My Takeaways From UX & Product Conference 2021

On 4th February I joined the virtual and 5:30 hours lasting UX & Product Conference with the seductive sub-title “The brightest minds of UX & Product go head-to-head“. The 7 sessions showed an exciting wide range of topics: Design, strategy, user research and of course product management.

The conference was mainly built around a new format which is called 1-2-Everyone: Speakers – fortunately very diverse – will come in pairs. Each of them pitches their view on a topic, followed by a moderated debate and a group discussion. The good thing of this format was that also the attendees could go on stage and participate to the discussion – and not staying passive. Although I would have wished that the discussions would have been more controversial between the speakers. Additionally I didn‘t find it as energetic as a classical talk, where just one speaker has quite more time and space to carry out things.

The Lineup

Here’s the overview of the 7 sessions:

  1. Constraints fuel creativity! Or do they?
  2. Why do we even need product managers?
  3. User research in the product development process and how to include it in your roadmap and budget.
  4. Strategy: North Star or Guardrails?
  5. Experimentation or Ethnography?
  6. Can we empower teams to perform pragmatic research that actually improves products?
  7. Closing Keynote

And here are the 16 speakers coming from very different industries like fintech, sports, food, consulting and toys.

I want to highlight especially three talks, because each one has inspired me in a different way.

1. Constraints fuel creativity! Or do they?

  • Melissa Pickering Product Strategy Lead @Lego education
  • Isabelle Silfver Product Owner @Klarna
  • Henrik Wiberg Sr. Product Designer @Klarna
“Designing for creativity is done in a way that allows anything to happen” – Melissa Pickering

„Until this talk I never had thought about the relation between constraints (boundaries) and creativity. Ok, I am not a designer but this session let me think about current product initiatives in the definition phase and where the problem space is wide open. In such a phase you definately need business and customer driven constraints – otherwise you’re completely lost.

“The process matters. The process has constraints. It is constant learning. Constraints are also fluid and change over time.” – Isabelle Silfver

Between all three speakers there was a consensus: Constraints are necessary to create a product. It depends how weak or strong these constraints are.

„“Creativity can be created and inspired by constraints. Any constraint can achieve a new way of thinking, that can bring out new ideas, that are not obvious if we are just in the purely rational world.” – Henrik Wiberg

I really liked the illustrative example from Melissa Pickering: She showed that you can build 100 different ducks in 30 seconds with just a set of 6 Lego modules.

2. Strategy: North Star or Guardrails?

  • Megan Murphy VP of Product @hotjar
  • Katie Swindler Manager of UX Strategy@Allstate Insurance Co.

How do you sell a product strategy and how do you align the whole organization behind it? That‘s in every company one of the toughest challenges and a key element for product success. Megan Murphy believes it „“should be more a concept or framework“ and „you need to be a story keeper.“

“Know your language. Speak the language they’re talking.” – Katie Swindler

„And you can’t over-communicate enough: „Repetition is everything“. She spends 50% of her working time for creating internal content where hotjar wants to go and why. I would like to explicitly emphasize one statement: “The most important part is to unblock the (product) teams „and focus on alignment and fast decision making!” Yes, that nailed it! Asking how agile you should organize and what kind of method you’re using (Scrum, SAFe, Scrumban, etc.) is less important then continuously optimizing the processes around an effective decision making.

Finally both speakers highlighted how important it is to focus on the customer in the first place:

“We take time to listen to our customers, to our teams and than listening to the market to create a strategy. The loudest and clearest voice is our customer. I think the customers voice is the most important as it shows the point of intersection between the products and the needs of our customers.” – Megan Murphy

3. Why Product Thinking Is So Hard

  • Jeff Patton, Chief Troublemaker @Jeff Patton & Associates

My personal highlight was the closing keynote by product grandmaster Jeff Patton! In his inimitable and unconventional presentation style he once again managed it to bring fresh perspectives into the conference. His talk was split into two parts: In the first part he explains the difference between output, outcome and impact. Ok, we‘ve heard about it a thousand times but Jeff explained it in such a smart way. You can‘t do it better! That alone was worth the registration fee of 69€. Here’s his hand-written slide which shows the three dimensions and how they map to each other:

  1. Project vs. Product
  2. Phases (Problem space, solution space, life cycle)
  3. Output (Features) vs. Outcome (Usage) vs. Impact (Turnover, ROI)
Difference between output, outcome & impact by Jeff Patton
Difference between output, outcome & impact by Jeff Patton (Hint: Colored borders have been added later by author)

In the second part, Jeff addresses the bad pattern that companies sometimes confuse their boss or their process with their product, causing product success to fall by the wayside. As examples, he cites his own endless gardening project, as well as the flopped Amazon Firephone forced by Jeff Bezos. I found the example of the gardening project extremely exciting, because here it became clear that at least this gardener defines himself as a product – meaning his service and muscle strength – and not Jeff’s newly designed garden.

“Your business is not your customer. Don’t mistake your process for your product.” – Jeff Patton

Final Words

All in all, I took away some inspiring ideas and learned that it’s the same issues and challenges that UX designers and product managers deal with across industries. Of course, there was a lot of repetition here that has become general knowledge, such as the focus on customer orientation. But here, too, you always learn new aspects or hear other derivations that enrich your own knowledge even further.

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