Nurturing Local Talent

Whilst discussing the growing AsiaPac tech scene during a panel at #mtpcon Singapore in 2019, how to nurture local talent formed a large part of the conversation. One year on we look back at the advice shared by this group of product leaders.

mtpcon singapore discussion panel
At #mtpcon Singapore 2019, Colin Pal, Kaia Lai, Renato Silva, Priyankka Mani, Silvia Thom and Francois Le Nguyen took part in a panel discussion

Leading by Example

The conversation about local talent began with a question – rather than fly talent into the region, can we do a better job of nurturing local talent?

Silvia Thom, Senior Director of Product at Zalora kicked things off by sharing her experience of growing a team in Singapore. A few years previously, when she was trying to grow her own team there, she actively went out to meetups to explore the product community.

To her surprise, the community was fairly small, so she started attending local meetups, and later began helping the organisers at her local ProductTank. “I was starting to give back and to see how we could grow this community.” Next, she turned her attention to her company. “I thought, ok, I cannot go out there and just hire ready-made product managers, we really have to start developing a career track.”

This meant Silvia had to think about how to bring in someone new, such as a fresh graduate, and to guide and mentor them internally, as well as offer external help like attending conferences and workshops.

“People say ‘I can’t get product managers, what should I do?’ I get this question a couple of times a week. The solution, she said, is not always to bring in people from overseas. Instead, it’s about training local people up and mentoring them internally.

mtpcon singapore workshop
Attending workshops can help early product managers to learn and develop new skills

Accepting Outside Help

If you do need to bring talent in from elsewhere, Colin Pal, then VP Product at Photobook suggested that it’s not always a negative. I think one of the things that really helps is to not see this phenomenon, or this situation, as a problem… some people see this as foreigners coming in and stealing jobs.” He explained that hires from other countries can help to boost product practice at your organisation.

“Speaking as a local, it has really enriched things for us to see how things are done elsewhere. It’s not something tangible, it’s not something someone wrote in a book maybe in London that’s far away,” he said, “it’s literally people who are here, in the here and now.” It’s the responsibility of local product managers to make the most of these people, of their knowledge and experience, he said. “If you’ve got great people who come from more established markets or more developed practices, pick their brains!”

Encouraging Proactivity

Renato Silva, Director of Product at Tencent, commented that the responsibility for nurturing talent doesn’t have to solely fall to you.

He explained that we tend to think that it’s our internal job, our internal responsibility only, but in reality there are lots of opportunities to learn and share ideas thanks to the efforts of the product community. As a product manager, new or experienced, you simply have to get out there, take advantage of it and give back what you can.

“The ProductTank example is a great one,” he said. “We’re now in more than 200 cities, so if you’re not yet involved in one of those communities where you live, try to do that. Try to bring knowledge from a conference like this, or from wherever, into your local community and try to nurture your own local community so that over time they will get more interested, improve their craft and even maybe become the next hires for your next super project.”

Advice for Future Product Managers

If, as you read this, you realise that you’re the talent to be nurtured in the scenarios described above, we’d love to know your thoughts. Share your experience, questions and concerns in the comments below so we can continue the conversation, and take a look at these additional pieces of advice from our 20i9 panellists.

Be the Rebel

For Renato, a key piece of advice is to be a rebel. “Ask why for everything,” he said. “Don’t just take everything for granted or execute whatever people are asking you for, ask them back – why? Why should I do this? Why is this important? Where is this going to take us? Absolutely ask everyone. Be the person asking the questions.”

Keep Customer Needs top of Mind

As well as asking why Kaia Lai, Head of Product Marketing at Grab, recommended asking another, specific question, that being – how will this product help who you are trying to serve?

“From a customer’s perspective, you should always be asking why this is right for them.” This is important, she explained, because product leaders who have been flown in from outside the local area might not have the local nuance needed to ask that question. “It’s really really important that we think super super customer first and really understand the kind of vision we’re trying to tackle so that we can create the right solutions.”

Find Your Identity

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Colin has seen that product managers in Asia don’t always give themselves enough credit.

“As product managers in Asia, we need to find our identity,” he said. “We are not the same as product managers in Europe, we are not the same as product managers in the US. Trying to imitate is not the sincerest form of flattery in this case. We need to know what we want to take and what we want to learn, but also know the areas where we think we can lead.”

With this in mind, think about what you’re good at and where you might need help so that you can hone your craft and take it forward.

Follow Your Passion

Anyone who works in product management will know that becoming a product manager isn’t as straightforward as taking a course, or getting a certificate or degree. In most cases, the people who really want the role seek out the opportunities and learn by doing. To that end, Silvia recommended that you follow your passion, even if it’s currently only a hobby.

“Find a topic that you’re passionate about or a problem that you want to solve. I think that’s very important and where it can start,” she said. “Try to do some mock-ups or some user research and just see how you feel about it. See if it really excites you.”

Once you find that, she explained, it can be just the spark you need to find your direction, a new job, or perhaps even a job within your current company.

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Barry O’Reilly: Learning to Unlearn

#mtpcon Singapore speaker Barry O’Reilly has made it his business to get business leaders to unlearn what they know, and he’ll be taking to the stage in Singapore next month to explain more about how and why leaders need to unlearn past success to succeed in the future.

Barry describes unlearning as “the process of letting go of, moving away from, and reframing once-useful mindsets and acquired behaviours that were effective in the past, but now limit our success” so that you can embrace new behaviours that are effective in a world ripe with emerging technologies and accelerated change.

