A tale of two conferences and two roles

Published about 2 months ago • 7 min read

I had hoped to get this out earlier, but after a week being away, I had to get caught up in the day job.

I spent the week of April 15th along the east coast of the United States attending two separate conferences of product people. At least groups I consider product people. The attendees at the first conference may not think of themselves as product people. Yet.

It was insightful to go from a conference for business analysts to a conference for product managers in the same week.

So in this issue of InsideProduct, I wanted to share some thoughts from each conference and the common role of most of the attendees.

Business Analysts at BBC

BBC2024 is an annual gathering for business analysts and is the main global conference for the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). I enjoy going to this conference to interact with business analysts from around the world who are interested in furthering their career. And visit a nice locale in the process.

I had the opportunity to present a three hour workshop - How to Survive and Thrive in a Digital Transformation on Tuesday Morning.

Many organizations that employ business analysts are going through transformations of some sort. Digital transformations in particular drive organizations to think deeper about how technology impacts their business and interactions with their customers.

I included “survive and thrive” in the title because many business analysts have had, or are having, bad experience with transformations. I wanted to equip the attendees with some simple, but powerful, tools they can use to help their organization succeed with their digital transformation.

These techniques help business analysts work in more of a product manner but are applicable to many situations they’ll run across in an organization that isn’t yet running in the theoretically perfect product operating model.

If you’d like to see the content of the session, and a slew of backup material, here’s the page with all the supporting material for the session.

Takeaways from BBC

Even though I was at BBC for only a couple of days, I did come away with a few observations.

The “messy middle” of products

This one actually came out of prepping for the session. I wanted a good way to discuss the different contexts that products exist in. As I was looking around stuff I’ve written and read in the past, I remembered some articles from Rich Mironov. Nearly a decade ago, he explored the product owner role and when they need market facing product management skills.

They’re great articles, you should check them out:

The main thing I got from rereading these articles is this way of categorizing products:

But more than that, it’s the realization that most articles about agile assume the “Ideal Scrum Project” (lower left hand corner) and most articles about product management assume Mass Market (upper right hand corner).

However the vast majority of the people at BBC, and I presume most of you, deal with all the other product types.

And if you’re in an organization going through a digital transformation, you’re most likely dealing with these types of products:

That's the type of context I want to focus on in InsideProduct.

Conferences may be the new team building

At lunch on the first day of the conference, I talked with a business analyst from a large insurance company. During the normal conference small talk, he mentioned that there were several people from his company at the conference.

That in itself is not unusual. Then he went on to say that he worked with several of those folks, but the conference was the first time that he met those folks in person.

You see, he started working at that insurance company during the pandemic and still worked remotely.

So even though companies may be forcing people to come back to the office, more and more teams are distributed across multiple states (in the US) or even multiple countries.

I won’t editorialize on how silly it is to force people to come back to the office so they can sit on zoom calls all day.

I will suggest to companies that they should start looking to professional conferences as a way to get people together who work together, but in a distributed fashion. It’s a win, win. Give your staff the opportunity to learn and to spend some time with their co workers in a non work setting.

And if any of you are event planners, take this as some free marketing advice 🙂.

AI is Everywhere

There were a slew of sessions on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence and business analysis. There were so many, in fact, that I overheard a couple of attendees talking about picking a session because it explicitly was not about AI.

For the record, I claimed this was the only mention of AI in my session:

You may have noticed that I tend to take AI with a big dose of salt. I totally get that it has it’s place, and it seems like we’re in the solution searching for a problem phase of technology adoption.

So when I had a chance to talk about AI with my friend Shane Hastie, who presented one of the sessions about AI, I made sure I approached the discussion with an open mind. I’m glad I did.

He pointed out the importance of ethics when using AI. He also made it clear in his session that you should be very intentional about when you use AI, and when you don’t. He also filled me in on which allows you to avoid the garbage in\garbage out conundrum.

While we’re talking about conferences, it seems like a good time to remind you about Agile2024. I’m one of the track chairs for the Accelerating Products track at Agile2024 and now I have the opportunity to offer a discount code for $200 off registration when you use the code Refer10KMcd24.

This is a great conference to take your team to as there will be a little bit for everyone, including some focused product management content with an agile flair.

Product Managers at NYPC

I left BBC early to go to The New York Product Conference (NYPC) by Product Collective on the Thursday of that week.

NYPC is a one day conference targeted at software product managers, and you’d expect to run into mostly product managers at tech companies. There were certainly several folks from tech companies, but I also ran into product people from tech enabled companies, including folks from financial services companies.

My role at NYPC was to serve as a “product journalist”. I was responsible for taking notes of all the keynote sessions that the attendees received the day after the conference.

If you’d like to see the notes, hit reply and I’ll send you a copy.

I love doing it because it’s a great perk for attendees, and it forces me to pay very close attention to all the sessions.

NYPC Takeaways

The idea for noting some takeaways came from a conversation I had at the conference party with the aforementioned folks in financial services. I told them I was the note taker and they asked me what my main takeaways were.

Ironically, after madly typing all day, my mind was blank. But after I went back to finish typing up the notes, some themes emerged.

AI is everywhere

I was a little surprised how prevalent that AI sessions were at BBC, but was not surprised to see a couple of sessions about AI at NYPC.

It was refreshing how consistent the messages at the two conferences were, but I may have fallen into confirmation bias.

The main thing I took away is that AI is not going away. It’s a tool that can make you more effective if you use it the right way for the right use case. It can also lead you wildly astray if you don’t.

The Built Learned Planning Demo

My measure of a good conference presentation is one I can take away a technique that I can use right away back at work. Holly Hester Reilly’s presentation about Setting Your Team Up for Success with the Product Science Principles provided one such gem.

She introduced the Built-Learned-Planning Demo. Here’s how I described it in the notes:

Change your sprint demo to cover:
What did we build, what did we learn, what are we planning?
Incorporating these small notes about what you learned and what you’re planning in each sprint demo will increase the confidence of your stakeholders.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good

A consistent message from two sessions at NYPC is that you need to keep the ideal vision in mind, but you also need to keep the team focused on the here and now - the things you can do in the short term to make progress toward your objectives, learn and adjust.

Teams will be tempted to make it completely awesome now, but in reality, you don’t know if your users, stakeholders, and customers will think your product is awesome until they try it. And if they find it good, but not quite awesome, you won’t know what it’s missing without feedback.

You’re better off putting out a solution that works quickly so you can get feedback on it and plan to make revisions on that feedback. It’s the product person’s job to build excitement for the end goal and simultaneously temper that excitement to produce something people can react to.

A third session promised to talk about taking a minimalist approach but went awry somewhere on the subway ride over to the conference venue. The details of that one are best discussed over an adult beverage.

INDUSTRY The Product Conference in Cleveland this fall would be a good place to do that. You can use the code INSIDEPRODUCT50 when you check out to get an additional $50 off your registration. (Full disclosure - this is an affiliate offer). Hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading

Thanks again for reading InsideProduct.

If you have any comments or questions about the newsletter, or there’s anything you’d like me to cover, let me know.

Talk to you next time,

Kent J. McDonald
Founder | KBP.Media


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