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Women in Product Conference

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This past week I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Women in Product Conference. The conference, hosted in the San Jose Convention Center, was a single, full-day event, which boasted more than 1,500 “Women Who Build”. Organized by Women in Product (WIP), a nonprofit formed to focus on creating a community for women in product by women in product, the conference remains the first and only of its kind. Below you will find a recap of my experience at the conference and highlights from each of the speakers and sessions. 

Keynotes

Welcome

The conference opened with a keynote from Deborah Liu, VP of Product at Facebook. Deborah walked us through the demographics, opinions, and attitudes of the attendees of the conference. She highlighted the change in industry qualifications from needing a CS degree to now sitting in a room full of women who did not possess traditional CS degrees. Some other interesting highlights were how we viewed the opportunity and wage gap; the majority of us felt that we were being paid less and received fewer promotions than our male counterparts.  Not surprised? Me either.

Future of Work and Scaling Enterprise Products

The second keynote was given by April Underwood, VP of Product at Slack. April and her team are focused on figuring out the future of work. Throughout her talk she discussed how we should treat the development of enterprise products similarly to consumer products. Enterprises are comprised of humans, yet we don’t onboard them the same way that we do with consumer products in which we generally teach users to utilize our products as they consume.

One of the many valuable suggestions she gave was to create a customer advisory board comprised of the internal users who best represent your target audience. Are you building a product for accountants? Sit with your own internal accounting team.

If you’re reading this and you build enterprise products, she says that you should, “Be brave enough to not let pre-existing categories define your products” i.e. Don’t be the x of Uber.  

During her talk Underwood also discussed the role of PM and that brevity is crucial in our roles. She said that we should, “Be brief, be bright, and be gone!” With this, she suggested asking ourselves if “there is a way to get 80% of the value with 10% of the work”. While this might seem crazy or impossible, there are definitely easy wins like this at times, but many of us are in our own way.

Confronting Fear

The third keynote was given by Avni Shah, VP of Product Management at Google. Shah spoke on “Facing Fear” and the three types of fears she’s experienced in her career. The first fear was rejection. She discussed feeling so afraid of being rejected that, “It was as if my subconscious had already talked me out of it before I could process the thought”. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a similar experience.  

The second fear was being underqualified, which led to a reluctance to take on risk. However, she eventually realized that, “If I had been fooling people, I had been doing a really good job. So, if I failed, at least I learned something”. This was super encouraging to hear, especially from someone at her current stature in Product Management and I will definitely remember this when considering taking risks in the future.

The final fear was moving backwards. Like many of us, she said “My identity had been rooted in my career, the prestige, and external validation”. When this is the case, it becomes difficult to take what many outsiders would consider to be a step back, but sometimes you have to take one step back in order to move two steps forward.  These steps forward are toward bettering yourself, furthering your career, or just pursuing what you’ve become more passionate about.

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Lightning Talks

Cross-Border Innovation

After the keynotes, there was a round of lightning talks. The first was given by Connie Chan, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who spoke on the rise of the super app. The highlights of her talk were that we should see the app as an operating system (one app to rule them all), and think mobile first, embracing the fact that your app might and should be able to do more than what would be possible on a PC.

How Facebook is Building a Safe Community

The second talk, given by Naomi Gleit, VP of Social Good at Facebook, discussed how they use the Facebook platform to facilitate safety check, suicide prevention, and create an overall safe community.

Your Seat At The Table

The third talk, given by Shimrit Ben-Yair, Director of Product Management at YouTube, talked about building credibility. In Ben-Yair’s opinion, to gain credibility, you must not only own and know your data, but you must also be able to interpret it and have valuable, deep insights.

How to Validate Product Ideas Quickly

The final talk, given by Jess Lee, Investor at Sequoia Capital, was about the lessons she learned from evolving from PM to CEO to Investor. If you don’t know Jess’s story, I highly recommend doing a little research on her. To be successful in Product Management, Lee suggests understanding, “just enough to be dangerous,” which is no surprise as many compare Product Managers to the Jack/Jill of all trades. She also challenges us to find balance with setting goals as they, “...can be counterintuitive to discovery” and that “measurement can be seen as only the end and not just the means”.

