Why Agile Product Management Is Stuck in the Echo Chamber

Marty Cagan at the Productized 2018
Marty Cagan at the Productized 2018

When I have read the excellent speaker line-up for this year’s Productized conference in my beloved Lisbon  (1-2 November), I knew, that I definitely needed to attend: To experience Melissa Perri, Jeff Gothelf and especially Marty Cagan live, was something I really couldn’t miss!

For those of you who don’t know about the Productized conference; it is one of the top 10 conferences of its kind, consisting of around 600 product people (product owner, product manager, product leads, etc.). These are workshop series on day one and interesting talks about product development/management on the second day. There’s even plenty of opportunities for networking in-between or afterwards. Throw in the beautiful location at Lisbon, with its nice people, great weather and delicious food, and it rounds out the entire experience.

Inspiring High Quality Talks

Just as it was two years ago, the talks were to a large extent, genuinely inspiring maintaining a very high quality. Also a breath of fresh air, was that 50% of the talks were held by women!

The best hands-on talk came from Tanya Aulachynskaya, who presented a process how to handle and prioritize customer feedback for improving the decision making for a product and professionally collaborate with all stakeholders.

This time, these three deeply interconnected themes jumped out at me:

  1. Product-led” was the term that Melissa Perri used in her opening keynote for an organization, whose employees are completely aligned and focused around customer problems to put their whole energy into the product – and not in defending their department’s silo. Prerequiste for such a company: Establish an inspiring vision (Justin Bauer  called it “North Star”), a clear strategy and a strong leadership.
  2. Outcomes” (instead of outputs) was again a key element through many presentations. Especially Melissa Perri, Marty Cagan and again Justin Bauer (in my eyes the best presentation on that day) mentioned this topic. This means, that we should focus on the effects that a software feature or product produces, instead just measuring what we ship (user stories, etc.).
  3. Empowered“, x-functional teams are a key success factor for a great product! And that’s the way Amazon, Apple, Google and Netflix are doing it. But they are only able to do it, because their leaders enable them, by giving them the inevitable trust, as Marty Cagan emotionally emphasized!

Talking in a Filter Bubble

If you have also attended several product conferences over the last few years, or having been an attentive observer of agile product management through reading appropriate blogs, books or by listening to podcasts, you might notice, that these themes are “good old friends”. By talking to other attendees you can be sure, that there’s always a common understanding about these topics or their relatives „Feature Factory“ (from the great John Cutler), „Product Discovery” or (the classic) “Solving problems, not implementing solutions.“

We, who all go with great thirst of knowledge to these conferences for years, know very well, how we should work as a product manager. We have sucked up all the postulated do‘s and don’ts of agile product development. And yes, it’s important to hear the cornerstones over and over again, re-mixing or bringing them into another context. That makes us even more professional.

But we need to admit, that we somewhere butted up against a hidden ceiling! Nowadays, it seems that we are just talking with ourselves. Honestly we should recognize, that 17 years after the agile manifesto was published, we are no longer the primary target group of such conferences, rather our leaders and executives. They need to attend! We need an open dialogue. We need to understand their positions. We need to be challenged and finally we need to get out of our comfort zone. We should listen to and integrate them, understand their “wrong” mindsets and why they want to use “the best of both worlds”approach. That way, we can convince them from our approaches in such events. It’s not sufficient just presenting a short “What have I learned” summary after such conferences. In most cases it remains bloodless. We are not understood, when we‘re talking about „product-led“, „outcome“ or „empowered“ teams!

Marty Nails It

Thus, I really enjoyed Marty Cagan’s talk! He was fuming, because for years, as a consultant in Silicon Valley, he still sees so many companies where supposed „empowered“ teams are hindered. The problem: “Lacking trust” of their leaders. With no trust, no partnership will ever exist! But how did it come to this? And why do such leaders mostly point to Amazon, Apple and Google as the yardstick of great product development and desirable industrial design?

