#296 Patience in Product Thinking in Data – Building to Large-Scale Behavior Change – Interview w/ Darren Wood

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Transcript for this episode (link) provided by Starburst. You can download their Data Products for Dummies e-book (info-gated) here and their Data Mesh for Dummies e-book (info gated) here.

Darren’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darrenjwoodagileheadofproduct/

Darren’s Big Data LDN Presentation: https://youtu.be/vUjoJrl_MEs?si=WzB0sBStVIAyqDJs

In this episode, Scott interviewed Darren Wood, Head of Data Product Strategy at UK media and broadcast company ITV. To be clear, he was only representing his own views on the episode.

Scott note: I use “coalition of the willing” to refer to those willing to participate early in your data mesh implementation. I wasn’t aware of the historical context here, especially when it came to being used in war, e.g. the Iraq war of the early 2000s. I apologize for using a phrase like this.

Some key takeaways/thoughts from Darren’s point of view:

  1. Overall, when thinking about moving to product thinking in data, it’s as much about behavior change as action. You have to understand how humans react to change and support that. You can’t expect change to happen overnight – patience, persistence, and empathy are all crucial aspects. Transformation takes time and teamwork.
  2. ?Controversial?: In data mesh, it’s crucial to think about flexibility and adaptability of your approach. Things will change, your understanding of how you deliver value will change. Your key targets will change. Be prepared or you will miss the main point of product thinking in data.
  3. When choosing your initial domains and use cases in data mesh, think about big picture benefits. You aren’t looking for exact value measurements for return on investment but you also want to target a tangible impact, e.g. if we do X, we think we can increase Y part of the business revenue Z%.
  4. Zhamak defines a data product quite well in her book on data mesh. But data as a product is a much broader definition of bringing product management best practices to data. That’s harder to define but quite important to get right.
  5. When thinking about product discovery – what do data consumers actually need producers to create – there is often a big difference between consumers’ initial suggested requirements and what they actually want. It’s the role of data product management to bridge that gap and deliver what they need instead of what they requested.
  6. ?Controversial?: There is a big difference between data product management and regular product management: in regular product management, the ability to take requirements and go away and come back with something months later works. But data is about what’s happening with the business now and needs to evolve as the understanding of requirements evolves.
  7. Relatedly, data products need to be even less rigid than regular products because they are a reaction to the real world as it changes; you must focus on building something that flexible. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be reflecting what matters.
  8. When building data products, get to an MVP fast. Get something in people’s hands and evolve it to what they need/want. Don’t try to get it perfect. When it comes to doing data products well, there is far more collaboration than most people are used to around data work.
  9. When considering what to build, data producers need to ask consumers what question they are actually trying to answer rather than what dashboard do they want. Outcomes over outputs. It’s about what you are trying to do. Scott note: And then come to an agreement on the specifics – are you delivering data, the insights, or the ‘so what’?
  10. ?Controversial?: Data products can – and probably should? – absolutely look to address multiple business questions. But when you are thinking about your MVP, focus on what is the most critical question and the minimum requirements to address that question. You can improve the product but getting to first valuable insights is a great initial milestone to build off.
  11. ?Controversial?: Similarly, in regular product management, you can go away for six months and come back with something new and shiny but in data, it might take that long just to change two metrics on a dashboard because it took that long to clean up the data. And at the end no one cares, no one understands what the value was, and worst still people are annoyed because they don’t trust the new metrics.
  12. Relatedly, maybe consider MLP instead of MVP. No, not ‘My Little Pony’ but Minimum Lovable Product. What is the minimum you can deliver that someone will love – what are the need to haves instead of the nice to haves? What is at least one feature that users will love and can you deliver that early to maintain engagement as you deliver more aspects of value?
  13. Actually sit with users and see how they leverage your products. That’s a crucial aspect of product management, it shouldn’t be any different in data. It can be a bit harder sometimes to get to specifics but that doesn’t let you off the hook. It’s necessary work to do.
  14. ?Controversial?: Bring as many of the folks on the data product producer team as you can into the discussions with the initial data product consumer. That will give a more complete picture to the team. Don’t treat the rest of the team as ticket takers internally. And you can probably find and address challenges earlier – e.g. flagging a low quality data source – if everyone is more informed.
  15. As with anything in product management, prioritization is crucial. Focus on delivering value, not simply data products. Again, outcomes over outputs.
  16. Initial delivery of the data product to a consumer isn’t a mark of ‘done’, it’s a great place to focus on how the consumer actually uses and interacts with the data product. Get a sense of the friction points to find places to further improve it. No more throwing things – data projects – over the wall and treating them as done.
  17. Teams that understand product thinking in general are easier to teach product thinking around data. But for those teams that don’t understand product thinking at all yet, you will need to spend more time with them. It can seem obvious but each team has different educational needs to bring them to product thinking for data.
  18. You can’t try to win over everyone to something like treating data as a product yourself. You need to find your champions and advocates and then provide platforms internally for them to spread the messages of value and success. It’s not only about delivering value but showing that off a bit too to get others excited. Use momentum levers.
  19. When choosing your first domains to work with and finding your first data products for data mesh, look for people that are enthusiasts. You want partners early on, not someone you have to constantly convince. Also look for data products that will be reusable to find additional users to provide additional value. It’s as much about building momentum as it is about delivering value early.
  20. ?Controversial?: Behavior change is a crucial aspect of implementing data mesh. You have to understand behavior change takes time. And you have to know where you will be rigid and where you will be more flexible. If you say my way or the highway, most people are just going to head for the highway. You have to work out what is non-negotiable early.
  21. Relatedly, behavior change happens at different paces for different people. That will happen inside your organization too. Look to build up the critical mass, that momentum, over time so people feel like they are joining a successful movement. But you need to do your internal PR to make sure they know about it – data success isn’t self-evident.
  22. During your transition to data mesh – and is it ever really done? -, you will have data sources that aren’t part of the mesh. It will potentially be hard to integrate those with data from the mesh because your data in your data mesh has legal and governance at the core. Sources outside the mesh tend to have one-off policy approaches applied. Be prepared for some tension and consternation.
  23. In most cases, people will inherently trust existing data sources over new data sources. That will be a challenge to your data mesh adoption. Even if they objectively know the quality is better with the new source, it’s human nature to trust what you already know more all else being equal. Involve consumers heavily in the conversations about what is changing and why. Pushing change on people is likely to cause pushback. No one wants change to happen to them instead of with them.
  24. When doing Domain Driven Design (DDD) in data mesh, do NOT try to start with all your domains at once. Look to find ones that are capable enough and that you can learn from to make it easier to partner with other domains in the future.
  25. Relatedly, your domain map will change. That’s a part of DDD. Don’t try to hold onto things rigidly.

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All music used this episode was found on PixaBay and was created by (including slight edits by Scott Hirleman): Lesfm, MondayHopes, SergeQuadrado, ItsWatR, Lexin_Music, and/or nevesf

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