Conscious Product Management
How can we make better, more inclusive, more equitable, more conscious products? In this episode, Lisa Zane, CEO and Founder of Conscious Product Development shares how product managers and product teams can build more conscious products and solve the right problems for the right reasons. Learn more from Lisa at www.consciousproductdevelopment.com.
product, people, product managers, impact, question, understand, building, problem, wrote, accessibility, team, tech, startup, called, conversation, company, aligned, product development, world, leaders
Welcome to Product voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.
Hello, and welcome to product voices, we have a very important conversation today. How can we make better, more inclusive, more equitable, more conscious products, I think that's really a responsibility of every product manager out there to ensure that their products not only meet a customer need and customer value, and have some value to the business. But we also need to make products that are better for the world. And we need to make sure that at an absolute minimum, our products are doing no harm. And so this conversation is going to be really all about how we as product managers and as product teams can develop products and have a very intentional approach about building great products. My guest today is Lisa Zane, she is founder of conscious product development. Her purpose is to help product team solve the right problems for the right reasons, and develop products and careers more consciously, in ways that are inclusive, holistic, ethical, accessible and sustainable. Lisa previously worked at Google and with Bowers hockey. She's also a three time National Hockey champion at McGill University, which is very cool. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me.
Thanks for having me here, JJ.
Yeah, I'm excited. So okay, so let's just set the path a little bit more. I obviously gave a quick bio on you. But talk to me a little bit more about your path into product.
Yeah. So I think like a lot of PMS. Kind of weird and windy. I started my backgrounds in in biomechanics in journalism. I did a master's degree in partnership with Bauer hockey, did a whole bunch of like product development, work with them. And then I went on to study journalism for a whole lot of reasons, which is a much longer conversation that we have time for now. And from there, I ended up I did an internship with CBC daybreak, I worked at a production company for a bit, where we got to do factual series, and documentaries for Discovery Channel and National Geographic. And I did a little bit of freelance writing as well. And ultimately, the thing that kind of put me on the product path was, I call them I had a lot of life slapping me in the face moments, kind of back to back to back to back. I won't go into like all the detail, but essentially, I was involved in a shooting. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. I was in a bus accident where I was actually taking the bus in Montreal, and we T boned a car. So I was standing in the middle of the bus and kind of in the blink of an eye was at the windshield. My partner at the time, we had been together for like eight and a half years, we went on a trip, got bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease that caused bilateral facial paralysis. My aunt who was a cyclist who was like my hero, she was doing a training ride in Toronto and was hit by an SUV and killed and the list goes on. But essentially, I was kind of like, what is happening? Oh, this is crazy. And now I did something that that you mean, sounds really dorky. But I basically just had a complete meltdown. And at the end of it, I you know, I went to therapy. And I wrote on a napkin all of the things that I wanted to change in my life and why so that I could feel more aligned. And I think I had done some of those things before, but I had never fully questioned the why. And one of the biggest things that came out of that exercise for me was that, you know, I had been part of a team since I was four years old, in sports and in kind of different facets of of the work that I've done. And I had been interviewing people and telling their stories, and I felt like I was really missing out on being being part of a team building something that was adding meaningful value to people's lives. I felt very much like I was on the outside of life looking in. So that kind of kick started me into sending a cold email to a startup in Montreal, I had seen a picture they posted on a Facebook group of a gym I was a member of I said you know, I have no idea if you're looking to hire but I feel like I can totally get behind what you're doing. And here's my background. I'd love to help you grow. Fast forward a week later I'm I'm now in an interview and then I ended up getting hired and I became the fourth full time employee of this very, very early stage startup as their biomechanics lead and then that segwayed into being their product manager. So in my free Product roll. I was pm number one at a startup had no idea what I was doing. Since then I've been almost predominantly working with startups on moonshot types of projects in the Health Tech and wearable spaces, and I was part of a startup that got acquired by Google in 2020. And then I've kind of Springboard it to do my doing my own thing starting about a year ago.