Photo credit: Women in Product

Photo credit: Women in Product

Sessions

Consumer Science and AB Testing

After lunch, the first session I attended was on AB testing and was given by Jen Darte, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix. At the beginning of the talk, she admitted that “most ideas don’t work” and that they embrace this in their culture at Netflix. As I work on a fair amount of our AB tests at my company, I really enjoyed her suggestions for sharing results with stakeholders and leadership teams. She suggests, whether or not the test was successful, sharing the following:

  • What Was Tested

  • Results

  • Interpret

  • Planned Next Steps

Thinking Roadmap: A PM’s Path to Mastery

The second session I attended was on roadmapping with Amy Jo Kim, co-Founder and CEO Shuffle Brain. Some of my favorite pieces of advice she offered were on creating habits and mastery paths. Kim states that creating habits is rooted in understanding users’ needs and what you’re building. Use this as a guide:  We are developing ________ for/because ________ so that  ________.

Kim also spoke about the importance of offering mastery paths to your users who are beyond the discovery phase (first thirty days) and the onboarding and habit building phases (next thirty days). When you think about developing mastery paths, you should develop features that are different from day 60 and 90.

Senior Women Leadership Panel

After the sessions, I attended a panel, comprised of: Sarah Bernard, VP of Product at Jet.com, Lisa O’Malley, Senior Director of Global Product Management at PayPal, Jen Taylor, Head of Product at Cloudflare, Lilian Rincon, Director of Product Management at Google, and Ami Vora, VP of Product at Facebook who moderated the panel. The advice ranged from practical tips such as sitting in the middle of the table and speaking up at the beginning and end of meetings to challenging how we view work/life integration, motherhood, and taking risks.

Three Questions You Should Ask in Product Review

The last session I attended was with VP of Design at Facebook, Julie Zhou on problem-solving. Some of the questions she suggests asking when building products are:

“What people problem are we trying to solve?” The problem should be people-centric, solutions and ‘we win’ agnostic. This is personally where I feel like most companies struggle. Sometimes, we’re so focused on driving a particular metric or increasing profitability in the short term that we overlook a better solution or fully defining the problem properly.

The second question is, “How do we know this is a real problem?” Have we done internal or external testing?

The final question is, “How will we know if we’ve solved this problem?”

Photo credit: Women in Product

Photo credit: Women in Product

Closing

Final Thoughts and Feedback

Unfortunately, I had to head out before the closing keynote but, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. Conferences tailored specifically to Product Management are few and far between, especially those specifically targeted at women, so I’m definitely looking forward to attending again next year and to remaining involved within the community. However, I also recognize and hope that the host committee recognizes that there is a lot of room for improvement and growth moving forward. I was surprised at the lack of diversity that no one else seemed to notice. Maybe it was because I looked around and rarely, if at all, saw anyone else looking back at me that looked like me.  But seriously where were all the black, Latinx, and indigenous folks? As a side note, I think it's important to understand that in Tech, specifically in Silicon Valley, there is an over indexing of Asian and South Asian folks. For a lot of companies, this is diverse ‘enough’. This is why you'll now hear folks using the term “underrepresented minorities,” which includes black, Latinx, indigenous, and sometimes Pacific Islanders.

So, what's the problem? Why aren’t these underrepresented minorities represented at the conference? I want to make it very clear that we do not have a pipeline problem. Diversity, in my humble opinion, is a top-down problem. As none of the underrepresented minorities are represented on the leadership teams or planning committees, I would encourage certain members to step back so other members can step up. This is a saying we use in the person of color spaces I work and volunteer in to make sure we’re sharing space with others and being good allies. It’s also equally important that if we identify as underrepresented minorities, we step up. I know I’m more than willing to volunteer as tribute.

Did you attend the conference? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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