Calum Shepherd

5 learnings for product managers from Canvas 2019

I have a soft spot for Birmingham.

Birmingham has been turning over a new leaf the last few years with some serious inner city regeneration and it’s never looked better. It’s a city which hosts one of my favourite conferences too - Canvas.

Canvas Conference is packed full of talks for people who design, make and market digital products and experiences. I usually do a little write up - and will continue to keep things short this year.

What are the five learnings that I would share with you from the day?

1. Vision

Martyn Reding from Virgin Atlantic spoke to us about forming product teams in his organisation. He suggested some things they did to help their teams bond, and shared some learnings on things to avoid when going through the process too.

Martyn's thoughts on vision stood out for me. His teams were asked to ensure that each of them had a common product vision that each person collectively bought into.

No excuses, one vision per team, and no one leaves until they have it

Why is a vision so important? When working on something a without a vision, you can end up in a Homer's car situation. Features being added and removed, with no real understanding of what you are attempting to create. You'll get away with this in the short term, but not for long.

Have an early vision that everyone agrees on. You can always change it later. No biggie.

2. Show the thing, show it well

Build it, show some people, spend the next few years of your career fighting off people who want to throw money at you and your team.

Unfortunately this is not how things actually work.

Ella Fitzsimmons from IF (formerly GDS), shared that 'showing the thing' takes a little more than just showing off your work - it takes strong techniques to show these things in the best light possible and gain support for continued work.

short films, animations, blog posts, events, presentations, coaching, speeches, GIFs, invites, btiefings, submissions, posters, stickers, banners...etc.

3. Speak a common language

Martyn Reding from Virgin Atlantic shared some of the early problems they had with communication too.

When establishing a digital team within a traditional organisation, a whole host of new lingo arrives and confuses the sh*t out of everyone who has been working in the business for a long time.

Engineers? Planes or software? AFKL? Air France and KLM of course

Martyn shared his lists of translations to help support conversations with the rest of the organisation.

Build your own to avoid confusion.

4. Do focus on features

Stephanie Donald from Citymatter put across a strong statement - focus on features. It's an unfashionable thought in the industry at the moment when everyone is talking about user journeys.

However, she has a point. Stephanie shared that Citymapper have such a diverse collection of journeys that they need to support, they need to ensure customers have frictionless access to what they need, when they need it.

Thus, obsessing over features and getting them right is no bad thing for them (and for everyone else).

5. Conversional AI pointers

Lisa Vigar from the BBC gave us a fantastic talk on her team's work at the BBC developing for voice interactions through Amazon Alexa.

Lisa's team have been developing a CBeebies skill that allows kids to play games. She talked about some of the challenges in how many options children can remember, and how to design a service around this.

Example; kids can remember two options. So if you are asking a child which game they wish to play and you have more than two, give the two most popular and then ask "or, play another game".

Also, kids love responding quickly so always make sure the question is last.

Thoughts? Chuck them my way on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Calum Shepherd
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