Wow. Well, first of all, oh my gosh, like, how can that many awful things happen? To one person I can imagine? thoughts on why is this happening to me? Because that is that is crazy. And I'm glad that you know, you've made it out. And, and you've done some amazing, amazing things from that. So talk to me a little bit about what you just mentioned, what you've been doing for like the last year, your your company conscious product development? Tell me about? What led you to start that was it some of those things that happened? Was it you know, a combination of, of, you know, learning Product Management? Or what was it? Tell me a little bit about the business? And tell me what kind of made you start this business?
Yeah, so it was a little bit of a mix of everything. It's like a giant Venn Diagram of everything colliding in one place. So definitely, my worldview and life experiences fed into this. I feel like just on a career front, I've been part of, you know, not only a lot of different types of projects, but a lot of different projects in different industries. So I have, I think, a very broad perspective. And then within product, I think my perspective is also quite unique in that I've worked on very niche types of products, in niche product areas, like smart glasses, for instance. I think that kind of seeing everything that's been happening in the world and our society in general, plus, my my experience plus my, the things I've lived through in my life, and my perspective, being someone who is gay living with a disability, or coming from an athletics background, being part of a blended family, things like that. All kind of mix into, I think the biggest thing I was realizing working in tech is that I was seeing so many, you know, people being siloed to tiny boxes and not really jumping into why are we solving this problem, and who are we solving it for but but first jumping into let's jump, you know, let's let's solution, this, let's find a great solution to, to bring this to people. And that can actually create a lot more problems. So I decided to create conscious product development for a couple of different reasons. I wanted personally to do something that I felt was more aligned with, with my vision and my purpose and the way that I you know, what my values are and how I want to live my life. I also wanted to do something that that was having a larger impact. I think that there are a ton of opportunities to change things starting in small ways, in tech, from a lot of the things that I've I've seen and that I've you know, heard through others experiences. And also, I wanted to do something that gave me a little bit more freedom. At the time I decided to launch this I had just gotten diagnosed with something called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which is a genetic connective tissue disorder that impacts the way your collagen is produced and metabolized. And you've got collagen and so many different systems in your body. And I had just herniated three discs in my back around the time that the Google acquisition happened, and I joined the Google team. So I was dealing with like, kind of, you know, a second round of like life slapping me in the face moments that really made me question everything for which I'm now very grateful for. So long story short, I started this because I was really questioning what my was what I want my impact to be. And pairing that with the challenges that I see in the tech landscape and in the world in general.
Yeah, so you're, you're really bringing your your passion to live, which is, which is amazing. What do you think? Are the factors influencing the way that products are developed right now? And maybe specifically, you know, are? Do you see any kind of change in the way organizations are looking at creating, you know, ethical products and being conscious about the way that they develop products?
I think that the conversation is starting to change, I think so far, you know, the way that products have been developed have been very heavily influenced by by money and capitalism and where that capital is coming from, by our society, I think we've become very like fast food kind of society where we're looking for the next quick hit versus actual nutrition. Looking at, you know, it's much more immediately rewarding to to have a solution mindset versus to have a problem mindset and to jump into like, Wait, why don't we find meaningful problems to solve instead of, Hey, I found a really good solution for this thing. Looking at the kind of company culture in a lot of tech companies, I think has influenced how products are developed. I think there's a lot of good that comes from the way that that Tech has revolutionized how we do things, but there's a dark side to that as well. And then also The way that leaders operate, I think there are some great leaders and there are some leaders who operate very, very large companies who haven't done the inner work and maybe don't have, you know, an inner guiding compass that connects to how you know what their legacy is, and how they're impacting the world and what they want that impact to be.
So I want to take a step back for a second, and I want to have you define what you believe? Or what you mean, by inclusive products, ethical products, products that make a difference in the world. What does that mean to you? How would you define a product from that context?