He thinks it’s a topic that will resonate with an Asian audience because of the prevailing top-down business culture in the region. “I think Asian businesses are starting to realise that their high-performance individuals don’t want to work in company cultures where they’re restricted and told what to do. These individuals want the ability to develop new ideas and pursue them,” he says. “Take Singapore for example, there’s an issue at the moment as innovators and entrepreneurs are moving to other markets, like the US, where they’re encouraged to innovate. The Singapore government is trying to bring talent back to the local market and coach organisations on how to adopt a more merited-based approach.”

Although he’s now based in San Francisco, Barry has worked in Asia and has current clients in Japan and China. He says the idea of unlearning is beginning to take hold in the region and Asian business leaders are starting to understand that they may have to adapt their leadership: “There’s strong interest in how they can start to do that.”

Adapting to Changing Circumstances

Most of Barry’s consulting work comes from Fortune 500 companies or from heavily funded scaling startups in San Francisco and around the globe. Typically these coaching engagements run from three to 12 months. He’s coached executive teams at Capital One, International Airlines Group, HSBC, Google, and  Amazon, to name a few.

O'Reilly

What he does, he says, is to get these senior people to understand that they need to develop a system to adapt to changing circumstances. Just as a product has features which need to be continuously developed in order to stay relevant, humans need to continuously innovate or adapt their behaviour or face being disrupted. “When senior leaders face issues they can’t resolve, or they’re not living up to the outcomes they expected, or they’ve tried everything they can think of and are still not getting the breakthroughs they need that’s generally a signal that they need to change their behaviour or shift their mindset. I’ve developed a system to help them do that.”

Barry’s unlearning system is grounded in experimentation, a skill learned from his years working in product, as he’s been a product builder for much of his career. Originally from Ireland, Barry’s first job, in 1999, was as a software developer for Citysearch in San Francisco – this was a Yellow Pages-type of online directory for business trying to get on to the internet, and a competitor to Zip2, the business that formed the start of Elon Musk’s career. After that Barry moved back to Europe and worked for a mobile games developer, Games Kitchen. “This was just after Nokia’s Snake, at a time when phones started to have small microprocessors on them so you could build arcade-type games on them,” he says. “We launched a game called Wireless Pets which went on to be the biggest WAP game in Europe. It got us seed funding and gave me an opportunity to learn how to build products with emerging technologies.” It was also a key transition point for Barry and the start of his shift to product management: he learned about agile and experimentation and that he wanted to focus more on “what to build, not on how to build it”.

Design and Product Thinking

After two and a half years at Games Kitchen, he went backpacking. He ended up in Australia and started to work on a $800m initiative to build next-generation e-learning content for schools across Asia-Pacific, teaching children to learn through game play. The content has now been distributed through the region, and incorporated into different learning resources- in Australia for example, it’s become the National Digital Learning Resource. “It was very interesting,” says Barry, “it gave me a chance to understand how to work with a federated group of people.”

Barry O'Reilly on Thoughtworks

After this, he moved to London to join Thoughtworks, because he “wanted to work with really great engineering people”. He adds: “Thoughtworks had a real pedigree, they were pioneering continuous delivery, there were people like Martin Fowler who helped to write the Agile Manifesto based there.” It was an interesting time for Thoughtworks, people were just starting to bring design and product thinking into their businesses, Thoughtworks staffers Lindsay Ratcliffe and Mark McNeill had just written a book, Agile Experience Design. Says Barry: “I was curious and wanted to do a tour of duty with the company.”

Barry ran Thoughtworks’ business transformation practice and ended up spending five years at the company. While he was there he wrote Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale in conjunction with Jez Humble and Joanne Molesky: “We formed a cross-functional team – I was responsible for product and business innovation, Jez for engineering and Joanne for compliance. The book was a bestseller.”

The success of Lean Enterprise gave him the impetus to set up on his own. He was keen to live in the US again so he moved back to San Francisco and started from scratch.  “Americans aren’t that interested in what you’ve done elsewhere, so going from zero to one was difficult.”

Launching in a New Market

Barry says he overcame this by thinking of himself as a product: “To launch myself in a new market I thought about how I could identify key customers that I wanted to work with and show them that I could pair with them to provide what they need and want. In some respects, it was a big bet but I felt I had the systems in place that I would be able to figure out if it was going to work.” He says he and his wife set some KPIs to hit in the first three months to validate the business was working before both fully committing to move the US as the base to build out the venture. “For the first few months, I commuted between the US and Europe. When I quit Thoughtworks there were people in Europe who wanted me to work with them, so I had clients in Europe to give me a base to build from.”

Going from one client to three was easier than going from five to 10, observes Barry, because as you grow you have to rely on people you may not know hiring you based on the evidence and outcomes of work with others – a key reason always to seek to agree and evaluate outcomes with clients.

KPIs to Measure Success

After four years Barry’s consultancy business is well established and he still relies on KPIs to measure his success. “A key metric for me is the viral coefficient of my peers sharing my content with others,” he says. “By that I mean if I’m creating a great product then my peers are referencing my work. It’s my leading indicator.” He takes a portfolio management approach to the business, and invests 35% of his time in new product creation and development – building new approaches and experimenting with new ways of delivery.

Barry is now looking for ways to scale his impact by leveraging technology, as one of his aspirations for the business is to get a million people to learn how to “unlearn” in the next 12 months. To this end, he’s just run his first Unlearn workshop in virtual reality. “I learned a lot. The platform is still very new and naïve. I’m experimenting with partnerships with other businesses, and doing these virtual reality workshops. I’m challenging myself to find out where I can get to with it,” he says.

