Last week I attended the excellent Products are Hard conference. As excited as I was that a San Francisco event had chosen to run their first event in Melbourne, the day exceeded my expectations with the quality of the local and international speakers and the enthusiastic participation of the audience. After some reflection, here are lessons that I took away from the day:
Success is human: This was the biggest lesson of the day. We often lose the human factors in success in our focus on process, methodology, tools, organisation and technology. Again and again in the day, it was clear human factors are more important to product and startup success. Life is not as easy as a formula, because every team and group of customers differ. If products are hard, it is because people are unpredictable to satisfy, coordinate and influence.
Start with the team: Great products come from great teams. The first idea will be adapted by experimentation, feedback, competition and pivots. Only, a great team will embrace the chaos, have the agility and collaboration required.
CX+Engineering+Product: A great team has the best diverse skills that they can assemble- customer insight and design skills, technical skills to deliver and a broad business skill set to distribute and manage operations for the product. The team should be small (ideally start and stay at teams of 3), have great transparent open communication and not let their role define their contribution or structure of their collaboration.
Assign a customer problem: The best path to success is clarity and engagement. Give the team the autonomy to tackle a whole customer problem. Define value as widely as possible and allow your teams to focus on the whole of the customer problem
Ship, test and learn: Success can’t be predicted. Nobody has a perfect decision making track record. Great products are an evolution from test and learn experiments. You need to embrace this chaos and not cling to fixed ideas. Keep the tests small but gain the advantage of testing often with real customers. Real meaningful data from shipping to customers can focus decisions.
Don’t play safe: Amazing no-fail ideas fail. Tests fail. Teams fail. Businesses fail. The issue is not whether you fail; it is what you learn and how you do differently next time. Playing safe is slow. Protecting against failure builds overhead which slows delivery. The pace of attempts should be high.
Focus on value: Ideas don’t matter. Technology, tools & methodology don’t matter. Not all of the data matters. The best teams focus on results by focusing on the customer actions that create value. That means only doing things that drive value and not being confused by expectations or past patterns of success.
Most of all: If you have the passion of purpose and can share it with others, you don’t need to settle for a compromise existence or other proxies. It won’t become easy, but you will learn much and it will be fulfilling.