“Building great products is hard. A little over 3 years ago, we started JAM to learn from those who’ve been there and done it. We were curious to find out how our favourite products were built behind the scenes … makers come to hear no-bullshit stories, meet friendly people and eat great food together.”
- JAM conference founders
After two laps of Odeon Surrey Quays and forging my way through driving rain on a grey, dank November morning I spotted another person in the vast, empty car park of the South London leisure complex. A woman was standing at the bus stop and avoiding my eye line as I approached her for directions to Hawker House. “That was my bus” she announced through gritted teeth and looked up from my Google Maps. Trying as best she could to remain polite she directed me off past the now familiar Odeon cinema, out of the leisure complex, full circle back to almost where I’d started. Retribution? Falling short of the bus stop was a small banner with the reassuringly jaunty, confetti-bedecked branding of JAM.
Home to Street Feast’s street food mega-market, Hawker House is a huge warehouse filled with circus lights, bunting and gas burners bursting out from amongst the weekend’s trading stalls. I was joined by 600 product people (including Badger friends Sari, Andy and Ben) eager to meet and learn from fellow industry folk.
Here’s a round-up of the day’s talks:
Thomas May (Product Manager, Thread)
Test and Delivery: achieving speed and quality at Thread
With the team at Thread having differing views on how to run a successful project, and the challenges faced when achieving both quality and speed, they took a step back and re-thought their process. They split their projects into two different types: test and delivery, whereby they run the delivery project if the test project is successful. Treating test projects as temporary, they’re happy to remove code once the test is complete.
Michael Willmott (Head of Product & Technology, Beryl)
Moving fast and slow: bringing hardware and software together
Beryl want to change cities by getting more people on bikes, which inherently changes its business model from hardware to hardware and software. This brings challenges when the two teams work together - for example, hardware must be faultless once shipped, whereas software can be buggy. Michael brought the teams together by building a roadmap of unanswered questions which were then mapped on an impact/knowledge matrix. Sharing the high impact/known and unknown questions through the two teams increased speed and reduced waste.
Charlotte Gauthier (Product Manager, Wikimedia Foundation)
Building knowledge equity: bringing Wikipedia to emerging markets
Challenged to share the benefits of Wikipedia to India and Africa, Charlotte’s team began designing to the attributes of their personas. When the app they shipped mustered a mere 40 downloads they started to reflect. They decided to focus less on individual personas and turned to Job Stories in order to move their insight into outcomes.
Femke Van Schoonhoven (Product Designer, Uber)
Designing for global markets
Femke set out to make the process of cash handling more manageable for Latin American Uber drivers whose customers often make payments in cash. Her team soon became aware that they couldn’t just translate what they already knew into a new market, they needed to ‘localise’ their product. Spending time with the people using their product allowed them to add valuable context.
Steve Kato-Spyrou (UX manager, John Lewis)
Breaking silos at John Lewis: collaboration in a century-old organisation
Steve’s team set out to improve the unloved gifting experience at John Lewis. It was also an opportunity to develop the gifting concept with key members of distributed teams. Setting a vision, aligning stakeholders and ideating through facilitated workshops meant they could deliver their product into stores with input from the broader business.
Radu Chelariu (Product Design Manager, Paddy Power)
The trouble with Design Systems
Paddy Power’s digital brand identity wasn’t formalised which lead to the waste and misalignment of assets. Radu set out to build a shared playground for everyone in the team. He walked us through how, by making an inventory, identifying a taxonomy, building a platform and making lots of mistakes, Paddy Power are now successfully using the third version of their design system.
Lindsey Jayne and Hugo Cornejo (VP Product Management and Head of Design, Monzo)
People, Practice and Product
The team gave an overview of their working practices at Monzo and how they align to the Monzo goal of ‘making money work for everyone’. Lindsey shared her long-term outcomes which having been VP role for six weeks she admitted was work in progress. They covered visualising the whole product: planned, in progress and past, as well as experiments around squad health check-ins. Lindsey also talked about design principles and used the idea of consistency trumping uniformity from GOV.UK’s Design Principles. Hugo shared the progression paths for colleagues to identify what skills are needed to move forward through the business, explaining you don’t have to become a manager of people to progress if that’s not your thing.
Ian Curtis (Product Manager, The Telegraph)
Stakeholders: collaboration vs confrontation
Ian shared personal examples of his experiences as a Product Manager. When it comes to communicating with stakeholders, be yourself and find your own voice. A lesson learned after worrying how he should talk to another colleague to the point that the conversation almost didn’t happen. Another was when a casual chat with a colleague uncovered a significant problem with their product. In response to a product amendment request Ian asked the colleague “why?”. This allowed him to dig deeper into their needs and find the underlying problem which could be addressed by the team.
Gibson Biddle (Former VP Product, Netflix)
Netflix: Wicked hard decisions
Gibson shared stories from his Netflix days, giving examples of when the business had to make tough product decisions. From facing a $5M lawsuit to choosing to email customers at the end of their free trial, costing the business $50M in lost revenue. Reflecting on the Blockbuster era, Gibson explained how, by Netflix knowing the Blockbuster customer so well (they planted interns into Blockbuster stores to learn about customer behaviour), they were able to make the decision to sit back and watch the company fold over a nine-month period.
- All photos courtesy of JAM Conference
I’d recommend JAM Conference to anyone interested in product. The quality of speakers, venue and atmosphere provide a super useful environment for learning from others.
If you’d like a generous training budget to attend events like JAM, check out our jobs page.