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Janice Fraser: Knitting at the Edge of new

Janice Fraser Mind the Product Interview

Not many product people can claim to have coached staff at the White House. “It’s my most proud achievement,” says Silicon Valley veteran Janice Fraser, “It was such an honour to be invited to support our public service… it was a peak life experience for me. For four years, every six months during Obama’s second term, I brought a team to the White House to teach startup-type thinking to Obama’s administration.”

An expert in emerging management practices to support innovation at scale, Janice is currently a partner at Seneca.VC, a one-year-old firm where she works alongside other entrepreneurs like Melissa Moore, Shirley Schoenfeld, and their founding advisor Eric Ries.

Seneca is focused on building a community and supporting early-stage startups and entrepreneurs, helping them gain access to investors, giving them operational support, and teaching them to build long-term value using the Lean Startup methodology. As part of this community-building, Seneca has thus far successfully run two conferences called Founders and Funders, each attended by about 200 people.

Janice is also a consultant to large corporations. She works with a handful of large businesses, helping their efforts to transform the way they bring new businesses to market, and acting as a strategic meeting facilitator. Her consulting can turn into heavyweight projects, she says. “I will engage very deeply with select clients on an important piece of their story. For example, I’ve been working with a Fortune 50 company – and a long-standing client – on the development of a measurement tool, helping them to measure the success of startups in the corporate portfolio. It’s a big meaty project.”

In addition, she’s in the midst of writing a book with her husband Jason Fraser, which should be published in 2020. It’s looking at key leadership skills “for life, family, work, and business”. While the details are still under wraps, Janice describes it as “a framework that helps leaders deliver outcomes rather than outputs, and helps everything move more quickly with less drama”.

With such variety, Janice cannot characterise her typical working day, “there’s no such thing!” she says. When she’s not working she isn’t averse to either facilitating or leading a bit of silliness – the other week she went to see a troupe of drag queens performing a musical adaptation of Harry Potter…

There’s This Internet Thing…

Like many product people, Janice hasn’t taken a straight path to her current position. She started out as a molecular biology student, but after taking up an internship she found she disliked the work environment and ended up graduating with an English degree. She then spent five years in editorial at tech media publisher IDG before joining Netscape in the mid 90s, effectively as a product manager. “I was the lead for a 35,000-line Javascript application that was one of the first personalised interfaces to the web (strikingly similar to igoogle.com). We didn’t have UX, product management, none of those things existed. Our mission was ‘there’s this internet thing, what are we going to do with it?’.”

Janice Fraser speaks to mind the Product

A quarter of a century on, Janice has started six companies in Silicon Valley, worked in senior product roles at Pivotal Labs, Bionic, and elsewhere, and terms herself a “poly enthusiast”. “At heart, I’m a product person and entrepreneur, and they’ve played out in different ways in different parts of my career,” she says. “What underlies all that I’ve done and continue to do is that it matters to me that the humans involved in whatever system have an easy time of it. I once had to write a six-word biography – and I came up with ‘knitting at the edge of newness’. Whether it’s been desktop publishing, the internet, user experience, entrepreneurship, corporate transformation, whatever the new thing is, I’m the person at the edge of it trying to make it boring. I’m trying to make it simple for regular people to do the new thing reliably well.”

Regular People

Janice even has a sticker on her computer that says “regular people”, and she completely rejects the received wisdom and mythology that it’s only extraordinary people who do extraordinary things. “Extraordinary things are done by regular people,” she says. “I always find myself saying ‘I bet I can make this easier for everyone.’”

She’s always enjoyed what she does, and says there have been at least four or five times in her career when she felt she was working at the peak of her capability, doing the most good that she could: “I’m incredibly privileged because I’ve had many times in my career when I’ve felt ‘this is a good thing I’m doing.’” Chief among these times was the period she spent working with the Obama administration: “I even had a trip to Camp David where I led a workshop for the National Security Council.”

Janice Fraser talks to mind the ProductShe’s worked in Silicon Valley since her Netscape days and has a pretty clear-eyed view of the place, warts and all. It’s still generally not female-friendly, she says, although the Me Too movement has exposed many of the bad actors. “Most of the women my age, who’ve been around for a while, have stories,” she says. “But it’s still an extraordinarily creative, driven, and curious place.”

What has changed over the years, she says, is that today there are “two Silicon Valleys”. On one hand, there are huge tech companies in Silicon Valley – like Apple, Netflix, Facebook, Google and Twitter – who hire people looking for very secure corporate jobs, and on the other, there’s the entrepreneurial startup space.

“The big tech companies are full of people who have a massive salary and tremendous security at a very young age,” Janice says. “They’re looking for something different from their lives than the startup part of Silicon Valley that I inhabit. This is the part that’s trying to invent the future. If you look back to the mid 90s, the people who were working in Silicon Valley then had some pretty utopian ideals about internet technology.” She says it became very commercial very quickly in the late 90s and post the 2008 recession has been very aggressively commercial. The bro culture that many people find distasteful has developed since the recession, she says. “The Me Too movement is having an impact on this culture,” she says, “if nothing else the millennial women just won’t have it any more.”

A Founder’s Mindset

Janice tends to work with what she terms “founders who are not in fashion” – and she includes women and people of colour in this description. “I want to help them to have a better time. I hussle in the Silicon Valley sense  – but I do it because I’m curious and passionate, not because I feel I have to win at all costs. I’m not about winning and losing, but living my life as myself and finding prosperity, meaning, community and joy that way. That sets me apart from a lot of the community that I’ve been making a career in.”

