Monday, October 26, 2015

unCon 2015 Session: Product Management

By Rose Metayer, Boston Private Industry Council, LinkedIn

When the group first got together we generated a list of 20 topics we wanted to discuss in regards to product management. I sat back and marveled out the level of engagement and curiosity on being better and more innovative product managers. After the group split into the two groups: products and people versus the products and process group. The products and process group focused on discussing formulation of products, product decisions and reference customers. 

The group for the first half on the conversation focused heavily on reference customers and product/market fit.  We determined that it is the product team’s role to get and sell the product to the reference customers. Getting customers involved in concept of products early on can be both beneficial and hurtful to the final outcome of your product. Often times one of the road blocks in this process is that sales teams will say what the customer needs but there is no accountability and the product will fail.  Therefore, some group members agreed that it is beneficial to keep working with reference customers until you get the perfect and the best product/market fit. It seems that the most successful way to match product to market is to implement some grassroots movement, i.e. calling current customers, reaching out to people, networking with customers. 

The dilemma with customer feedback is that sometimes customers do not want to talk they just want the product. There needs to be a strong balance between owning a market and owning a set of customers. Do customers help or hurt you? “If we just built everything our customers told us our product would fail miserably” (facilitator).  In the enterprise software world customers do not know what they want because they have not seen the software before.  Customers have a hard time being innovative. Therefore, customer opinion in the enterprise/software world is sometimes not very helpful.

In conclusion, you want customers to feel that early on in the process they own the product.

Session #1:  How do culture/values impact innovation?

  • How to continue to motivate and engage people?
  • Scale and maintain culture as you manage business growth?
  • Impact on team dynamics/scaling?
  • Improving culture within a team?
  • Using culture to drive alignment?
  • How to make employees feel as loved as the customer?
  • How do tech companies define culture?
  • How to foster a creative culture in a corporate environment?
  • Diversity of culture in tech spaces.

From the moment this group got together I knew that the group was energized to learn how to motivate their employees. Instantly, after introductions the group dove into discussing how to motivate employees. David Delmar from Resilient Coders spoke first and stated “the key to successful and motivated employees is to give them these three things:

Motivating staff in 3 main pillars (David Delmar- Resilient coders):
  1. Autonomy
  2. Purpose
  3. Ability to hone your craft
The group discussed the pros and cons of autonomy but most importantly the group began a discussion around finding ones purpose in the work place, in particular finding it difficult to find purpose in corporate spaces. One company had a “make-a-thon” where employees were able to make whatever they wanted to. Employees then started to realize that in their role they do not have the ability to “hone” their craft and they do not have purpose. Therefore, when a new project comes up a leader can ask an employee do you have the ability to hone your craft in this project. As organizations we have to be accepting to failure. If you are pushing the line of innovation and you are not failing then you are not pushing the line of innovation hard enough.  Welcome experimentation instead of labeling it as failure. What is the right type of “failure”?

If you have a company purpose and if you have an employee who buys in to the purpose they will willingly work out of the 100 percent boundary to work on other projects that align with their passion. If you are only hiring staff that align with the purpose of the company you might unintentionally limiting the type of staff you are hiring.

The group lastly switched to a conversation around the difference between office culture and office climate. We began our discussion analyzing who creates cultures and company values. Maintaining culture in a company typically comes top down. If your leader communicates the culture effectively then as the company grows making sure the managers you are hiring and who will eventually hire new people. If your staff connects to the values they will all return back to the things that are the most important.  Successful companies start by having a base value and base culture that everyone can buy into. But then ask them what motivates them to connect to the larger values. Use peoples intrinsic motivators to motivate them to a bigger goal.

Ways that you hire staff to make sure the match culture and value?

  • Letting potential employees experience a day in the life so that you can get used to the office.
  • Having someone in a different department and a different team to see how you will interact with different people and teams.
  • Behavioral interview questions
Who creates a culture? 

  • If someone is forced to create the culture it will not be globally accepted
  • It starts out with people who are passionate about something and he/she leads and others follow
  • The CEO leads it and involves others in discussions about culture and values
  • The generator of the idea is the person who creates that company
  • The norms that are created that are not verbal i.e. if I continually take a 35 minute break and you allow that then you have a culture of 35 minute breaks.
  • There is a difference between culture and climate (Culture comes from top down i.e. the CEO say this is what we value; Climate is more grassroots and it comes from bottom up)
  • Geographic distance influences culture as well
Session #2:  How to engage industry in STEM education K-12

This group was an eccentric blend of industry professionals, k-12 professionals and MassTLC board members. The group decided that the best use of the conference time would be to create a list of challenges and solutions. The conversations began with a powerful quote from a group member. The member proclaimed that “Innovative thinking in schools is not rewarded in our current school system. For teachers you are rewarded for how long you have been there and not how innovative you are being in the classroom.” An easy way to bring technology into our classrooms is to simply start by inserting technology into teaching curriculum. The group brought solutions to the table on how the k-12 professionals could include technology in all types of classes.

Lastly the group talked about divergent vs. convergent thinking. This new form of thinking in schools could be instrumental in creating pockets of innovation in the classroom. With convergent thinking everyone converges into the same answer. i.e. what is the square root of 64. There is only one actually answer. However, if we teach students to think with a more divergent mind frame our students will learn that there can be many answers to some of the questions explored in the classroom.  With this thought process students will be more apt to explore many different pathways to come to a solution. They would be more excited to incorporate technology into those possible solutions.

  • Talent shortage on the industry side
  • Talent on the sidelines
  • Demographics misused in companies
  • Curriculum does not match industry needs
  • Need access to hands on learning environments
  • Retaining talent that come here for schools do not stay because they do not see Boston as a hub for tech innovation
  • Responsibility for vocational guidance falls on parents
  • Students views of education is impacted by what’s around them
  • Industry partners do not know how to help and how to reach out


  • Show kids that their classroom knowledge can be used in the real world
  • Capture students in middle school in order to foster their love of education
  • Putting young people in professional settings
  • Parents becoming more involved
  • Record student presentations and send to parents from internships
  • Teach creativity and failure      

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