Yeah, that's a great question. So I think I think the products that are developed in this vein are very good at understanding the root problem to be solved. They have validated that is a good problem to solve that impacts a lot of people. There are a lot, you know, I could go on a whole tangent about problem finding. The UN released a list of sustainable development goals, I think that's a great place to start if people are looking for meaningful problems to solve. And there's been a split between, well, that's nonprofit work. And I fundamentally disagree with that, I think we can take that and run with it and actually build companies and products that are mutually beneficial. We're solving good problems and able to keep our businesses afloat. On the inclusive side of things, I think being more cognizant of the people that we are building the products that we are building for, who are we leaving out who is vulnerable, conducting pre mortems, to understand what unintended consequences could our products have on X, Y, and Z groups? What biases are we bringing into products that we are developing, that could be just, you know, from our own upbringings, it could be on a cultural level, it could be a company level of biases, things like that. Really questioning on an ethical side of things like, you know, what is the what is the imprint, we're leaving, and, you know, physicians have to, you know, go through the Hippocratic Oath. And I think that in product development, and in tech, we don't necessarily have to do that. And there's a lot of loose ends. So if we can kind of question you know, are we taking responsibility for the product that we're bringing into the world and the impact that we're having on people, that's huge. And then accessibility and sustainability are also big pieces of that, where I think there's so many examples throughout history of products being built with accessibility in mind, for people that live with disabilities, and I'm included in that population now. That actually benefit everyone as a whole closed captioning is a great example of that. And lastly, on the sustainability, front, understanding, you know, what is the environmental impact that we're having, and how we're in kind of a crisis situation, I think, you know, we don't know exactly how much time we have left if we don't change things. So being cognizant of that, and not just remaining on autopilot is is a really big piece of the puzzle.
I think that's a great overview and, and definition and context, I think that sometimes we throw around buzzwords in business, and we all get behind them. But we don't really know what that means. And we certainly don't know what that means from our perspective and what we can do about it. So I love that. So thank you for kind of laying that out for us. If if there are folks out there listening product managers, or product teams, or anyone in product, who are listening right now, and they want to do something immediately to start to think more consciously, about products they're building or or you know, will be building, what advice do you have? What can they do?
So, I think I think there are a couple of gaps that exist, I think gap number one is, is having empathy and like having the awareness to care enough, you know, caring is the first step. I think the second gap is, is okay, what do I actually do about it. So surrounding yourself with people that are doing things in this space, I can give a couple of examples as well. And I put together a couple of tools that I think I sent you the links to already data. So we'll link to and this gets posted. But But awareness is huge. And trying to understand people's experiences, I think goes much longer way than a lot of us initially realize. What you know, one example of this is I went to a workshop recently by dq systems, and they make accessibility software and they had someone speaking who just brought up it, he did a screen share. And he showed what his experience is like trying to buy bus tickets as someone with a visual impairment. And honestly, it like blew my mind. And that was one of the things that kind of was the catalyst for me wanting to do more accessibility. So I was like, I actually don't know a lot about this area. And like, I'm not an expert, and I want to learn more so that I can help to at least change things in a small way. And then once you have that awareness is like taking responsibility. So not just saying it's like not in my backyard problem. I think all of these things that we were talking about so far. They're in all of our backyards in some way. Being able to own own them and say, Hey, like yeah, this is you know, even though I might work at a large To company or even though I don't feel like I have a ton of influence, there are small things I think I can do so that I can know that I did my part or I tried my best or I did something. And then action. So what does that something actually look like? I think I think looking at some of the people that I've followed people like Rodica dot Pavani Rodica dot wrote radical product thinking Pavani ready wrote ethical product development. There are tons of leaders in the accessibility space that are doing really awesome things Kat noon, the founder of Stark people like Sarah Lux Lee and the inclusion and belonging space, who's the CEO of minder, people like Holly Schroeder, who she wrote a chapter in 97 Things Every UX practitioner should know, on accessibility. And then even following people like like Marty Kagan, who wrote inspired and empowered, I think those those books are amazing at getting us to understand how can we harness our, our collective abilities to work together and structure teams to work in the right way. And people like Ken Norton, who writes articles around, you know, things like the tools don't matter. I think combining all these different like aspects to like, help us figure out okay, like, Well, where can I have an impact on? What can I do? Taking i The Center for humane technology has a great course called Foundations of humane technology that I would recommend everybody take. I think I think one of the biggest things that we can do individually is to really question what our own why's are also to understand, hey, like, what's driving me? What's my purpose? What do I want my legacy to be? What are my values? How can I live those every day? And then playing that out? When you're when you're doing your job? When you're figuring out what am I putting my time and energy into? It could look like you know, you do you do the CH T course and then and then you work through some of those things, you share it with your team, it could look like you're in a meeting, you're put your hand and you're putting your hand up to ask a question about maybe a group of users, that's maybe being discluded that you've identified, or thought about by doing a pre mortem, it could look like as a product manager, including more line items around inclusion and accessibility, when you're writing product requirements. And then those becoming you know, pillars of of the core product that you're working on. I think the mistake that a lot of people make is that they have to start really big. And I think for change to happen, you have to start in very small ways. And then right now, I think the thing that I'm trying to do is to start, start the initial conversation and keep some of the conversations that have been started going.