What qualities does she think a good startup founder needs to possess? Janice finds that the best entrepreneurs have a drive and a particular mindset: “There’s an ability to believe in a future state and to maintain that belief despite headwinds, and at the same time there’s a willingness to accept the truth when you see it or hear it.” The best entrepreneurs also possess both hubris and humility, and can make adjustments to both, she says. “They have an ability to go and learn, and then seek and receive or bring in whatever resources are needed. Courage is effortful and confidence is effortless – and you need a lot of both. You can’t always have courage or be confident, it’s about balance.”

Role Models

Janice Fraser discusses her career with Mind the Product

Where does her own drive and mindset come from? “I learned from a very young age that I had to create my own future and I had to take care of myself,” Janice says. “If you want to have anything you have to go make it yourself. As I say, I’m a poly enthusiast, and I have an insatiable desire to know about ‘stuff’. That doesn’t mean reading everything or watching all the videos, for me it takes the form of engaging with the people.”

Women of Janice’s generation who have enjoyed long careers in Silicon Valley are few and far between, so she hasn’t had many role models to follow. But someone who has been an inspiration to her is tech investor Esther Dyson. “For years I kept a picture of Esther on my desk, and she invested in one of my companies. I’ve always admired her individuality and curiosity. She’s clear-minded, she knows who she is, and she crafted a life for herself in a field that didn’t care much about including women. She dominated in her own way without trying to be anybody else,” she says.

See Janice on the #mtpcon Singapore Stage

You could happily apply those same sentiments to Janice herself. And if you’ve attended a Mind the Product conference in the last few years, then the chances are you will have already seen and heard this clear-mindedness in action. Not only has Janice delivered inspiring keynotes on innovation at #mtpcons in London and San Francisco in the recent past, but she will also be taking to the stage at #mtpcon Singapore in March.

She says she’s looking forward to understanding more about how the AsiaPac region operates, although she’s already had some secondhand exposure to this. “Product management is very much a family business in my house,” she says. “My daughter spent 18 months in Japan setting up the Pivotal office there, and my husband spent three months establishing the product management practice at Pivotal in Singapore.”

Although she’s still officially undecided on the subject of her #mtpcon Singapore keynote, she thinks that a talk she’s developed on the psychology of confidence could be an appropriate one for an Asian audience. Intrigued? Find out more, or buy your #mtpcon Singapore ticket today.

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The Promiscuous Product Manager by Jen Dante

Jen Dante, Head of Product for Payroll at Square, opens her talk at #mtpcon Singapore by telling us that humans are terrible at making predictions. This is unfortunate for product managers, given that at its core, our job is all about making predictions. We predict that making a change in our product will have a given outcome for our users or our business, and we’re wrong more than half the time. But there is something you can do that will slightly increase your chances of being right more often: you can stop behaving like a hedgehog, and start behaving like a fox.

The Fox and the Hedgehog

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Archilochus, Greek Philosopher

Jen compares this famous quote with the challenges of product management. The hedgehog, knowing one big thing, only has one framework of how they understand the world. Because of their limited view, “hedgehogs” tend to be completely certain they are right and judge things in a binary way, forgetting all of the times they were wrong in the past.

The fox on the other hand, has many frameworks which they use to try and understand what is happening and to make predictions. Because they are evaluating situations based on many different views, “foxes” tend to constantly change their opinions as new data comes in.

Human nature often conflates confidence with competence, and therefore views the hedgehogs as the most competent when the opposite is often true. In the tech world, you will often hear from writers and speakers who are hedgehogs – completely convinced that their framework is the one right framework. They will tell you of all the times their framework was successful, forgetting the stories of the many times their framework led them in the wrong direction. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad framework – it’s just not the only one.

The Rolodex of Frameworks

As product managers, we should be collecting a variety of frameworks that we can pull out to tackle different types of problems – similar to collecting contacts in a Rolodex. While not an exhaustive list, Jen takes us through three different frameworks that she likes to use in her work.

Jobs to be Done

Jobs to be Done (JTBD) is the idea that you should move away from thinking about the specifics of what your product does, and focus instead on the problems you’re solving for the end user. When you really understand the problem, it opens up the ability to understand other ways that people could solve it. The framing of JTBD allows you to recognize the full range of competition, from your closest competitors to non-digital substitutes, that can provide the outcome your users are looking for.

This is a great framework when looking at your strategy, or trying to see gaps in what you are doing. But it is not useful in every situation; for example, it doesn’t tell you anything about how to price your product.

Behavioral Economics

There has been significant research into the ways that human psychology affects purchasing decisions, which has an impact on how we should price our products. Jen talked through one example of a behavioral economics concept: anchoring.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we constantly evaluate many inputs to make a decision of whether to buy something or keep shopping. With so many scenarios to evaluate, the effort required to make a perfect decision becomes really cumbersome. To compensate, our brains use heuristics to allow us to make quicker decisions. We set a number in our minds that is the “anchor” for a given product, and then evaluate what we see against that number. When we see something lower than the anchor, we get excited at the prospect of a “good deal”. When we see something higher than the anchor, we react emotionally, feeling that the company has broken a social contract and get angry that they are being “unfair”.

