5 key lessons from the INMA Product and Data Summit

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


We wrapped up the Product and Data Summit last week, and boy did I learn a lot. Nothing can replace the depth of content from the last two weeks, but today I want to share with you a few things that are still spinning in my mind.  

1. Great leaders have empathy and they listen 

Ok, this isn’t groundbreaking. But it is an excellent reminder because it’s true. We heard this echoed in many presentations. 

As Caroline Carruthers, author of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, told us, you DO NOT have to be a data scientist to be a leader in data, but you DO have to use data to tell stories focusing on outcomes that people can understand. 

Listening to user needs came out high on many speaker’s lists from Dmitry Shishkin to John Pipino. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on business goals. What we really need to do is look at where the business goals and the user needs align. 

And it’s not just our users. We need to listen to colleagues. By collaborating with different people and listening to the critiques, as well as the praise, we build stronger teams and better products. When talking about culture, both Louise Story, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, and Marcel Semmler, of Bauer, reminded us that without disagreement, no change will happen. Conflict can lead to great things if managed correctly. They agreed data isn’t a determining factor at every step, as did Gibson Biddle, former vice president of product at Netflix, who uses consumer science: data input + human decision-making.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to look beyond the reaction and the data. Sometimes people don’t agree with a change, and that may actually be because of another fear such as losing a job.

2. Objectives and goal setting are everything

Throughout the last 10 months of the Product Initiative and the discussions of many different ways of handling product, one thing has become clear: Goals and objectives need to be clear and easy to understand. This transparency, and being able to point to joint objectives, solves many internal issues. Gibson Biddle always starts the decision-making process by reminding people of the goals. Road mapping is as important for communication and storytelling as it is for planning purposes. 

Lippe Oosterhof was one of several speakers at the Summit who left attendees with lasting wisdom.
Lippe Oosterhof was one of several speakers at the Summit who left attendees with lasting wisdom.

Lippe Oosterhof, Yahoo’s head of product for news, entertainment, and lifestyle, told us that much of the value of setting OKRs (objectives and key results) comes from the process itself.

3. Some framework thinking

We went through a lot of practical frameworks that can be used. I’ve already seen three of these in action by attendees — that’s quick work! Here are a few frameworks and thought processes I found useful: 

  1. Product’s job is to delight customers with a hard to copy, margin-enhancing product. 

  2. Start small with frameworks and features, but think big for what will be needed in the long term.

  3. Using both data and colleagues’ ideas to hypothesise and then test helps us iterate products.

  4. Redefine user needs and how we think about what the user wants. Inspire me, educate me, and inform me are three user needs that have come up in a number of examples.

4. Netflix content people didn’t join their product meetings

Yes, that’s true: Netflix didn’t have content at their product meetings. That was big news and a shock to many. In Gibson’s view, he and his team focused on the experience, not the content. 

If you’re an editor, don’t throw your arms up in despair just yet. This is the polar opposite of what we heard from Louise Story, who was chief news strategist as well as chief product and technology officer at Dow Jones. She believes they are so inextricably linked that they must sit together. 

It should be remembered that Netflix is a different beast. There is one format and platform, the news is much more nuanced. But it is worth asking the question: If you started again fresh, how would you organise? Back to my earlier point — well Lippe Oosterhof’s earlier point: Much of the value can come from the thought process.

5. Don’t get too tied to a decision  

Something I think we often forget: Decisions can be low stakes and can be reversed. We make decisions, at least in part, on data. But data changes as we test and learn. Or *cough* sometimes we simply make the wrong call. Business is fluid, and so should we be. That’s why listening is so incredibly important.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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