clear on why the role exists
  • Accountabilities – what outcomes will it be responsible for?
  • Activities – what are the tasks and responsibilities that sit under this role?
  • Behaviours – the key capabilities of emotional intelligence (EQ)

By building roles in this way, you stand a better chance of hiring someone who is the right fit for the reality of the role.

Transition Work Group to Team

Once you have your team in place, there’s then work to be done to transition that team from good to great. And, as Christina Wodtke explained during her 2018 #mtpcon San Francisco keynote, a team will really only become a team when it has all of the following:

  • A common purpose: an objective to rally the team around
  • Performance goals: Qualitative objectives and quantitative key results for the team to aim for, and complete the unified vision
  • Complementary skills: a balanced mix of people who know product, technology and business
  • Mutual accountability: everyone on the team holds each other accountable – not just the boss

From here, the foundations can be set for teams to move from a “team”, to a “learning team” and finally, to a “mindful team”.

Learn how to Build a Successful Teams

Of course, the points above really only dip a toe into the many ways you can build a successful product team. You’ll find plenty of advice sitting with the product people in our incredible community so reach out and ask others what they suggest. We’d love to know your thoughts on this subject too. What, in your opinion, sets a product team up for success? Tell us what you know, what you’ve tried, what’s worked and what hasn’t – hit discuss this article below.

You can also deep-dive into the subject at MTP Engage Hamburg on June 25th, where Christina Wodtke will be leading her workshop – Designing Product Teams with Intention: Crafting your Successful Team.

Christina’s past work includes re-design and initial product offerings with LinkedIn, MySpace, Zynga, Yahoo!, and others, as well as founding three startups, an online design magazine called Boxes and Arrows, and co-founding the Information Architecture Institute. She is currently a Lecturer at Stanford in the HCI Group in the Computer Science department.

MTP Engage Hamburg workshop
Join a group of product people for a deep-dive workshop at MTP Engage Hamburg

With all that experience under her belt, she knows how to design and inspire teams to work together and this workshop is an intimate opportunity to learn her proven results-forward methodology.

During the workshop, Christina will take you into the factors that inform strategically crafted product teams, and address the core question: why do some product teams break while others thrive?

You will explore:

  • Cultural tensions facing teams
  • Cadences of winning product teams
  • Setting norms, and why they matter
  • How to use OKRs to help teams define, tackle and realise big goals in a methodical way (leaving nothing to chance!)
  • Organisational learning and teams
  • Feedback for individuals and for teams: how regular check-ins can keep you on track to success

Christina Wodtke MTP Engage Hamburg workshop

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Why Simply “Allowing” Mistakes is a Dead-end for Agile Companies

Managing culture can quickly become one of the most complex challenges for companies that seek to scale agile practices. If self-organization and continuous improvement aren’t already tricky enough in a team of 10 individuals, they represent a daunting challenge when teams grow to the hundreds (not mentioning companies of thousands of people).

Scaling agile practices[1] in a company requires strong cultural foundations, as you build understanding and trust, between – and within – teams. Culture requires time to build, even longer to take shape, and as long to change. However, a strong and ubiquitous company culture will naturally reduce frictions and dissonance, and instill ambition at every level of execution. To quote Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Success – the Historically Dominant Culture – as the Driver of Merit

If culture is the cornerstone of agile companies, it’s also what can make agile fail, especially when it pertains to how companies value success and failure.

The dominant corporate culture has historically been geared towards perfection. Those who rise through the ranks are often those who have made the fewest mistakes – or have been able to showcase their successes the best. On the contrary, a person who has failed multiple times is either ignored and overlooked, or plain and simple shown the door. In the long run, though, valuing success – by that we mean only success – will seriously damage business performance, and more so in times that are prone to uncertainty.

Take a company that punishes failure. Employees and executives will inevitably resort to truth distortion and vanity metrics (biased, partial, self-promoting metrics). Similarly, politicking arises in such contexts, as you aim for a mistake-free career at the expense of others.

The Emergence of the Right to Make Mistakes

Many companies have, in the last decade, acknowledged the crippling effect that a culture of success can have on innovation. They’ve also discovered that through experimentation – trial and error – you can learn faster and innovate more often.

Since Weber’s bureaucratic model, discourse around failure has profoundly evolved, but reaction to new ideas now sounds like this: “Go ahead, take risks, think outside the box. If you fail, we’ll give you another shot, we won’t sanction you.”

Though well-intentioned, this type of discourse only reinforces the negative bias around mistakes. Ultimately, most of us still think like this: “I was told I could fail, but I’d rather be right on the first try.” Such discourse will bring the same results: no – or little – initiative, a dominant culture of success and almost no room for innovation. Today, failing has become tolerated (even legally authorized), but it’s not used as a lever.

Making Mistakes isn’t a Right, it’s Essential

Scaling agile practices in a company requires a cultural shift that puts mistakes at the center of success. Making mistakes should become the daily tool through which everyone in the company learns. In a complex system, ripe with uncertainty, if you’re not able to make mistakes, you won’t be able to succeed either. We try, fail, learn, understand, adjust, try again and find the right solution. Without mistakes, there are no inventions. Failure shouldn’t be a right, it should be compulsory, it should become the means to our ends!