Companies to use this to their advantage – showing the “actual retail price” before their lower price, or mitigating price increases from anger. But while behavioral economics is very valuable in this context, it is also not the only framework you should use. It doesn’t provide any information that would help you to answer questions such as “Why are my users dropping off at this point in the flow?”

The Kennedy Principle

To answer questions about user behavior within your product, Jen likes using the “Kennedy Principle”: Never ask your user to do for you, what you can do for your user. Users essentially have a gas tank of energy when they start using your product, and every time you have them do something, it depletes that energy. Knowing this, you shouldn’t ask users to do stupid things that you could do for them.

One example Jen gives is choosing the type of credit card you pay with in a purchase flow. While it may not seem like a large effort to ask a user to select whether they are using Visa or Mastercard, it adds friction to the process of checking out. Not only that, the first four numbers of a credit card tell you which kind of card it is. There is no reason to deplete a user’s energy on information that you already know.

Be a Promiscuous Product Manager

Jen has made companies millions of dollars simply by using the Kennedy Principle and focusing on reducing friction in flows for users. While this is exciting, it is also not always the right solution. She points out the track record of Steve Selzer (formerly of AirBNB), who has made companies millions of dollars by adding friction to workflows. This doesn’t mean that either method is inherently right or wrong; it means that different situations call for different tactics.

This all comes together to highlight the value of being like the fox, and being promiscuous in the frameworks we add to our Rolodex. Don’t think that any one framework is the right solution for every problem. Play the field in the frameworks you choose, because in product, it turns out, monogamy might not be the best way!

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Designing for Public Needs in Participatory Ways by Bernise Ang

Bernise Ang, Chief Alchemist at Zeroth Labs, spends her days looking across many disciplines in an attempt to tackle social challenges in an urban context. In this talk from #mtpcon Singapore, Bernise shared some stories from her work in social services to illustrate how product and design thinking can help to uncover opportunities, and the lessons her team learned along the way.

The Brief

In a country well known for its wealth, many people aren’t aware that there is poverty in Singapore. The country’s mix of public housing, social assistance, and a very efficient police force means that homelessness and poverty is mostly invisible. Bernise and her team worked with the Family Service Centre in the low-income Bukit Ho Swee district to uncover how best to serve the community there.

Bernise Ang on stage at mtpcon Singapore
The Bukit Ho Swee district was faced with many problems – substance abuse, loan sharking, high unemployment, and even primary school dropouts. With so many factors to consider, the brief provided to Bernise and her team effectively said: “We don’t know what the problem is.” The Family Service Centre wanted help to uncover where it might have an impact.

Working with local businesses, community organisations, social workers, local government agencies, and, of course, the residents at the heart of this research effort, Bernise and her team employed a variety of research methods to understand what was really going on in the district. Many stories came out, and Bernise shared two of them to illustrate the learnings the team gained about their process.

Quantitative Research: The “What”, not the “Why”

The team started with data analysis, using the data they could get from the Family Service Centre. They started with a hypothesis provided by social workers in the area: it doesn’t matter how much financial assistance you give to families in crisis, it is really income consistency that makes a difference. They used domestic violence rates because they believed domestic violence was more prevalent in families where there wasn’t consistent income.

So Bernise’s team ran the data, and found that full-time employment (and therefore, steady income) correlated with an inverse relationship with domestic violence. With this finding, she expected to see the same correlation play out as her team looked at other employment levels. If the hypothesis was true and full-time employment made domestic violence drop significantly, wouldn’t part-time employment at least make it drop some? But that wasn’t the case – the correlation only was present with full-time employment.

Questions > Petabytes. The quality of your questions is more important than the volume of your data.Bernise Ang

While her team didn’t get the answers they were hoping for from the data, the information opened up a new line of questions that they could explore further in their research. Her team learned that data can tell you what, but behaviour tells you why. You have to dig deeper into behaviour to get the answers you’re looking for.

Qualitative Research: Insights Through Ethnography

Bernise Ang tells the story of Sati at mtpcon Singapore

Bernise told the story of interviewing Sati, a single mother who was providing for her children and her mother on $800 a month. While she would like to feed her family healthy food, her kids loved frozen fish fingers. She would buy them on sale at the discount market in bulk and feed them to her family regularly. When they talked about this with her, she not only mentioned that healthy food was expensive as the team expected, but also that she “is taking care of so many things, if I can make the kids happy and quiet for a little while, I’m very happy”.

When they asked her if she would like to increase her finances, she immediately said that she couldn’t go get a job, because she had to keep an eye on her children. Protecting her children in what she perceived to be a dangerous place was more important than increasing her income, even at nutritional cost.

This illustrated that when designing solutions for the neighborhood, the Family Service Centre had to build for where people are, not where others thought they should be. And with so many factors affecting people with lower incomes, behavioural insights will be increasingly important in designing public services for citizens.

Making Sense of the Insights

Once the team had uncovered many insights, they used Design Thinking methods to uncover themes. They also looked at system dynamics to understand what might be affecting obvious issues. For example, you might see that parental involvement helps with higher educational attainment for kids, but the factors that affect parental involvement go far beyond the desire of the parents to be more involved. These extra factors are called “emergent properties.”

The team learned that system complexity means we have to allow for emergence, and emergence requires an environment that doesn’t snuff it. We have to spend time in the discomfort of things that didn’t work in order to uncover the real problems that can have huge effects across the system, and fix them in future iterations.

