Ken Norton of Google Ventures on Making New Mistakes


This year’s Product Management Festival took place in Zurich from 15th through 18th September. Ken Norton was in charge of the final keynote. What a stellar presentation!

This year’s WOW keynote at the Product Management Festival came at the very end of the conference when Ken Norton proposed to „Make New Mistakes“. He outlined a few key points that product managers and organisations shouldn’t get wrong. Or learn from the mistakes and not make them again…

Ken stated that failing is quite normal. Or, how many products are created and how many are a success? If we already fail, we should learn from it and gather as much data as possible in order to improve on us. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn famously stated

We don’t celebrate failure in Silicon Valley.
We celebrate learning.

Reid Hoffman, CEO LinkedIn

Ken Norton on Products…

When it comes to product creation, probably the single most important aspect is to understand the product/market fit. Another one is to think big enough or a competitor will slip past your endeavor.

Ken Norton presenting on 10x projects at Google

Ken Norton on 10x projects at Google

When it comes to users you should never ignore power users. And then again you need to avoid the chasm that may occur between web savvy early adopters and potential mass market users. Michael Eckhardt had a dedicated presentation on that very topic.

Michael Eckhard from the Chasm Institute speaking on Crossing the Chasm

Michael Eckhard from the Chasm Institute on Crossing the Chasm

Ken Norton continued that we should not confound ourselves with the target audience. Usability testing can help in this domain as Jock Busutil from Product People nicely pointed out in his presentation.

Jock Busutil from Product People speaking on efficient usability testing

Jock Busutil from Product People on efficient usability testing

… and Processes…

Another major trap according to Ken is just doing the next thing. Once a product is out, many product managers content with operational tasks in order to make the product more perfect if they chose a „minimum viable product“ approach (which they probably should).

Ken Norton: Just doing the next thing

Problem with that is, the ever faster Internet development will overtake slow movers. That’s why at Google they take the 10x factor approach: Things should improve on a large scale.

With this obviously also comes the responsibility to say no and decide what not to do since resources are ALWAYS scarce…

A good way to keep teams aligned to business goals is to define quarterly objectives and key results OKRs. But OKRs are not task lists, performance review tools or the „how“. OKRs are set at the company and team levels.

Arguing with opinions, not data

Also, arguing with opinions, not data, is a bad habit. Or as Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO, famously put it:

If we have data, let’s look at data.
If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine!

Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO

… and People

Then product managers should also reflect, whether they are more of a funnel or an umbrella, i.e. whether they absorb praise and deflect blame properly.

Umbrella vs funnel functionality

Not escalating to senior management is another sin according to Ken. After all, that’s what management is there for, take the tough calls, right? When different teams argue about the way forward and they can’t find consensus, they should call in a manager to decide.

Apparently at Google this process now works nicely without the teams having to escalate as they know what the manager might decide. Hence they agree before without asking what to do.

In this regard it helps to hire diverse people with different skillsets. That will give the discussion more varied angles.

BTW, last year’s stellar keynote was by Marty Cagan as posted here.



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Walter Schärer bloggt über neuste Internet-Trends im Online Marketing, Social Media, Blogs, Web Analytics, SEO, Mobile und so.

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