Leading the Product 2017 - Conference Highlights

08 November 2017 Victoria Butt

Ltp 2017

​Into its third year, Leading the Product is a single day conference for Product Managers, run by Product Managers. Victoria Butt and Alex Macpherson from Parity Consulting attended the Sydney conference held on the 24th of October, where they heard from 11 speakers on various topics such as the Evolution of Product Management in Silicon Valley, Artificial Intelligence and the Psychology for Product Managers.

First to take the stage was Ken Sandy, an Industry Fellow and Lecturer at UC Berkeley, who spoke about the evolution of Product Management in Silicon Valley and what we can learn from it. Ken started his Product Management career in Melbourne, working for various different companies, small start-ups to large companies and eventually relocated to America where he utilised his experience to consult on Product Management.

The key things a Product Manager needs to understand and keep in mind, are to:

1.Validate everything;

2.Discover more, define less;

3.Ship smaller more often – you will learn more from client’s feedback.

How good are Product Managers at delivery? An astounding 77% of product engineering is a waste and 50-64% of features are rarely or never used.

 Failing is only useful if it’s part of learning”– Ken Sandy



Dr. Sarah Colley took to the stage with the subject of Product Management with the brain in mind. A psychologist by trade, Sarah set up a business called Pockets of Brilliance which builds products and this year has helped to achieve 7 national award nominations. She follows 2 mottos’ – the first being “show, don’t tell” and the second being “diagnose well before we prescribe”.

She spoke about her top 3 “burn points”:

1.Unpredictable people/lack of control;

2.Slow processes;

3.Best practice and the energy to teach.

Sarah stressed the importance of thinking, and from this she pointed out that the brain has a golden rule – it creates habits to conserve energy. The brain accounts for 2% of our body weight, 20% of oxygen, 25% of body energy, runs through 70,000 thoughts per day, and 200,000 to 350,000 actions.

The 2 types of main thinking habits of the brain are Heuristics and Biases.

In psychology, heuristics are simple rules which are often used to make decisions. The Stockdale Paradox combines optimism with brutal honesty. How would you apply this at work? Look at what the brutal facts are, what is in your control, what is not in your control and what the best response is.

The illusion of control bias is where we overestimate the brain’s ability to control events. The illusion of control leads to positive thinking. It is important to focus on what you can control. Out of a whole 100%, the sphere of influence accounts for 99%, while the sphere of control (think, feel, say, do) accounts for 1%.


After a quick break for morning tea, Magnus Billgren, Tolpagorni Product Management, spoke about “The Product Soundtrack” and succeeding with Product Management in a B2B environment.

The Product Soundtrack consists of the below 4 components:

The CORE is often the defining technology. It is the part of your product that:

  • Is difficult to copy

  • Has long term development


The EDGE makes your customer buy the product:

  • What is the function?

  • How does it differentiate?


JAM makes it come together.


The VECTOR is the result of the driving forces in the market.


Susan Teschner, Product Director at 99designs spoke about experimenting with experimentation – and her Pro tips for doing it well. Hitting the $200,000 million-dollar mark in paying designers, 99design is the largest marketplace for graphic design in the world. Some of this may be due to the fact that they are a broad platform which doesn’t just cover logos, but have become more diverse by expanding into things such as designing t-shirts and book covers for example.

Susan spoke about the 8 lessons learnt through experimentation:

1.Know what you’re dealing with;

2.Don’t underestimate the value of experimentation;

3.Do choose the right tools;

4.Don’t spend too much;

5.But do spend enough TIME;

6.Don’t ignore the results (share these publicly);

7.Make a decision;

8.Do learn from how you’re learning.

She then shared with the room her advice on Product Management being a cycle of:

Build > Measure > Learn – Walk away


After working around the room to network and have some lunch, the audience gathered back for the Lightning Talks featuring Laura Cardinal from Xero, Dan Taylor from TAL and Katherine Barrett from carsales.com.au.