Finding Solutions: Frame the Question Right

With all of the insights, the team discovered five key areas that could have great impact in the district. But simply saying “we want to improve education” is not realistic. The team focused on asking the right questions to focus their solutions in the reality of the existing environment. They asked questions such as:

  • How might we help kids build a strong educational foundation despite unstable home environments?
  • How might we create sustainable income streams for people whose situations make it difficult for them to hold “regular full-time jobs”?

The team recognised that framing is key, particularly when tackling social challenges. The better the problem definition, the better the framing. And the more unknown the problem, the more important the problem definition is.
Bernise Ang at mtpcon Singapore

Bringing it all Together

With the research complete, Bernise’s team wanted to take a participatory approach to determining what solutions should be explored. Knowing the power dynamics in place between those who are “helping” and the community, they focused on finding ways to bring the residents into the process of ideating. They elevated the residents to the position of “expert” of their situation, involved them in hackathons where they could be the ones to say if an idea would work or not, and even had more residents participate than outsiders. Participation benefits from context, and the context brought by the residents provided for a diversity of thought that brought new solutions to light, and more importantly, made the residents feel included.

From there, the team ran a series of experiments, looking to validate potential solutions. Using experimental approaches can help us better navigate messiness as we build products for public good. With risk-averse institutions like governments, implementing small prototypes and experiments can help overcome the fear of change, and contain the risk that exists.

Beyond Product-Market Fit

While most of us are developing products that are looking for product-market fit, in social services, that is not the end goal. Bernise says her team was really looking for Process-Context Fit. Finding a process that invited participation from the people they were trying to help and using the context those people could provide allowed the team to develop solutions that were more effective than those the organisation would have designed on its own.

The post Designing for Public Needs in Participatory Ways by Bernise Ang appeared first on Mind the Product.

The State of Product in AsiaPac

I’m quite excited about the future here. Seeing the speed with which the industry has changed- it has been amazing to be a part of, so I’m really positive about it. Silvia Thom, Senior Director of Product at Zalora

Asia may be the future for many areas of business and culture, but in product it feels like most of the thought leadership is coming from Silicon Valley. #mtpcon Singapore brought together a panel of product leaders in Asia, led by Francois Le Nguyen, Form Lead at Entrepreneur First, to discuss the growing tech scene in the region, and why the future of product management lives in AsiaPac.

Hear from some great product leaders in the region as they discuss:

    • The cultural challenges that make being a product leader difficult
    • How Asia’s vast diversity is an asset, and how to embrace its cultural richness
    • The skill gaps in the region, and where aspiring product managers should focus their growth
    • Nurturing local talent vs flying talent in
    • How Asia’s burgeoning product community will be key to developing the practice in the region
    • Are product managers in Asia too busy?
    • How to advocate for team autonomy in a traditional top-down culture
    • The experiences of women in tech in Asia
    • The future of product management in Asia, and how the product community is poised to move the practice forward not only in the region, but globally

I think one of the biggest challenges facing [product management in Asia] is to understand that we as product people are the leaders. Colin Pal, VP Product at Photobook

The post The State of Product in AsiaPac appeared first on Mind the Product.

The Power of Thoughtful Research by Prakriti Parijat

“Do you like the conference so far?” begins Prakriti Parijat of DBS Bank. After cheers from the #mtpcon Singapore crowd, she turns the response around: “What is wrong with that question?” Everyone immediately recognizes that it was a leading question.

It is tempting to ask customers what they want, but you won’t get a good answer. Because what they really want is to be liked. We may say “there is no such thing as a dumb question,” but in research, this isn’t true. Leading questions don’t provide good insights – the participants want to answer “correctly” and end up giving the responses you want rather than the real information you need.

Many product managers will say their foremost challenge is “being able to conduct proper research to validate whether the market truly needs what they’re building”. But while we look to research as the solution, Prakriti says that research not done right won’t help to answer this question either. She walks through four insights that product teams commonly look for, and gives advice on the right way to get the answers desired.

Are we Solving the Right Problem?

For a researcher, this is the first question that should be asked. Prakriti talks through an example where the Singapore Ministry of Manpower wanted to understand how it could better engage with the foreign workers currently in the country. She discovered in research that the real problem was not engagement when these workers were in the country – it was the information they were given before they came to the country. They were trying to solve the wrong problem.

To get to the real problems, Prakriti recommends you ask your team five questions at the beginning of a research effort:

  • What is the business goal?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What are the customers key “jobs to be done”?
  • What is the value proposition?
  • What are the critical success factors?

You may not know everything up front, but aligning around these questions will point your team in the direction of research that needs to be done to get the answers and uncover if you are solving the right problem.

Are we Using the Right Method?

There are many research methods in existence, and not all are created equal. Not all are right for every situation. Prakriti talks about the concept of “preference testing”, where a small sample of users is given several different items that could be built, and asked which ones they prefer. This is not the right way to understand user preferences – what users say they want is not always what they would actually use.

There is risk in the other direction as well; Prakriti talks through an example of a feature they tested in usability that a majority of participants said they didn’t see as valuable. They decided to put the feature into the app as a test, and it quickly became one of the most highly used features in the product. Customers were finding value – they just didn’t know they would at first glance.

To combat this, she recommends using methods like A/B testing, to see how users behave. This will give you a much more impactful view into what your customers really value.

Are we Getting the Right Insight?

People often use the terms “finding” and “insight” interchangeably. But they are not the same thing. For example, WeightWatchers did a study and found that users are most likely to drop a diet within a month. This is a finding, but doesn’t tell you much about why. Upon further research, WeightWatchers found that users dread diets because of their fear of failure, and fear of humiliation to themselves and others. That is an insight that can be used.

