ProductTank Brighton - A Product Manager's essential toolkit

May 11, 2024 • • 🍿 3 min. read in notesdesign

I recently had the pleasure of attending a recent ProductTank Brighton meet-up in April. For those unfamiliar, it's usually a small in-person meet-up with 2-3 speakers. This time the topic was A Product Manager's essential toolkit with speakers:

  • Ben Collins - Agile Lead @15Gifts
  • Rachael Marshman - Lead Product Manager @Avalara
  • Anthea Daly - Senior Product Manager @Eurostar

I was so engrossed in all three talks I didn't take notes, but I did snap a few slides on my phone, so this is very much a high level summary of the event, rather than a detailed write up!

Ben Collins - Feature Report Cards - A Product Manager's Secret Weapon

Ben Collins standing in front of a screen
Ben Collins

Ben's talk was building on an underused idea by Jeff Patton about grading features from the simplest to the most complex solution using the metaphor of a school report card presented as a grid.

Used as a communication device in conversation with teams and stakeholders, you would detail the simplest possible solution to a problem (Grade E) and then each time adding a level of polish and complexity (Grade A).

Ben had used this in 15Gifts in projects, but for this talk gave a fictional example of a 'Service to Stream Movies'.

Using a digital whiteboard tool with sticky notes, down the left you would put grades A to E. Along the bottom you would list features.

Feature report card on a screen
Slide: The feature report card grid

You work up the list for each feature, figuring out what could be done simplest -> most complex, choosing a single colour for all notes in the grid.

You would then review all notes for a feature and decide, given time and resources, what was good enough for your first shippable version of a feature.

First versions of features you could mark a different colour (green in this case).

You would then repeat the process if needed for second versions later (orange notes).

Ben took it a step further and used icons for in progress and completed.

My takeaways

I can see how this would work well in an Agile situation where it's all about tradeoffs against value, and a shared communication device. It's all about getting to the most useful, minimal and agreed feature set with minimal misunderstanding.

It acts as a place to get all ideas out in a visible form, capturing discussions about what is and isn't in scope, and deciding in public. A grid like this acts as a useful totem, representative of what's planned, and can be referred to later when decisions are questioned.

Rachael Marshman - Lead Product Manager @Avalara - Effective collaboration and time management as a Product Manager

Rachael talked about the key to being a successful manager was learning to both protect your time, calendar, and ruthlessly prioritise things.

It was a fascinating talk, touching on psychology, focusing on prioritisation matrices like the Eisenhower Matrix and how being a people-pleaser can work against you.

Eisenhower decision matrix
Slide: Eisenhower decision matrix

It touched on several aspects of understanding the way we work, especially:

  • The desire to help others
  • The need for accomplishment
  • The fear of letting someone down

The key to a sane life was:

  • Empower others to help themselves
  • Get comfortable saying no
  • Be intentional

My takeaways

Much like the airplane safety videos tell you, you have to 'put on your own oxygen mask before helping put on other peoples' - you have to build processes and practices that let you work and live a sustainable life before you can help your colleagues.

Anthea Daly - Senior Product Manager @Eurostar

Anthea's talk was equally fascinating, and went deep on Strategy for Product Managers.

She talked about why strategy is important, and what makes an effective strategy, and personal experiences she's had with strategy in a multi-national work setting, both in terms of working with stakeholders and prioritisation.

Two essential skills
Slide: Two essential skills
What makes an effective strategy
Slide: What makes an effective strategy

Similar to Rachael there was a real focus on working across different cultures, and how understanding the nuances of different countries working styles is key when working with global teams.

My takeaways

Often we take for granted how we think 'work works' and understanding how others work (and are motivated) is important. I loved her breakdown of strategy - this is hard and it made it much clearer.

In conclusion

All talks were excellent, and could have been an hour each they covered so much content. I have a LOT more of reading on strategy to do. It was an excellent event, and thought provoking!

Check out Product Tank Brighton on Meetup to keep up with their future talks!

Posted in notesdesign