Big props to our friends at BU for putting on an awesome TechConnect Conference this year! The theme was Digital Crossroads: Products and Ideas and featured an awesome array of speakers that really complemented each other and meshed with the conference theme. It is a ton of work to pull something like this off so my hat is off to Jaymie and her team for a job well done! A single post is not enough to do justice to the amazing amount I learned, but I’ll do my best to share a couple thoughts from each speaker I saw.
Bruce McCarthy-Effective Product Roadmapping
I have seen Bruce speak several times now at various Boston Product Management Association events and I am always struck by his enthusiasm and desire to help others. It’s always a pleasure and I always learn something new. In this case, Bruce emphasized the importance of your product road map telling a story about the value of the product. He went into detail and shared a lot of knowledge but I will sum it all up by listing the Dirty (Bakers) Dozen common pitfalls of Product Roadmaps:
- Being Too Agile
- Planning Based on Your Gut
- Over or Under Estimating
- Not Having Strategic Goals
- Inside out Thinking
- Trying too Hard to Please
- Focusing on Features
- Not having a Buffer
- Playing Catch-Up (to competitors)
- Not Getting Buy-in
- Being too Secretive
- One Size Fits All
- Not having a Story
Want to hear more? Check out Bruce at ProductPowers.com
Meghan Keaney Anderson-Product Launches
Like Bruce, I have met Meghan a few times before. Not only is she Hubspot’s Director of Product Marketing, but she is also a BC Alum! Meghan combined her deck on product launches with real examples from Hubspot to demonstrate her points in a highly effective and meaningful way. She summarized the role of Product Marketing as coaxing the meaning out of the Product. She shared with us her Golden Rule of Product Marketing: It’s never about the product, it’s about the person using the product.
While I won’t share everything Meghan talked about, one of the biggest take home messages for me was how thorough and methodical an approach good product marketing requires. Meghan follows a step by step process, ensuring that each necessary element is taken care of, tested, and resonates with customers. She maintains a product marketing menu of all the different tasks, tactics, and channels they could use for a launch or activity and then selects which are the best for any given time. Likewise, for a launch event, Meghan and her team actually have everything planned down to the minute or even the word of a keynote. They maintain a command room at the event to facilitate a smooth launch! All this effort and preparation can seem overwhelming, but it is crucial. While there is certainly a lot there, according to Meghan, not all product marketing was created equal. “The key is good positioning. If you get that right, everything else is easy.”
C. Todd Lombardo-Ideas Lifecycle
C. Todd runs the InnoLoft at Constant Contact and had both an awesome presentation and a superbly aesthetically pleasing deck. Most people are familiar with the concept of an MVP or Minimum Viable Product from the Lean Startup approach. C. Todd suggested that before and MVP, you should pursue an MVC or Minimum Viable Concept. Unlike an MVP, this doesnt even have to work, only to do a good enough job demonstrating the concept to get a sense of what it does. He used IDEO’s Elmo Monster Maker prototype as an example. At this point you can test with 5 to 7 customers to get a sense of whether it is worth pursuing an MVP. C. Todd suggested doing design sprints, or few day deep dives into a problem using the Define, Understand, Ideate, Build, Test cycle repeatedly. He talked about the importance of being a “Designtist,” a creative designer that nonetheless approaches their design using the scientific method of testing hypotheses over and over to arrive at the right ends. It’s a messy process and certainly not too straightforward. C. Todd suggested that it is more like the design squiggle than a straight line. “If it feels too linear, you are probably not doing it right!”
The other thing I really liked about C. Todd’s presentation was the concept of Job Stories. We are all familiar with user stories and the amount of Jira tickets I have written stating “As a salesperson, I need to be able to…” could fill up more than a few Excel spreadsheets. Job stories are different in that they lend context to the request and are thus more powerful. They take the form “When (situation) happens, I want/need to (action), so I can (benefit).” This format forces you to think about whether you are really addressing the pain point and makes it hard for anyone to misinterpret intent.
C. Todd left us with a few key take-aways that I will reproduce here:
- Your opinion doesn’t matter
- Talk to customers. Listen.
- Check your assumptions. Again.
- Think like a designtist.
- It’s not failure if you learn.
- F*** It, Test it.
Allen Murray-Agile Methodology
Allen is an SVP at Mobile Device Management company Apperian and his session was perhaps the most fun all day, not only because he is charismatic and approachable and I learned a ton about small aircraft flight, but also because we did the marshmallow challenge. For those unfamiliar, it involves working in groups to form the tallest possible tower using spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow on top. MBAs typically perform terribly at this, while kindergartners do much better because the task lends itself well to trial and error and iteration and not advanced planning giving the time limits and lack of expertise in most participants (architects as the exception do quite well when planning). Happily, we outperformed most MBAs and even kindergartners but learned that most of our assumptions were ill founded. Allen used the activity as a jumping off point to talk about effective teams and Agile product development.
Key Take-Aways from Allen’s Session:
- Diversity in Teams matters, need leadership, facilitation, and specialization.
- Incentives magnify outcomes. With the right team, great things are possible but incentivizing a team without the right skills will only magnify the failure
- The crowning moment in your professional career is when you see your customers truly satisfied with something you have given them.
- If you can manage four things you will be successful using Agile:
- Business Value
- Declaring work done is crucial to a successful scrum cycle.
- You are not working on a technology, you are working on a business problem.
- Must create dynamic on teams to want to improve.
Dan Cobb-Creating a Culture of Innovation
The final keynote of the day came from EMC SVP Dan Cobb who was slated to talk about creating a culture of innovation. To be honest, to me his talk was a bit of a let down. Dan spent the majority of the time educating the audience about EMC and essentially making a pitch for the company. As a BC MBA, I am very familiar with EMC as they are a top recruiter on campus. Nonetheless, Dan did hit on some points that I found very interesting.
- Big companies must balance innovation and disruption
- Innovate through internal R&D and aquisitions
- When you aquihire you must empower the talent to stay on. EMC does this by involving its acquisitions in future M&A decisions.
- 3 Major Keys to Innovating Successfully:
- Develop a brutally candid view of the world.
- Align innovation agenda with strategy
- Institutionalize feedback loops and then step back to listen, partner, engage, and measure.
- EMC is “absolutely, positively, the most paranoid place in the world” and that is a good thing.
- Innovation is a strategic means to an end.
–David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club