True insights are findings that can quickly tell you:

  • Context around the findings
  • Behavioral implications
  • How to apply the information towards business goals and objectives.

Is the Research Done at the Right Time?

Discovery research is crucial, and if not done at the correct time, it can lose the impact. Even if your team is following the classic “Double Diamond Discovery” process, in reality, outside pressures on the team can cause research to get shortcut or be interrupted.

It’s important to not get caught in the way that research “should be”, and understand how to be most effective in research in your organisation. This may mean lining up research requests with budget cycles, or having research results ready at the right time to influence decision making. If your insights aren’t absorbed, even the best research will fall short.

Getting the Most out of Research

Research is a valuable tool for product teams. Understanding how to solve the right problem, use the right method, get the right insight, and conduct research at the right time is very important. Mastering these skills will help your team make the most of the research you do.

The post The Power of Thoughtful Research by Prakriti Parijat appeared first on Mind the Product.

The CEO Decoder Ring by Amanda Richardson

Why are CEOs crazy? This is the question that Amanda Richardson, CEO of Rabbit, tackled at #mtpcon Singapore. With extensive experience working with CEOs, and now being one herself, Amanda has come to the conclusion that even good CEOs are crazy. Moving from leading product teams to leading a company has given her the perspective to really understand why CEOs drive product managers crazy, and what product managers can do to make things better.

The CEO Decoder Ring

Amanda takes on the most common questions she had as a product manager about her CEOs’ behavior, and breaks down what is really going on in the CEO’s mind.

Why are you Micromanaging my Features and Telling me What to Build?

Product managers are supposed to define problems, understand needs, and then work to discover solutions. CEOs are supposed to set company direction and vision. So why are they worrying about features? Amanda says the reason is aperture, or area of focus. When you start as a junior product manager, you typically have a very small area of focus, maybe even just one feature. As you grow in your career, your aperture widens and your field of vision becomes larger with more responsibility.

Amanda Richardson speaks at MTPCon Singapore
The CEO’s aperture is the widest – they are not just thinking about the product as it is today, but also where the company is headed in the future. Sometimes this future thinking comes out in discussions of features. So while you may think a detailed conversation about a date picker with your CEO seems absurd, they may actually be thinking about how, in a few years, that date picker will be really important, and maybe they want to make sure you aren’t unintentionally going in a direction that may not work.

The solution: Grab a beer. Take them to lunch. Spend some time with them to understand the broader context. Leveling up your point of view will help you understand why the feature they’re focused on is so important.

Why Don’t you Care About my Features?

In some ways it’s nice to have a CEO who will leave you and your product alone. But Amanda again points to the CEO’s field of vision. As a product manager, you are focused on what it takes to make a product succeed. A CEO is focused on what it takes to make a business succeed. So if your CEO isn’t interested in the details of your product at all, they may not think your product is actually important to the success of the business.

The solution: Find a new job. While we wish there was a better solution in which you could convey exactly how vital your product is to the business, the truth is, either your product isn’t important to the business or your CEO doesn’t know why product matters. Both of those are terrible outcomes, and it’s okay to admit it is time to find a new product to work on.

Why are you so Obsessed With This?

At one point in Amanda’s career, when she was working on a presentation software product, the CEO would ping her constantly with thoughts, ideas, questions, whatever crossed his mind. It was easy to get frustrated and wonder why he was so obsessed. Over time she realized, she just wasn’t as passionate about this as he was. Presentation software just didn’t get her excited and wasn’t a problem she was aching to solve.

The solution: Work on a problem you care about. There are so many options of things you can work on in product management today – different user types, industries, business models, and products themselves. You have the opportunity to work on something that is more aligned with things you love, so you can be as excited about the problems you are solving as your CEO is.

Amanda Richardson speaking at MTPCon Singapore

Why Don’t we Just get More People to Help?

Every team feels they could accomplish more if they just had more people. Amanda felt this way too… until she went to a company where they had all the people you could hope for: product managers, UX designers, UI designers, researchers, data analysts. It seemed ideal, but the result was that nothing ever got done! The overhead of meetings and need for consensus among so many people slowed the team down.

The solution: Solve for skills, not bodies. Do you really need more people, or is there a skill gap that you can find a creative way to fill? If you really do need more people, talk about the skills you need to cover and why, not just that you need a bigger team. We need to recognize when we actually need an expert in a particular field vs when there are other ways to fill that need that are “good enough”. And we also need to appreciate that in the end, lean really is faster. Running lean reduces the burden of meetings and alignment challenges, and allows the team to move more quickly.

How can I get Your Attention?

When she was a VP of Product, Amanda would have one-to-ones with her CEO, and tell him everything was going great. Now that she is a CEO, she sees her team doing the same. No one tells the CEO what is really going on, and no one wants to be wrong. So by sugar-coating everything and not telling the CEO what is wrong, you waste an opportunity to really make recommendations, and become boring. That is not going to get the CEO’s attention.

The solution: Tell the truth. Say when things are good, and say when things are bad. Make recommendations and place bets – speak up and be willing to risk being wrong. And always be a place that the CEO can come to for facts.

How can I Help you?

Amanda closes with the question that most product managers don’t ask, but should. She encourages everyone to ask their CEO how they can help. CEOs need people who are resourceful and can get things done. They need people who care and will do the right thing even when no one is looking. This is value that a product manager can bring, and our CEOs really do need the help.

