Reflections on the employee experience from Mind the Product

| September 4, 2018
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Today’s article is a guest post from Kilimanjaro Robbs, a Sr. Product Manager at UserTesting. Kilimanjaro has been with UserTesting since September 2017 and focuses his time building products and experiences people love. Enjoy!

I attended Mind the Product in San Francisco (MTP) for the first time this year, and like many others was impressed with the conference. Not only were the speakers great, but also, the content and discussions were insightful, eye-opening, and engaging.

MTP’s agenda was created with the product manager at the center of the conversation and was simultaneously seniority-inclusive and industry agnostic. I was especially impressed with two talks; one from Christina Wodtke and the other, Nir Eyal, which highlighted experiences that aren’t always talked about when in product folks’ circles: the employee experience.

Learning teams

Christina Wodtke kicked off MTP with an engaging session focused on the important role product managers play in coordinating and managing teams—even if that isn’t strictly part of a product manager’s responsibilities. I recently joined a new squad at UserTesting, so Christina’s talk on team health, team evaluations, and learning teams was perfectly timed for me.

Especially interesting were her strategies for developing a learning team. Learning teams are in a constant state of, well, learning. Often traditional models see the progression of a learning team linearly: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. While this may work for some teams, Christina points out that it’s beneficial to take a more cyclical approach.

For example, once a team has established itself and has completed the storm through perform cycle, it’s important to reevaluate the team’s focus and goals to see if that’s the best that can be done and continue iterating until it is. That evaluation requires teams to focus on their goals, roles, and norms, all while placing a premium on feedback between team members.

Since seeing her presentation, I’ve specifically incorporated Christina’s ideas around team rules, feedback and creating a shared vision into my work. This has enabled the team to have a holistic conversation about how we work best, establishing shared expectations, and quickly cemented a sense of ownership for everyone on the team.

Distraction vs. traction

Nir Eyal’s chat on Distraction vs. Traction was captivating. Living in a society that’s almost constantly attached to some device or another, distraction—especially digital—is prevalent. I’m sure that most of us can recall watching someone stumble or run into something while glued to their device if you haven’t done it yourself.

Those distractions aren’t just a safety hazard, they can impact our lives in other ways, too. We can’t blame all our woes on modern devices, however. Nir points out that our challenges with distraction can be traced as far back as the times of Socrates and Aristotle with something called “akrasia” which represented the habit humans had for acting against their better judgment, avoiding things we don’t want to do, or distraction.

On the other end of the spectrum is traction—doing things we do want to do. For many of us, a goal might be to reduce the number of distractions in our lives and increase the amount of traction. Yet he warns that, again, distractions aren’t just some external force applied to us. They’re the result of actions we take ourselves, which may often be triggered by some external influence.

His presentation really hit home when he started talking about how we prepare for our day. Many of us cite distractions as causing us to miss out on a moment, not finish a project, or overlook an important detail. But what Nir suggests, is that it’s actually our lack of planning for traction that creates an environment ripe for distraction. Many of us don’t plan out our day around achieving traction. Maybe we have a to-do list with a few items on it but rarely do we plot out our entire day with the things we’d really like to achieve.

I have often used a to-do list to target front-loading, complex tasks, only to find myself rolling over uncompleted items to the next, which at times felt so debilitating. Nir’s advice is to shift the paradigm a bit and to plan the time during our day, not just the overall output, giving yourself more time to concentrate. He also adds,

If you don’t plan your time, someone else will.

That someone else could be Facebook, binge-watching Netflix, talking on the phone, surfing YouTube, or anything else that triggers distraction.

Understanding how we become distracted, and how to better set ourselves up for traction was an eye-opening and applicable lesson that I’ve already implemented in my day-to-day routine.

Since becoming a product manager, I’ve attended various meetups, product camps, and conferences, but none on the level of MTP. In short, it was absolutely awesome. Having a day to listen, learn and reflect on the ideas shared was rejuvenating, not to mention I now have a few more tools to help me be more focused and effective in my work.

Want to learn more?

Check out these great UserTesting resources to learn how product teams can leverage human insights to build better products and experiences:

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