Be a Great Product Leader (HBS ICE 2012)

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These are the slides from a talk given on March 4, 2012 at the Harvard Business School Entrepreneurship Conference. It summarizes ten key lessons in being a great product leader from over a decade of experience in consumer software.

It is based on a lecture given on the same topic on August 31, 2011 at LinkedIn.

Published in: Business, Technology

Be a Great Product Leader (HBS ICE 2012)

  1. 1. Be a Great Product LeaderAdam NashHBS Entrepreneurship ConferenceMarch 4, 2012
  2. 2. Optimus Prime “Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing”
  3. 3. Full Circle:World-Class ProductOriginal meeting with Reid Hoffman turned in a fourhour conversation on what world class product meantin a Web 2.0 world (circa 2007).Most people start or join new companies because theythink “we can do it better this time”. They come to builda company.These are the top lessons I’ve personally gained overthe past decade about product management for themodern consumer web.
  4. 4. Bottoms Up, Not Top DownIt’s ironic, but most people who make their livingbuilding distributed systems revert to centralized controlwhen it comes to organizations.In an incredibly detailed & fast-paced market, thepeople closest to the metrics & issue are best suited tomake both tactical and strategic calls.Management responsibility is a combination ofharmonizing the definition of success, traffic control,and portfolio allocation. 1
  5. 5. Optimize Around TalentOur most important asset is our people.The key is not just to attract and retain the best talent,but also to set up organization and process where theycan do their best work.There can be endless philosophical and politicaldebates possible about organization and process.Example: Web Development 2
  6. 6. Put People Directly on HighPriority Goals (or Problems) This may sound obvious, but it continues to be very rare in practice. Diffuse responsibility is a killer. It’s an expensive solution, but when you’ve identified the few goals that matter, it’s exactly the right answer. A small, cross-functional team, free to execute with clear, direct goals and authority is an incredibly powerful force. Example: Growth 3
  7. 7. What Do We Demand ofProduct Managers?StrategyHow do we win the game, and how do we keep score?PrioritizationWhat are the steps from here to there, and what orderdo we do them in?ExecutionFor this phase, what’s the list of what has to get done,and are we on track? 4
  8. 8. Product: Results Matter In the end, we judge product managers by whether they “win games” The role itself can give limited authority. Like a new coach, the team will let you define the plays initially. But in the end, you have to show the team wins. Product leaders don’t play the game, but they are judged by the record of their products. They cover any gaps. No excuses. Responsibility, often without authority 5
  9. 9. Prioritization: Three Buckets Metrics Movers These pay the bills. In the end, software that doesn’t justify itself will lose the ability to fund itself. Customer Requests If you don’t listen to customers, they will lose faith in you and eventually hate you. Delight If you don’t delight customers, you won’t inspire passion and loyalty in your users. 6
  10. 10. Can’t I Have All Three? It’s not impossible, but it’s extremely rare. Very often, metrics movers are not requested or delightful. Very often, customer requests will not move your metrics or delight people. Very often, delight features will not move your metrics, and by definition, are not requested. Great products, however, combine all three. In agile processes, releases intersperse all three regularly. 6
  11. 11. Understanding Virality One of the key insights of our growth strategy from 2008. Extensible to literally all engagement features. Key measure used by applications on social platforms. This is an extremely useful frame. Two questions: what features let members touch non members? How does a new customer today lead to a new customer tomorrow? At the heart of virality is an exponential based on branching factor and time. In an m^n equation, m is the branching factor, n is the cycles in a time period. Rabbits make lots of rabbits not because of big litters, but because they breed frequently. “n” matters more than “m”. 7
  12. 12. Engagement Can BeMeasuredBelieve it or not, this issue has been hotly debatedKey metrics include: MAU / Total User Base DAU / MAU PV / DAUDon’t be afraid to learn from startups and/orcompetitors. You are not always a unique snowflake. 8
  13. 13. Find the HeatThere are two sides to boosting engagement: lowering the frictionof reaching out, and increasing the desire to engage.It’s easy to focus on the first and ignore the second, but socialsoftware depends on capturing the real nuances of humaninteraction.Heat is a placeholder term for emotions that drive action, bothpositive and negative.Ask yourself the hard questions of what strong emotions drive theactions in your products.Examples: Polls 2.0, Apply with LinkedIn 9
  14. 14. Simple is HardFor some reason, people are talking a lot about SteveJobs these days. Inevitably this concept comes up.It’s true in design, it’s true in metrics, it’s true inprioritization, and it’s true in strategy.What’s the one thing you want the user to do?What’s the fundamental use case your featureaddresses for users?Example: Mobile First design 10
  15. 15. Final ThoughtsWe can be our own harshest critics. In the mirror wesee every flaw, every mistake, every imperfection.These are the very early years. Things that seem smallnow can and will be huge in 5 years. Each of you canand will have a profound impact on that future.Behavior matters. Values matter.Be a Great Product Leader.
  16. 16. Optimus Prime “There’s a thin line between being a hero and being a memory.”

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