Laura Cardinal, General Manager of Product Development at Xero spoke around a stakeholder survival guide for Product Managers. Stakeholders come in all different shapes and sizes.

The ‘Bully’ and how to manage them:

  • Demonstrate authority;

  • Facilitate meetings;

  • Make a strong first impression.


The ‘Ghost’ – A stakeholder who is never there. How to manage them:

  • Make sure it is the right stakeholder;

  • Establish clear guardrails.


The ‘Steve Jobs’ – High level visionary. How to manage them:

  • Play their future vision back to them;

  • Don’t bore them with the details;

  • Get feedback before meetings.


The ‘Lumbergh” – Micromanager. How to manage them:

  • Be proactive and give them updates;

  • Provide consistency;

  • Don’t take it personally.


The ‘Piper’ – doesn’t want to be involved but has been told to be. How to manage them:

  • Set them free and don’t tie them down.


Dan Taylor, Head of Innovation at TAL then spoke about Product Management in the corporate context and when the Product/Market fit isn’t enough.

It’s difficult to find a winning product amongst all the products a corporate already may have. So how do you develop successful new products in big businesses? You need to think differently about your whole product framework. Keep in mind the speed and scale of your product.

Aligning your product to the corporate context by ensuring you look at the commercial scale, technology and operation behind it as well as the customer brand and strategic portfolio, will ensure it is a Product/Market fit.

  1. Think Product / Market / Corporate fit;

  2. Understand and align with the corporate context, leverage the distribution channel, the customer base and the brand;

  3. Ideally leverage the corporate assets to enhance the opportunity.


Katherine Barrett from carsales.com.au spoke about the 5 stages of Product Management:

  1. Denial – being tricked into something you are not too sure about;

  2. Anger – learning about how to put your day together;

  3. Bargaining – influence is key;

  4. Depression – when things don’t go to plan;

  5. Acceptance – where you start to like your job and what you do.


Sally O’Donoghue, Manager at ABC iview shared the 6 main takeaways and lessons she has learnt over time:

1.Being sustainable is better than being first to market – quick wins may cost you later on;

2.Know when to stop and turn things off;

3.Make sure you’re listening to the right stakeholders and customers;

4.Dial up the discovery phase;

5.Remember that this is a game of perseverance;

6.Focus on your purpose and strengths – don’t try to eliminate your weakness and work on your other assets.


Syed Ahmed, Head of Digital Products and Operations at BUPA took the stage to speak about Product Management in the age of AI (Artificial Intelligence). He advised the audience that AI will have a profound impact on both everyone’s personal and professional lives.

AI is a sufficiently useful definition for things such as autonomous decision-making, independent learning, large volumes of unstructured data and complex ambiguity.

Although there are objections around AI on whether it can be creative and if it can make and convey emotions, Syed says that it is not all bad news. AI has a long way to go in terms of the technology behind it including the data, software, hardware and network.

So, what can we do in the meantime? Syed gave the audience a few suggestions including:

1.Being consistent in your terminology of AI;

2.Why do you want to use AI in your product?

3.AI is not just for developers, so start tinkering and seeing how you can use it for yourself and your business.


Wendy Glasglow, Head of Data Consulting at Google spoke about data and considering more than the obvious. Wendy advised that the value of data is in the actual use of it. Ensuring to think inside, outside and for the future, is essential with data in Product Management.

Dealing with data early on in the game is important, as is making use of the full capability of your current toolset before adding more. She advised that we should get intimate with our data and learn about statistics. Understanding the relevance, correlation and the causation in data is key to making the most out of your data in your business.


Trent Mankelow, Chief Product Office of Trade Me gave the audience 6 tips for Product Managers and how you get people to go along with you:

1.Recruit Product Managers to help with change;

2.Use the authority of a Chief Product Officer;

3.Be open to change;

4.Systemise governance and rules;

5.Ask quality questions;

6.Give permission to have fun!


“Product Management has become less about defining and building a product, and more about discovering and optimizing a product to deliver demonstrable value to customers.” – Ken Sandy