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Mind the Product's 2018 keyword was: Values

Values-driven, data-informed. That seemed to be the trend in this year's Mind the Product conference. More than 1700 product professionals gathered in London this year for what currently is the biggest product conference in the world.

What would you expect from the biggest conference in your professional field? I expected thought leadership, novel ideas and sharing experiences. Throughout the years Mind the Product consistently delivered on that promise. Year after year we've seen our field develop, maturing and gaining the recognition it needs to deliver the maximum value to organisations.

Every MTP edition there was probably one or several dominant themes.

  • What do we do? (the definition of the role)
  • Where do we fit? (organisational structures) 
  • How do we work? (processes) 
  • How do we make decisions? (data, research, taste) 

This year I felt the central theme was "why do we do what we do?". A bit existential, yes.
Which is good. In every PM's vocabulary, the word "why?" has a special place. Very often that's the most important word.  We ask our customers "why?". We ask our stakeholders and our peers. But do we ask ourselves "why?" often enough?


Firstly, Kim Goodwin reminded us of the danger to get fixated on a single number. We all have metrics which should indicate the product success to us. Though sometimes we get so obsessed with growing this key metric that we forget the bigger picture and the roots of what we want to achieve.

When something like this happens we need to ask ourselves important questions with regards to our work:

  1. Is it a benefit? (to the user or the society) 
  2. Is it the only way?
  3. Is the risk proportional to the benefit?
  4. What kinds of harm is possible?
  5. How will you minimise harm? 

Kim concluded her talk suggesting us to be: Goal-focused, values-guided and data-informed.

Roan Lavery suggested a simple and useful tool to stay values-guided. Core value map could help you to keep yourself in check and make sure your features always lead to the value you mean to deliver.

Ryan Freitas, Director of Product Design at Facebook, shared some hard-earned lessons from his career in product.
Surely our job is to achieve product success, but not only. Are we creating environments for people to do their best work?

Do we think about vulnerable or people at the margins when designing our products?

Are we getting obsessed with our past?

The most dangerous organisational mindset is "we've always done things this way".

No progress comes without sacrifice. What are you willing to sacrifice?

Did you know that in your organisations there are formal structures such as teams, departments and branches but also non-formal - communities of practice? The groups of people that share a passion, values or goals could be much more creative, productive and vital for the success of your organisation. It becomes critical to identify communities of practice at your workplace and support them.

Ivy Ross told us the story about Google looking for its hardware style that would express their values.

Spoiler alert: it neither comes fast nor cheap.
Amazing really how a company with technology-first mentality gradually came to the understanding of the crucial role liberal arts play in product success.

- How can you fail? - asked Rik Higham

Failing is probably the fastest way of learning. But you and your organisation should have the right mindset for it. 

Rik encouraged us to use proper scientific hypothesis in our experiments. 

"Design like you're right - test like you're wrong."

Charles Darwin, who wasn't at the conference disappointingly, taught us that adaptation is the most important feature of species. Richard Banfield reminded us that adaptability to an ever-changing environment is the most important skill for modern businesses. And to be more adaptable we need to get better at organising humans. The route to product success is curvy and bumpy. Only rapid learning and adaptation cycles can get us there. 

At the very end, Janice Fraser asked us if we're being honest? With our peers, but most importantly with ourselves. She told us about the value Radical Candor could provide in our work and our personal lives. 

In summary

This year's MTP might have not provided a lot of radically new ideas. Except for Radical Candor, which remains to be, well, radical. Yet it was a good and needed conference. It reminded us about the broader context of our jobs. About the responsibilities we carry. Not only for our product's numbers but also the effects our work has on society. 

We've been encouraged to not follow data blindly, but always consult our values when making product decisions. To do that we need to have values. We need to know why we do what we do and what impact we want to make. 

Lastly, it became clear that the best teams have shared values and goals while working hard to promote psychological safety which remains to be the key to success. Best teams never reduce people to mere functions. But rather create an environment where people can express their best professional and personal selves.

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