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The Product Mindset — in an interview with Chris Thompson
  • by Andreea Oproiu

At Prow, we aim to get in touch with product professionals and discover their journeys behind their great careers, the resources they are most fond of in developing new skills or perspectives and bits of knowledge they would like to pass to other curious minds.

The first edition, Prow 2020, features product troopers from all around the world and we’ll get a preview of their outlooks in dedicated interviews with each of our #prowfessionals. The third episode presents Chris Thompson, Global Head of Mobile and Head of Public Websites at Aviva.

How would you describe your product mindset?

Product, for me, starts with a problem.  What does our customer need to do - and how can we help them to do it; faster, easier or better?

But it’s not a journey that ends.  Needs change and evolve - often when a solution is created, other problems emerge and so product development is the response to an evolution of need.

There will always be a Utopia - an ultimate goal that we seek to achieve -  when we start to think about a product, but at each stage; MVP, phase 1, iteration 3 etc, that original goal will change to some degree and understanding this and being able to react is the root of a true product mindset.

One of the key lessons of product management is that solutions are incremental.   What’s important is understanding how our customers respond to the products we create for them.  Employing a process of testing and learning is how we create products that customers want to use.

There’s an added dimension of responsibility too.  It’s not simply a case of “could” we build it - because, in 99% of scenarios, the answer is yes, but more often a question of “should” we build it.  Is it useful? Will it address the problem, Is it ethical, Is it commercially viable? Will our customers trust us?

Ultimately, Product is playing the long game. It’s iterative, complex and cyclical with the customer at its heart, but when it’s done well it generates fulfilment, satisfaction and commercial benefit.

What’s your biggest win so far, as a product manager?

My best achievement isn’t specifically a product delivery.  It’s great to see releases shipped, but creating the mechanism and infrastructure for successful delivery has longevity and a greater reward.

As a product leader, creating and nurturing successful teams shares equal importance with the product itself.  Team cohesion and its desire to succeed plays a vital role in how and what you deliver as a product function.  Building a team based on shared goals and outcomes and seeing them work well together enables greater innovation, heightened diligence, faster pace and passion for the product.

One example is a Mobile App team in Aviva who, in just 2 years has grown from a group who produced 5 releases a year with basic functionality to a highly driven squad releasing at least twice a month, with tangible customer features.  This has resulted in a 500%+ increase in customers, an 80% increase in sprint velocity and a cohesive working process based on a mobile platform framework, user-centred design framework and automated testing and the team working to a set of values that drives the product forward.

What’s an A-HA moment you had in your current role?

I’m often wrong.  My team is often wrong...and customers are weird :)

The point is that user testing is critical.  However considered your hypothesis may be, it needs validation.  Going to market with an assumption is the fastest way to fail.

If your best friend would want to start a career in product, what would you advise them?

⇝ Be prepared to fail at first.

⇝ But keep going - there’s always a solution

⇝ If you think you’re the best person on the team, you’ve got the wrong team!

⇝ Caffeine is mandatory!

Give us an example of a cool product. What’s so cool about it?

This is such a hard question.  I’m going to go with a recent purchase.  It’s a robot vacuum cleaner.  It’s cool because, not only does it mean I don’t have to clean my floors myself, it’s a true IoT device that seamlessly links to my home voice controls and it learns my schedule so that it cleans when I’m not in - and if I’m asleep, it switches to a quieter mode.

It’s a great example of considered customer need - functionality that works with insightful features that create convenience.

Can you recommend a few go-to product resources?

  • Roman Pilcher’s product ownership blog is a realistic and relevant view of product ownership
    https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/
  • http://Scrum.org for SCRUM fundamentals.  It’s one of the most used and recognised agile methodologies and a great starting point for any product team
  • http://theleanstartup.com/ is a great read (the book as well as the site).  Particularly for smaller startups who want to innovate and work at pace. 

What’s your message to product people in Timisoara?

In any growing product environment, you have the unique opportunity to collate the wealth of experience that other markets have, understand what has worked and what hasn’t for others and create a way forward that works for you.

There’s also a huge opportunity to dramatically change your businesses and processes - as well as get more from your people.

Agile isn’t easy to transition to, but it has massive advantages for many industries and it enables you to iterate your ideas and test with your customers - and make them feel that they’re part of your journey.

Be bold and be brave - and encourage your teams to do the same.  Listen to them and nurture a culture of collaboration.

 

Meet Chris Thompson at Prow 2020, on November 5!

 

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