Mind the Product is a conference for “product managers,” the people who design, build, and manage the creation of new software and tech products. I went as the photographer. I came away with hope for people and tech.

Why should you care? Because these are the people designing how you work.

I expected to listen to nuts and bolts of software design and user-experience. I figured there would be a lot of bitching about executives and investors demanding that products get launched before they were ready, or anyone knew what they were for. I imagined managers complaining about how software engineers just care about cool tricks and gizmos, not whether anybody else can actually use it. I was sure there would be tips for how to manipulate users to do what you want them to. And there was all that.

What I did not expect was to hear words like: human, empathy, curiosity, compassion, ethnography, worthy, and kindness.

It turns out everyone is struggling with how to use tech without being consumed by it. Start ups have all the same problems the rest of us have. The executives want profit as soon as possible with as little risk as possible. Workers want freedom, autonomy, and resources to do great work. And the managers in the middle want them both to pull their heads out and launch something, preferably something that works. Useful is a bonus.

It also turns out that when you are building something new, and creating ways of doing things that did not exist before, what you really need to do is try stuff out and just see what works. You can have all the planning, theory, meetings, scrums, stand ups, status reports, and process in the world. But these things are mostly a waste of time and resources. They do not reduce risk or increase profit. They just give the illusion of control, while reducing the time for actual work to be accomplished.

These are universal truths that apply to all work. Not just start ups and tech.

And I was delighted to see so many brilliant creative people struggling with these great questions — the human questions.

I was also absolutely blown away by the design and execution of the conference itself.  It was one track with one stage. Speakers were chosen based on merit and having something interesting, helpful, and entertaining to say. Go figure. Sponsors were there, friendly, relaxed and not the featured content. Registration was quick, easy, and moved directly into coffee, scones, and networking.  Lunch was delicious, quickly in the hands of attendees, and there was a nice long break to chat with people or catch up on a little work. The final session started at 5:45 and, despite the long lunch and late evening, the house was packed through the final speaker, until the venue kicked everyone out. It was a joy to be part of an event concerned about design that walked its talk.

So next time, you decide to call a meeting, create a new form, or policy, or process, ask yourself what it is like to be on the receiving end of that form, policy, and process. Are you solving one problem and creating another?

Does it really matter?


Listen to Mind the Product talks here.

Disclosure: I was paid to be the photographer for the event. I decided to write this because I had such a great day and wanted to say it.


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