We came, we watched, we listened. And we tweeted – within half an hour of the start of Friday’s conference, #mtpcon was trending in London. But what did we learn?
Marty Cagan ’s keynote started by examining the confusion that surrounds the role of a product manager. We need to stop having this “ridiculous conversation about role, and about product versus project management”, he said, because it misses the point of the job. He explored the history of some hugely successful products of recent years – iTunes, Google Adwords, Netflix, Adobe Creative Cloud among them – and asked what it was that had made them so successful. In every case it was an outstanding product manager, someone who had deeply understood all aspects of the business, whether it be marketing, sales, finance, manufacturing and so on, someone who had successfully managed the collaboration needed to produce a product that solved real problems for customers in ways that meet needs of business.
“Product management is distinct from other disciplines,” Cagan said. “No one is the boss, but the good CEO knows they need teams of missionaries not mercenaries. Great product managers are true leaders, they are smart, creative and persistent, they lead through inspiration, motivation and logic, and they’re not afraid to lead.”
In an insightful talk full of hints and practical tips, Google’s Head of User Experience for Material Design Elizabeth Churchill took us through her thoughts on storytelling and metaphor. Product managers should think of themselves as translators, researchers, vision setters, and story tellers,” she said. “They must tell compelling stories by understanding and engaging their audience, understanding human-computer interaction, building team thinking, and by persuasion. We communicate best by telling stories how we communicate, and we can create a shared vision through the use of metaphor.”
Facebook’s Simon Cross continued with the theme of persuasion. His take is that product managers are influencers and persuaders who have no power. This means that they must keep their ideas and argument sharp –“everything we get done is through influence” he said. He looked at how Facebook has built some of its most successful products – like photo tagging and Messenger – and finished with a neat set of takeaways. Ask what’s your equivalent of tagging, the killer feature that only Facebook could execute and made it the largest photo sharing site; and pave the cow paths, or codify your users’ behaviour as Facebook did by adding cover photos when it saw that its users were changing their profile pics up to 10 times a day in order to tell a story. Above all, he said, “make sure you understand, identify and execute perfectly”. He also urged us all to keep reading – as inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere.