One Knight in Product
This is a podcast for people interested in building or designing tech products. At least once a week, I speak to product managers, product leaders, product marketers, UX professionals, and anyone else involved in product management and product delivery. Come and listen to some great conversations and get inspired! Listen on your favourite podcast app or on https://www.oneknightinproduct.com
Sunday Sep 17, 2023
Sunday Sep 17, 2023
Saagar Bains is a fractional product leader and product advisor who started out digitally transforming his family's wholesale business and launching its e-commerce site before moving into consulting and into startups. One of those startups was The Body Coach, started by celebrity fitness guru Joe Wicks, where Saagar had the job of translating their vision into scalable reality. For this episode, we travelled to Saagar's hometown of Birmingham for a LIVE interview and Q&A about the pros and cons of building for celebrity creators.
1. Being an early entrepreneur can really help your product management game
Product managers often get tied up in the craft of product management and the latest frameworks, but Saagar started out working for his family business and had to work out everything as he went. This gave him an incredible bias for action, to do things that don't scale and to get scrappy where needed. These are traits that many PMs should develop rather than getting precious about process.
2. Product Management is all about the "Why"
Saagar spent some time working for Deloitte Digital and, in many cases, building stuff without being told why it was being built. This left him feeling unsatisfied, and like he wasn't doing "Proper Product". Luckily, even though The Body Coach started building with an external agency, the "why" was so strong from the founders that Saagar could take over something that made sense.
3. Creator-led businesses have a built-in audience, which means that "move fast and break things" doesn't work
If you have millions of users with a direct relationship with the brand upfront, you can't just throw anything out the door. There's an incredible amount of brand equity and trust that needs to be satisfied, and there is a higher quality bar. That said, you still have to pick your battles, and there's still good product prioritisation work to be done.
4. All founders are going to come with feature requests, and smart PMs are going to do some of them
When you have an incredibly well-respected founder who lives and breathes the product, you're going to get requests. Some of them will even make sense. But, product people who don't have evidence against the requests, or a better plan in general, are going to get overridden and they only have themselves to blame. That said, it's important not to rail against feature requests just because they're from a founder.
5. Building proper, trusting relationships with the founders is incredibly important
When working with creators with a massive following, who have invested so much of themselves into a company, the worst thing you can do is just walk in expecting them to bend to the awesome power of product management. Saagar spent several hours walking and talking with the founders before even getting the job, to understand their motivations and forge a bond. This ultimately helped him be more successful.
You can connect with Saagar on LinkedIn.
Tuesday Aug 29, 2023
Tuesday Aug 29, 2023
Namrata (Nam) Sarmah is CPO at INTO University Partnerships and the founder of Women in Product UK, a community through which she hopes to build a pipeline of female product management talent and finally put to bed the excuses that hiring managers currently fall back on when challenged on their female talent acquisition. She's also passionate about making sure we get more product people into the C-suite, and will soon be launching the CPO Track community to support this. We chatted about all this, and much more.
1. You don't need an MBA to get into product, but it's not unhelpful
There's a lot of controversy about the merits (or lack of) of MBAs in product management. MBAs are not essential, but they can be helpful when trying to crack the C-suite as you've already spent a lot of time working on your business sense. There are other ways to get this though; the most important thing is to develop that business sense one way or another.
2. Just because you're great a product management, doesn't mean you'll be a great CPO
It's hard to land a Chief Product Officer job, and even harder to stay in there. You require a mix of skills, and just being the best at product management doesn't help. It requires a mix of business acumen, executive presence (sad, but true) and the ability to tell a story in terms that resonate with your leadership peers.
3. Building a community is hard, but you can treat it like a product
Community-building is not an easy skill to teach someone; it requires a certain mindset and certain instincts. There are different types of people in the world, and some of them are natural "connectors" who just know how to join the dots and get people together.
4. Women in Product UK is its own thing, and its superpower is diversity
There are various communities around the world that support product managers, or female product managers specifically, but a lot of them have quite a narrow focus on certain job levels or roles. Having top female CPOs available for free in a community is a superpower.
5. The name of the game is pipeline building, and allies are welcome
Some sad sacks will sit and grumble about having a "women in product" group rather than just a generic "people in product" group. but the numbers don't lie. Women are still underrepresented in senior positions, and it's easy for companies to blame "pipeline problems". So let's all build the pipeline, so they don't have an excuse anymore.
You can connect with Nam on LinkedIn or check out Women in Product UK, where you can interact with the community and get onto the WhatsApp group.
Friday Aug 11, 2023
Friday Aug 11, 2023
Duena Blomstrom is a renowned fintech thought leader who got tired of seeing the same problems in the workplace and decided to go out and try to solve them. Duena took on banking culture with "Emotional Banking" before moving onto wider organisational change with "People Before Tech". We spoke about some of the common problems faced within organisations, how to try to solve them, and some of the reasons why companies resist those solutions.
1. Santa Claus is not going to come and "puke a generative culture on your enterprise"
There are no magic bullets to organisational transformation, but it's also simpler than it sounds. You need to take a number of smaller, measurable steps that move the needle. And teams have a lot more power to affect change than they think - they don't need to await permission.
2. We're not fixing it because we get in our own way
We let the status quo persist because we don't challenge ourselves, and think this is just the way business works. There's too much fear in the workplace and it's holding us back.
3. Impression Management is a big problem at work
People are afraid of looking incompetent, intrusive or troublesome at work. This is natural, but it limits us in the workplace. Start noticing when you exhibit these behaviours, and they'll start to go away automatically. It's important to speak up.
4. All companies have some level of Human Debt
As with tech debt, all companies accrue Human Debt as they grow. Human Debt is the result of all the abandoned initiatives and missed opportunities to affect change. It adds up and the interest repayments can start to cripple you.
5. You don't need to pay all the Human Debt off at once
Some bad behaviours will eventually naturally expire. As a society, we've gotten better at standing up for what's right (although there's still plenty of work to do). But, ultimately, you should pay the most burdensome Human Debt off first.
Buy "People Before Tech"
"Built upon fascinating research and an international array of case studies, People Before Tech is an incisive examination of how organizations through their digital transformations become stranded with unoptimised teams and disenfranchised employees. Duena highlights that it is vital not just to implement technology, but also to integrate it into the existing organizational culture and structure, before providing practical guidance and advice on how business leaders and HR professionals can heighten efficiency and effectiveness of workplace teams through collaborative and innovative initiatives."
Check it out on Amazon.
You can connect with Duena on LinkedIn or on her website DuenaBlomstrom.com, where you can find links to all her various endeavours!
Thursday Aug 03, 2023
Thursday Aug 03, 2023
Jennifer Yang-Wong is a product leader who formerly worked at Uber, before moving into the rarified heights of Venture Capital. But, not as an investor but as the VP of Product for a tech-led VC firm. We spoke about why a VC firm needs a VP of Product as well as numerous reflections on the trouble that we can have when trying to apply product thinking and move beyond founder-led decision-making.
1. There's no one way to do product management, and no one's doing it "right".
There's no one way to do product management, and no one's doing it "right". It all depends on what you need for your stage of company, and whether you're sales-y, ops-y, or product-y in mindset.
2. There's no "number" or formula you can apply to decide whether to blow up your roadmap.
In a sales-led organisation, it's common for big deals to torpedo the best-laid plans. Your appetite to do this work will vary, but it's not as simple as saying "X% of revenue and we do it!" But, whatever the number is, it should be really, really high.
3. It can be tricky to know when to bring on the first product hire and move away from founder-led product management
One of the founders is generally the de facto "head of product", often with no specific product training. They do many of the same things that the product team would do, but not necessarily in the same way, and with less process. This can cause clashes when the first PM comes in.
4. Getting a super process-oriented PM in as the first PM might exacerbate the issue
You do need some rigour from the PM you bring in, otherwise, what's the point of bringing them in? But, if you bring someone in who is too dogmatic or has worked for much larger organisations, you may find a cultural mismatch and inevitable clash when everything they do seems to slow you down.
5. In some companies, it might be the second "first product manager" that succeeds
Founders may mis-hire if they don't have a strong understanding of what product managers bring to the table, or how they want to work. It's unpleasant to think of, but sometimes the first PM takes the hits, moves on and is replaced by a second PM who can start to make progress since the founders have a better idea of what they'll get the second time around.
You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
Wednesday Jul 26, 2023
Wednesday Jul 26, 2023
Gabrielle Bufrem is a product leader and product coach who comes highly recommended by Sir Marty Cagan himself. She's passionate about developing product managers and product leaders, as well as helping them be true strategic partners to the business. We spoke about product vision, what to do when it's not there, the importance of product principles and much more.
A quick message from Saeed Khan and me.
My former podcast guest, Saeed Khan and I are thinking of putting together a B2B Product Management cohort course on Maven. Our goal is to help B2B PMs make peace with the differences between B2B product management and much of the classic product literature, and enable them to be true business partners rather than stuck in a remorseless feature factory. We're assessing interest right now, so if this sounds good, please fill in our course questionnaire. Thanks!
1. A product strategy is the highest leverage artefact any product leader can have
But it's also one of the hardest to do. It's serious, serious work, which is why so many product teams just end up with a list of tasks, or a "pizza strategy" (pepperoni! chicken! M&Ms!)
2. A lot of problems stem from being people pleasers
No one wants to say "no" and people can suffer from the fear of missing out. People can be afraid to take a stance. But, it's essential to narrow your focus to the absolute essentials if you want to make any progress at all.
3. It's hard to push back on pre-agreed feature requests if you don't have a plan
Product leaders need a deep understanding of their users and customers, but also of the wider business context. You need to be conscious of what the company (and the board) wants.
4. Sometimes companies don't have strategies either
It's easy to get dragged into a neverending feature list, prioritising whatever the next thing is. Product leaders need to work with wider leadership to identify broad goals, how they can get there & what the 3-5 year plan is.
5. Product managers are there to represent the business
UX designers are there to look after the users and the engineering team is there to look after the tech. It's absolutely essential for PMs to be trusted business partners if they want to make a big impact.
You can connect with Gabi on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Or, check out her website.
Tuesday Jul 18, 2023
Tuesday Jul 18, 2023
Julie Starr is a renowned coach and mentor, and author of several books on the topics. We had a deep and meaningful chat about the differences between coaching and mentoring, what it takes to be a good coach or mentor, and the impact of AI on coaching.
1. The expectations we have of leaders have changed
We're slowly moving away from Taylorist, resource-focused management to a less-directive style of leadership. Not all companies are there yet, but even laggards are seeing what other organisations are doing and the benefits it brings.
2. Coaching is a 1:1 relationship focused squarely on the person being coached
Coaches facilitate conversations of inquiry and aim to support their clients to take action, evolve and, ultimately, empower them to be the change they want to see in themselves.
3. Coaches do not need to be functional experts
At the heart of coaching is the art of coaching, not reflecting your own biases and life story onto people. A good coach can use fundamental coaching skills to coach anyone, whatever their life situation or career niche.
4. Mentoring is not the same as coaching, but it's also not binary
It's less useful to look at the specific behaviours and more at the dynamics of a mentoring relationship; that of benevolence from and respect for a more senior practitioner who has seen your situation before.
5. Not everything that counts can be measured
It's traditionally hard to attribute specific metrics to coaching or mentoring relationships, but that doesn't mean the effect isn't there. It's not always easy, but we can use qualitative data to show the impact of our efforts.
Buy Julie's Books
"Julie Starr’s books on coaching and mentoring are recommended reading on development programmes around the world."
Check out all three books at Starr Coaching, or wherever you get your books.
Check out Julie's free resources
Julie has a huge amount of free resources at LearnStarr (free registration required). Make sure to check it out.
You can connect with Julie on LinkedIn. You can also check out the Starr Coaching website.
Friday Jul 07, 2023
Friday Jul 07, 2023
Daniel Stillman is a former industrial designer turned conversation designer, who wants to help leadership teams and entire organisations stop wasting their time having ineffective conversations. We spoke about the concept of Conversation Design, the Conversation OS Canvas, and the perils of "Sheep Dip" organisational transformations.
1. Sheep-dip organisational transformation doesn't work
You can't send everyone on a 1-hour course, not talk about it afterwards or have any kind of follow-up, yet somehow expect to sustain organisational change. Transformation takes sustained effort & you need to keep talking.
2. All conversations are inherently designed, even the ones that aren't
There's an implicit design in any conversation. You should use whatever works for you, but being aware of what isn't working allows you to re-design the conversations that don't work and get better results.
3. Leadership is the ability to create the conditions for a transformational conversation
If everyone's stuck, leaders can help people get unstuck by getting people to ask the right question to offer the right insight in service of what we want to create more of in the world.
4. We all have a mental OS running on a mental CPU
And, like all software, and all CPUs, there could be problems with clock speed, or bugs in the system that prevent us from getting to where we want to go. Thoughtfully designing conversations allows us to iron out the bugs.
5. Active Listening is a great hack to help design conversations
Getting away from the desire to respond within 200ms, not tuning people out because you're formulating your next thought & playing back people's words can really help change your conversations for the better.
Buy "Good Talk"
"Life is built one conversation at a time. Learn which conversations matter, how to transform those conversations, and balance them all while leading change. Human beings are conversational animals. Every day we're in constant communication with ourselves, other people and the world around us, and while not all conversations may seem important, they all have the potential to transform our personal, professional and cultural lives for the better. This book explains how conversations work and offers practical advice on how to improve the quality of our exchanges."
Check it out on Amazon.
You can catch up with Andres on LinkedIn, or visit his website or The Conversation Factory.
Thursday Jun 29, 2023
Thursday Jun 29, 2023
Deepa Goyal got excited when she saw her first API product and has been working in API products ever since. She's worked for companies like Twilio and Paypal and is now Product Strategy Lead for Postman. She was disappointed at the lack of PM-specific resources, so decided to solve this with her new book "API Analytics for Product Managers". We spoke about API product management in general, and what it takes to be successful with API products.
1. APIs are technical but there's a user-centric way to explain them
APIs at their heart are simply the way that different applications talk to each other. For example, Uber talking to Google Maps or talking to PayPal. They enable seamless integration of a product ecosystem.
2. Yes, APIs need Product Managers (even internal APIs)
It's important to have a customer-centric approach & strategy for APIs. You need to make sure that they're discoverable, useful & provide value. This is also true for internal APIs... internal users are your customers too!
3. There are definitely differences when managing API products
For example, you can't track people's user journeys as easily. You often don't have the same visibility. It can also take a long time to go from initial discovery to actually receiving value from your product.
4. It's important to define API product value and measure it
Sometimes value is obvious and sometimes it's not, but it's important to define what "value" means for your users (it's probably not just "number of API calls") and work out ways to measure that so you can optimise it.
5. There are differences in API product management, but your basic job is the same
You're still speaking to users, focusing on their use cases & delivering value. The way that you express this may be different but, ultimately, an API product manager is still a product manager!
Buy "API Analytics for Product Managers"
"API Analytics for Product Managers takes you through the benefits of efficient researching, strategizing, marketing, and continuously measuring the effectiveness of your APIs to help grow both B2B and B2C SaaS companies. Once you've been introduced to the concept of an API as a product, this fast-paced guide will show you how to establish metrics for activation, retention, engagement, and usage of your API products, as well as metrics to measure the reach and effectiveness of documentation—an often-overlooked aspect of development."
Check it out on Amazon.
You can connect with Deepa on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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