thinking in rules

Industry Conference

Elaine Cowen | 9/25/2017

I attended the Industry Product Conference in Cleveland a few weeks ago. The conference was filled with product professionals across a variety of different companies. The speakers included CEOs, Product Managers, Consultants and Entrepreneurs. There were four main themes for the conference: Ideation, Design, Development, and Growth. It was two days filled with great stories, methodologies and connections. I have half of a college ruled notebook with notes, but here are my two biggest takeaways:

1. Be careful what you say yes to.

We've all heard the term opportunity cost. It's thrown around a lot when making prioritization decisions.

I find prioritizing work to be the hardest, and yet most important, part of a Product Manager's job. We try to make it a science, but there is definitely an art to it. The topic of prioritization often comes with many methodologies and techniques for ensuring you are working on the right things. Although I love a good chart or spreadsheet, it can be overwhelming at times.

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, said something during his talk that really resonated with me. He boiled down the concept of opportunity cost into something really simple to remember. He said at Basecamp they are very careful about what they say yes to, because when you say yes, you're saying no to many things. When you say no, you're just saying no to one thing.

Another speaker, Dan Olsen, author of The Lean Product Playbook, said "Strategy means saying no."

2. Focus on the problem. 

In software product development, we've all heard this over and over. But it's easy to fall back into the trap of jumping to solutions. We get enhancement requests all the time that look something like "Add a Configure button to this screen." That's a request for a specific solution; it's not a problem. And too often, we forget to drill into the problem. Why do you need this? What is the problem you're trying to solve?

Bob Moesta, one of the principal architects of the Jobs to be Done theory, said "We are not asking ‘Why?’ enough. Clients don't really want to buy our products, they just want their lives to be better." He gave an example of using the 5 Whys when someone came into a hardware store. Why are you here? To buy a drill.  Why do you need a drill? To make a hole. Why? To put in a plug. Why? To plug in a light. Why? So I can read easier. So, do they need a drill or a Kindle? :)

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” - Albert Einstein


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