Do not be fooled, the myth of the inventor that builds a revolutionary product on the first try (often pictured in their garage or other exotic locations) is flawed. Trial and error has been the real driver of product innovation, and perhaps more importantly, most of humanity’s inventions, creations and progress.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work Thomas Edison on researching the lightbulb

Enable your fellow colleagues to make as many mistakes as feasible, as fast as possible, and ask them to share their learnings with the company (documentation is key). In such a context, learning will speed up and become collaborative, engagement will rise, talent retention will improve and performance-induced stress will diminish. Making mistakes and sharing learnings also increases the diversity of knowledge in a company, and thus makes it more resilient to changes. The real paradox is that the more mistakes you make, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more successful you become.

Innovation as the Memory Game

A lot of companies think of strategy as a chess game. But, in a complex setting where your levers are unknown, or change often, chess doesn’t do much as a framework. Instead, think of strategy as a memory game.

The Rules: Cards are distributed upside down, each card is part of a pair and your goal is to find all pairs as fast as possible. Each turn you select two cards, and if you find a pair, you select two more, and so on, until all the pairs have been removed from the board.

In the memory game, a good player isn’t someone who is able to find all the pairs on the first round, just as a good product manager isn’t someone who is able to launch the perfect product on their first attempt.

A good player, however, is someone who’s able to learn from their – and their opponents’ – mistakes, through trial and error, and who’s able to figure out the board the fastest. As soon as they’ve figured out the layout, they can then reap the fruits of her learning, just as with product/market fit.

When a member of your team comes to you to present their new idea and their strategy, don’t just allow them to fail. Ask them how they plan to fail as fast as possible, it’ll give you an idea of what they’re planning to learn.

In practice, you could ask them questions such as :

  • What are your uncertainties?
  • What are your hypotheses?
  • How do you plan to test said hypotheses?
  • How will you measure failure, and know how to invalidate your hypotheses?

By asking these questions, you’ll be doing them a favor, and will be laying the foundation for a new agile company culture. Now, imagine if everyone internalized this cultural shift and shared their learnings company-wide. In this new and complex world, you’d be able to rapidly reduce uncertainty and build a powerful and creative company, capable of producing the innovations that will drive tomorrow’s products.

[1] By “scaling agility”, we mean a company where teams self-organize, share organizational models, continuously improve them, and are user/value-centric.

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5 Lessons From Building Marketplaces by Pip Jamieson

TL;DR: Pip Jamieson, Founder and CEO of The Dots, takes us through the lessons that have helped her to realise that you have to start by understanding the community in which your marketplace exists. Then you can build something which genuinely adds value to everyone within it.

What is The Dots?

The Dots helps “no-collar” workers to find roles and helps companies to find quality talent for their creative positions. The company has reimagined the experience of a service like LinkedIn for individuals who don’t have a structured CV. For creative roles, it’s important to showcase the work rather than just the job title, roles, and responsibilities.

The Dots has a product that does this and then encourages people to tag their co-workers, to steadily increase its reach. It’s more akin to IMDB than a jobs board.

Successful Marketplaces Depend on a Community That Adds Value

The Dots’ biggest clients (recruiters) are looking for people who do great work and who are already employed, rather than people who are looking for a job. Attracting such people to the platform requires creative community they want to engage with, regardless of whether they’re searching for a job.

This means adding value, and in the creative industry, this means showcasing people’s work. There’s an ego boost someone uploads work or is tagged in a project. It’s also about finding inspiration from looking at the work of others. LinkedIn operates in the same way, but for general business advice and content.

Lesson 1: Make the Community Free and Charge Clients to Access it

The chicken and egg problem that faces all marketplaces at the start needs to be solved if you’re going to be successful. One side has to be active for the other side to be interested. The Dots allows creatives to showcase their work for free and charges companies to approach them.

Lesson 2: Curation is key to Quality

Clients care about the quality of content on the site, as it’s what they look through to find people. The Dots invested heavily in content curation to ensure  quality. It’s much harder to charge a premium for your service without quality content.

AirBNB took the same approach when it first started – sending professional photographers to hosts’ listings, so it could set a benchmark for the minimum standard.

Lesson 3: Build Trust by Asking People

Companies really want to know how good somebody is before they approach them. This is why most people still work from recommendations or through recruiters. Traditionally marketplaces implement reviews in order to build trust in their products – AirBnb, Amazon and the like all see this as a key part of their service.

The Dots solved this issue by getting people to tag one another in projects and then allowing clients to speak to the people connected to individuals they were interested in.

Lesson 4: Prioritise big Ideas by Measuring the Team’s Confidence in Them

The creative people in your product teams will naturally spot the big opportunities for your marketplace. They’ll want to try and revolutionise your business every time you have a planning session – especially if you are in a fast-moving growth situation. This means you have a long backlog of high-risk features for development.

Intercom’s RICE model helps to sort these ideas and allow you to make better decisions about what to pursue. It does this by adding Reach and Confidence, into the Effort and Impact model. Confidence is particularly important, as it allows you to build in data that you’re already seeing across your product. If, for example, you’ve got lots of analysis showing you patterns that support a feature then your confidence will be high.

Lesson 5: Diverse Teams Make Better Products

Hiring and retaining great people is one of the hardest issues for a business. For a team dealing with a marketplace product, ensuring that these people have a variety of different perspectives and experiences is crucial. If they don’t, then your marketplace will only ever resonate with a single type of person. No matter how much testing you do, you will always unconsciously be designing a product for yourself – which is unlikely to bring you the scale you need.

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