Marty delivered an interesting theory: All these leaders have been coached by the same guy, Bill Campbell. A former head football coach and afterwards the “coach” of Silicon Valley. As a mentor, who asked good questions instead of knowing the best answers, he decisively influenced Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt for modern leadership, management techniques, agile product development principles – and building trust towards their employees.

Let’s Get Out Of The Echo Chamber

So the key question is, what can we do to support these execs to build up knowledge and competence, so that they can also be an inspiring mentor or coach for us? Now the time has come, where we should think about, how we can mobilize our leaders and colleagues to visit product management conferences. We need new formats, or perhaps rearrange them (i.e. discussion panel with executives and talks from leaders of corporates). Maybe we need special offers like “grab a colleague and bring them with you” and smarter marketing approaches to get them addicted to these events.

Otherwise, we would be still blocked by executing and stuck in the echo chamber.


Copyright: Netflix

Emotional Documentation

Yesterday evening I watched episode 1 of the fantastic The Toys That Made Us series on Netflix. It tells the story behind the famous toy lines Star Wars, Barbie, The Masters of the Universe, and G.I. Joe and give also deep behind the scenes insights about the product development processes. It’s a really well made and emotional documentary series, that captures an interesting moment in history.

This first episode was all about Star Wars, which is deeply personal to me, because my whole childhood is influenced on the three movies and the corresponding action figures and vehicles (I still remember how they smelt and felt!).

Watching this episode didn’t only reawake my feelings and emotions of my childhood, but also put out some very interesting product management takeaways!

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Most Inspiring Talks of the Productized 2017 Conference

Even though I didn’t visit last year’s product management conference Productized in Lisbon, I watched the whole 9 hours long official re-live video two times for picking out these cherries for me and for you:

Rian van der Merwe “How to build successful products by prioritizing team happiness above everything else“

#TeamHappiness

Rian van der Merwe is product manager at Wildbit, a small software company and creator of Postmark, a transactional email app. His talk was sympathic, courageous (he called it “weird”) and for me very inspiring!

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What “Blade Runner 2049″ tells us about the future smart home

Due to the fact that I’m working in the smart home business I often get asked, what’s my long-term vision of living in the future? How does A.I. and new devices improve and change our daily living routines like coming home, cooking, relaxing, family life, sleeping, awaking or leaving home?

Predicting the future is hard if you’re not a futurologist, because you very often interpolate the past into the future! Although being no futurologist my collected experiences in the last years have formed my vision of a smart home. Continue Reading →

Meet & Learn with Daimler Fleetboard

Meet up between Product People of Daimler Fleetboard & Bosch Smart Home

At the midth of May my Product Owner and Scrum Master colleagues together with our Head of development and CIO had the chance to visit Daimler Fleetboard for a mutual exchange of experiences here in Stuttgart. The contact with Fleetboard – a 100% Daimler AG subsidiary for digital solutions for the transport and logistics industry – came through Markus, one of the POs, whom I had met last year at the inspiring Productized conference in Lisbon. The idea behind this meet up was, that both companies live in a corporate environment where traditional and agile mindsets bump into today’s challenges of digitalization and disruptiveness. Continue Reading →

My Insights Of The Mind The Product Engage 2017 In Hamburg

Afterparty Mind The Product Engage 2017 Hamburg

Afterparty on MS Stubnitz of Mind The Product Engage 2017 Hamburg

Last Friday I had the chance to visit the first Mind The Product (MTP) Engage Conference in my beloved Hamburg. The conference took place at the Katholische Akademie and accommodated round about 300 “passionate” product people like Product Owners or Product Managers and presenting 20 speakers. The “Engage” in the conference title stands for enough space for intense networking besides the talks. Continue Reading →

“Tool Box Hero” – When Design Sprints Fail

Recently I wanted to start with my team into a new topic and so we began a design sprint together: We unpacked problems and knowledge, sketched, prioritized, prototyped, got insights out of customer interviews and found some key use cases we wanted to realize in the first place. But, we also recognized, that our users have another 1000 and 1 very individual use cases in their mind. So to say it in Chris Anderson’s words: “A long tail of use cases” (Great book, by the way)!

What to do with such findings, when you want to live a MVP approach?

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