Amanda Richardson on stage at MTPCon Singapore

Most CEOs are not Crazy

At the end of the day, most CEOs really aren’t crazy. But it does take some work to really understand their behavior. Amanda ends with a to-do list for product managers wanting a decoder ring to understand their CEOs:

  • Get aligned with your CEO’s vision
  • Work on a product you’re passionate about
  • Be scrappy
  • Be honest
  • Make strong recommendations
  • Go get shit done

The post The CEO Decoder Ring by Amanda Richardson appeared first on Mind the Product.

The CEO Decoder Ring by Amanda Richardson

Why are CEOs crazy? This is the question that Amanda Richardson, CEO of Rabbit, tackled at #mtpcon Singapore. With extensive experience working with CEOs, and now being one herself, Amanda has come to the conclusion that even good CEOs are crazy. Moving from leading product teams to leading a company has given her the perspective to really understand why CEOs drive product managers crazy, and what product managers can do to make things better.

The CEO Decoder Ring

Amanda takes on the most common questions she had as a product manager about her CEOs’ behavior, and breaks down what is really going on in the CEO’s mind.

Why are you Micromanaging my Features and Telling me What to Build?

Product managers are supposed to define problems, understand needs, and then work to discover solutions. CEOs are supposed to set company direction and vision. So why are they worrying about features? Amanda says the reason is aperture, or area of focus. When you start as a junior product manager, you typically have a very small area of focus, maybe even just one feature. As you grow in your career, your aperture widens and your field of vision becomes larger with more responsibility.

Amanda Richardson speaks at MTPCon Singapore
The CEO’s aperture is the widest – they are not just thinking about the product as it is today, but also where the company is headed in the future. Sometimes this future thinking comes out in discussions of features. So while you may think a detailed conversation about a date picker with your CEO seems absurd, they may actually be thinking about how, in a few years, that date picker will be really important, and maybe they want to make sure you aren’t unintentionally going in a direction that may not work.

The solution: Grab a beer. Take them to lunch. Spend some time with them to understand the broader context. Leveling up your point of view will help you understand why the feature they’re focused on is so important.

Why Don’t you Care About my Features?

In some ways it’s nice to have a CEO who will leave you and your product alone. But Amanda again points to the CEO’s field of vision. As a product manager, you are focused on what it takes to make a product succeed. A CEO is focused on what it takes to make a business succeed. So if your CEO isn’t interested in the details of your product at all, they may not think your product is actually important to the success of the business.

The solution: Find a new job. While we wish there was a better solution in which you could convey exactly how vital your product is to the business, the truth is, either your product isn’t important to the business or your CEO doesn’t know why product matters. Both of those are terrible outcomes, and it’s okay to admit it is time to find a new product to work on.

Why are you so Obsessed With This?

At one point in Amanda’s career, when she was working on a presentation software product, the CEO would ping her constantly with thoughts, ideas, questions, whatever crossed his mind. It was easy to get frustrated and wonder why he was so obsessed. Over time she realized, she just wasn’t as passionate about this as he was. Presentation software just didn’t get her excited and wasn’t a problem she was aching to solve.

The solution: Work on a problem you care about. There are so many options of things you can work on in product management today – different user types, industries, business models, and products themselves. You have the opportunity to work on something that is more aligned with things you love, so you can be as excited about the problems you are solving as your CEO is.

Amanda Richardson speaking at MTPCon Singapore

Why Don’t we Just get More People to Help?

Every team feels they could accomplish more if they just had more people. Amanda felt this way too… until she went to a company where they had all the people you could hope for: product managers, UX designers, UI designers, researchers, data analysts. It seemed ideal, but the result was that nothing ever got done! The overhead of meetings and need for consensus among so many people slowed the team down.

The solution: Solve for skills, not bodies. Do you really need more people, or is there a skill gap that you can find a creative way to fill? If you really do need more people, talk about the skills you need to cover and why, not just that you need a bigger team. We need to recognize when we actually need an expert in a particular field vs when there are other ways to fill that need that are “good enough”. And we also need to appreciate that in the end, lean really is faster. Running lean reduces the burden of meetings and alignment challenges, and allows the team to move more quickly.

How can I get Your Attention?

When she was a VP of Product, Amanda would have one-to-ones with her CEO, and tell him everything was going great. Now that she is a CEO, she sees her team doing the same. No one tells the CEO what is really going on, and no one wants to be wrong. So by sugar-coating everything and not telling the CEO what is wrong, you waste an opportunity to really make recommendations, and become boring. That is not going to get the CEO’s attention.

The solution: Tell the truth. Say when things are good, and say when things are bad. Make recommendations and place bets – speak up and be willing to risk being wrong. And always be a place that the CEO can come to for facts.

How can I Help you?

Amanda closes with the question that most product managers don’t ask, but should. She encourages everyone to ask their CEO how they can help. CEOs need people who are resourceful and can get things done. They need people who care and will do the right thing even when no one is looking. This is value that a product manager can bring, and our CEOs really do need the help.

Amanda Richardson on stage at MTPCon Singapore

Most CEOs are not Crazy

At the end of the day, most CEOs really aren’t crazy. But it does take some work to really understand their behavior. Amanda ends with a to-do list for product managers wanting a decoder ring to understand their CEOs:

  • Get aligned with your CEO’s vision
  • Work on a product you’re passionate about
  • Be scrappy
  • Be honest
  • Make strong recommendations
  • Go get shit done

The post The CEO Decoder Ring by Amanda Richardson appeared first on Mind the Product.