So I love that advice. I have a question for you on leaders. So obviously, we want leaders to mirror the behaviors that you just mentioned, that that product managers can do. But are there other things that leaders can do to set up an environment to make it conducive for product managers and product teams to really be conscious about the products that we're building? And putting out in the world?
Yes, I think I think some of the areas that that we have, that we can actually like dig into are setting up environments with kind of like product development processes that facilitate these types of decisions being made and these types of things being included. Before doing that, though, I think it starts with like the base team that you've got, you know, how, how many perspectives do you have on your team? Where are the people on your team coming from? Do you have people coming from different backgrounds and life experiences? I think that part is is is such an important role in in kind of everything that follows? Do you have people of diverse backgrounds in decision making positions? Then looking at the actual product development process? Like okay, have we identified a meaningful problem to find? And have we framed that problem really well and understood, you know, who does this problem impact and deeply, you know, empathizing with those the people that it does impact, and like feeding things through like a kind of sequential product development process, versus it being completely scattered and like, kind of like, ship it fast? In whatever way we can. I know, it has to start like that initially in scrappy ways, in a lot of cases, because of the constraints that teams are dealing with. But I think there's ways to approach kind of finding meaning in the middle, if you could say, where you you kind of understand, Okay, well, what is our North Star as a company? What does success look like? To us? That one's huge, because you know, you what you measure is what you focus on. And I think a lot of companies set up their metrics in a way that it's just impossible to focus on doing things in the way that we're discussing in this conversation when the metrics are set up in certain ways. Having a clear product vision and product strategy. I think a lot of teams just jump right into the roadmap and requirements before actually setting things up setting setting up a good foundation around here's the future we want to create. And this is why and here's how we're going to do it. Here's how we're going to position ourselves. Having clear product pillars or product tenants in place so that it becomes a lot easier for the team to act in an empowered way and make Decisions down the line in a way that's already been aligned with on a higher level around what you know, what do we think is most important for our users. And for us, as we're building this, I think a lot of those steps get lost along the way on the process front. And lastly, I think, understanding how to facilitate more open conversations and create environments that are more, you know, two way or three way or four way, I think a lot of companies operate with like a hierarchical system where they've got the leadership kind of sitting at the top, and then they've got all the teams underneath and the way that I kind of view things, and maybe this is totally off the wall. But I think about a spider web a lot. So if you've got a spider that's kind of like on the outskirts of the web, they've got the context around you. Where is this web being built? What structures Am I attaching this to, like they've got on the ground in the weeds details that the people in the in the middle of the web don't have. So if you've got a leadership team, they've got the bird's eye view. And that's a perspective that the the builders on kind of on the outskirts of the web don't have. But if you can facilitate really great conversations and an open communication, so that each each party has a, you know, the context that they're missing. I think that that really goes a long way in helping develop products in the right way.
Yeah, I love that advice. I think it's, it's all really important insights for leaders to try and set that set that environment up. Okay, so one other question a little a little broader. Because I know that you not only help people build better, more inclusive conscious products, but you also help people with their product management career. So in fact, you just put out a great new resource called the product managers Career Guide, I believe, tell me what you would suggest or advise for product managers who want to build a better career, but to your point earlier, a career that matches with their values and the imprint that they want to leave on the world.
Yeah, so I think the first thing I would, I would say is, there are two kinds of hard, there's the kind of hard that comes with making safe decisions and doing things in the way that kind of follows the grain. And then realizing somewhere down the line, that you're not feeling great inside, like, you feel misaligned. You feel like something's not quite right. And you maybe don't know what it is. That's hard. Because at that point, you'll have to figure out okay, well, how do I change this, and I've already put this many years into this. The second kind of hard the, is the hard that comes with doing deep work and thinking upfront to figure out, you know, if I don't have you know, I don't know how much time I have left, this is something that I went through, I don't know how much time I have left, specifically after the shooting out. This was my one thought, like, man, like, I don't know, I don't know how much time I have left, like, how do I make this time matter? And I think sometimes that, you know, for me, it took pretty drastic measures to like, make me think like that. And I think if I can impart some of that on on people that I'm that I'm working with, or people that are listening, so they don't have to, like have their back against the wall to think through some of those things. To to question, you know, what do I want to be putting my time and energy into right now? And why are these things important to me. And I have a, I can actually link a template that I use with my clients right now that I work with one on one, where we go through, like, it sounds really kind of hippie ish, and more on the, I guess, like holistic side of things. But I honestly think it's like, it is a game changer to think about, you know, what do you want people to say about you at your eulogy? What kinds of things do you know not? Like, if you think about your values, and a lot of people will say like, specific things, but then if they actually look at what happened, you know, how do they live? What is their actual day look like? It can often be very different. So I think linking, okay, these are the things that are important to me, here, I want to own a let's create a system so that I can actually like embody these values day to day in what I'm doing now, I think I think those two things are huge in the beginning. And then really understanding you know, what, what problems basis do I care about the most? I think JP Mitchell did an awesome TED talk on this called the challenge mindset. And it was in the realm of education and how to, you know, help students figure out their career paths, but I think this is huge for product managers, because we have such an ability to impact you know, people's lives. So if we can think about that for our own life and understand okay, yeah, these these problem areas, like I really care about climate change, or I really care about like health tech, or I really care about empowering women and families alike. Understanding what those problems spaces look like to you and like why you care about them, I think is a different approach to be able to kind of apply your your efforts and skills in a direction that's kind of more aligned with the connection that you'll have to to the world to other people's lives into areas that you're going to impact far long after you're gone. And once you've got those kinds of things mapped out, I think, then you can start to get into the more traditional like product, the kinds of conversations like, you know, what stage of a company do I want to join? What kind of leader do I want to work with? What type of, you know, what stage of product? Do I want to be part of right now? What meshes with my skill set? And you can work in things like doing 360 feedback, just have like more awareness around. Okay, where am I? Where am I at right now? And then where do I want to go based on the trajectory that you've already kind of outlined?
Yeah, that's some really good advice there. I think that that product managers who, you know, are looking to either move, you know, in their career, or even folks who are looking to get into product management for the first time can really take a lot of heat to those words. And by the way, we will link to the resources that you've mentioned on product voices.com Lisa Zane, this has been an inspiring and wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me and for sharing your story and your wisdom with us.
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. And thank you all for
joining us on product voices. Hope to see in the next episode.
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
The Product Manager’s Career Guide Use code JJ for a discount
www.consciousproductdevelopment.com (website + writing + you can sign up for my newsletter - Stream of Consciousness - that I send out every Tuesday morning)
Creative Ways to Find Your Own Product Market Fit - Women in Tech Global Talk (Free + available on Youtube)
Finding Meaningful Problems to Solve (A free 7-page guide you can use if you’re not sure where to start to a) understand how to find meaningful problems to solve or b) validate if a problem you want to solve is a good problem to solve)
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