UX24/7 Product leadership interview with KP Frahm

Paul Blunden: Hello, I’m Paul, Blunden, founder of UX247. And we help product owners, researchers and designers deliver high performing products and services.

Today is another interview in my series with product leaders, and I’ll be talking to one of the founders of Field and co-creator of the Product Field a sense making framework for product development. But we will hear more about that later. For now let’s meet KP.

Okay, great to see you again. Can I ask you to introduce yourself for our audience?

KP Frahm: Sure, Paul. let me do that. I’m KP, I’m co-founder of Field. And we provide software and services to organizations and teams who aim to become product centric. Which basically means that they consider their internal and external products as the centre of their organization.

And yeah, well, that’s what we circle around. And we offer our services. Maybe you can dive into that a little bit more elaborate than that later in the questions.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, I hope so. It’s one of the reasons I’m really interested to talk to you, because it’s certainly something we observe going on in our customers. And how long have you been working in in field. I know it’s your own agency. And what encouraged you to launch the business.

KP Frahm: Well, I’m in product like forever. I started my professional career in the web frenzy in the early nineties. So there was a lot of a product developmental plot creation going on back then in the tech way, and as you can imagine over the decades, I learned a handful or two of stuff that let me grow, but also. let the companies and the products grow that I was involved in. Not all of them. Obviously tailors out of it as well and at some point I realized that well, maybe a lot of the stuff can be used or reused for the stuff that the insights and the learnings that I get together, and not just myself, but with peers around me.

And so we worked on kind of yeah tools cognitive tools facilitation tools to help ourselves and other organizations. get better at product development, basically. And that started 10 years ago. and the company that I found the co-founded. right, that I’m involved in right now is from yeah, we’d be started in the midst of the first lockdown of the pandemic which it was interesting experience to start a company in that kind of environment.

But anyway, it was worth it. It. It was really, really fun to do that. And yeah, that’s basically in a short and nutshell. what what I am well, my, my path towards this, this company or this you call it agency. It’s kind of an agency. It’s also a software company how I’m at right now.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, of course, apologies. Because you’re right. And the software aspect of I’m really interested in. Because, yeah, the company, I mean behind the company. It’s around the product field, isn’t it? Can you tell a bit more about that?

KP Frahm: Yes, the product field is our key tool that we have developed like 10 years ago. as I mentioned before, we are, we are always interested in how we can generalize principles generalized learning that we gathered along the way. And at some point we thought, well, what we actually might need is a visual tool that will not just allow us as product people, but also all the other people in the organization we work with, or we worked in to be part of that product development process or product development contacts and visual need it. It needs to be visual, because if you don’t visualize these kinds of coherences and relationships between people and aspects of product. It’s very hard for people to follow that.

So we created a visual tool for just that. We call it a sense making framework for collaborative work on the product and product strategy.  And that happens. Yeah, we’ve reduced that framework 2015, I guess, in in Hamburg as a tool that we use our self and then it somehow became a thing, at least at first, in a in a German community, and then even internationally, organizations picked up on that method to yeah, to become a little bit more serious about dealing with the inherent complexity of products innovation.

So that’s the product for you that I can surely tell you about the product feed itself, but that would maybe require another session, and maybe even some visual tools, because it’s very hard to describe something that is actually meant to be visual, but without using a visual whiteboard or something.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, I completely understand. And obviously through Field you work with a range of organizations. Can I ask, how you see the sort of focus on product evolving in those organizations from your perspective. You mentioned sort of working with companies who want to be product centric, what’s going on there in your view?

KP Frahm: Well, when you look at the companies, the product companies specifically in tech that are really successful. they have a few things in common, and one of the things that they have in common is in my observation is what we call product centricity. And it’s not the opposite of customer centricity or user centricity. that’s complete, different a different flight, level or different aspect. Here it’s really how, how the how they organize their, the companies and this product centricity actually comes in in, in various shapes and various appearances. The first that we all know it’s called entrepreneurship made famous in the eighties by Steve Jobs, who created the Macintosh as an entrepreneur outside the main building of Apple having gathered a team around him that was fully autonomous like you build it. You run it and you sell it.

Everything was there. And that was really the first big product centric approach that we all know of. We don’t call it product centric. But it’s basically what it means. And then there are a lot of different models that that appeared or emerged over time, that I actually as a specific shape of product centricity like this Spotify model. We all know that never really happened, but still the concept was valuable. It’s a, it’s, it’s, it’s product centricity at its best. It’s like the squads that are autonomous, aligned by strategy. That is basically what we mean by product centricity, or you know, Martin Fowler, who is one of the guys who sign this this agile manifesto when he introduced this micro services architecture, that as little project, a little services that are like value streams like internal products built autonomously.

So that is kind of the technical interpretation of product centricity or there are different other shapes like I the the Amazon way, you know like banana, for with the CTO of Amazon who said, you build it, you run it so that’s kind of one principle of product centricity that you don’t just have this guy who’s developed with his team, who’s developing software. And then this is team who’s in charge of delivery. And then there’s a charge of discovery. And then there’s someone in charge of this distribution. Now it’s one team who has to who is accountable for the whole experience of the product, be it an internal product, or next time a problem. And that’s what I mean when I say product centricity. That’s what’s happening.

I have a lot of different appearances, and I could go on for that, but it forever, because that’s I’m really passionate and ambitious when it comes to product centricity. And yeah, let me just stop here and focus on other stuff.

Paul Blunden: Well, thank you that thanks. I mean the descriptions really useful to sort of put a stake in the ground about what you mean by that. And one of the things I want to understand through this series of interviews is sort of building a picture of the kind of problems product owners of product teams face. And it’ I mean, I’m trying to sort of get an overall view. But if you, if you’ve got a view on the top 3 or what do you think the main issues are? It would be really interesting to understand, particularly around the sort of changes to the way the organizations worked.

KP Frahm: are you referring to the product team or to the role of the product owner?

Paul Blunden: I think the product team, actually, because what I’ve learned well, I mean, be interested in your perspective on both. Because what I’ve learned through these interviews is the role of the product owner seems to depend on the individual, the organization, the structure they have rather than any sort of set method. So it’s hard to say that one in particular, because it can be different in any organization.

KP Frahm: Exactly. That’s what I observed as well. if we talk about the product owner. there is a lot of room for interpretation, a lot of diversity out there, and I just had a had a discussion with one of the leading voices in this whole product. Owner thing in Germany. Tim. Klein. He has a podcast about that. It’s really kind of he knows the stuff. And we couldn’t even agree on the term product. What is the product. And so it was really difficult to talk about the role of the product owner, and it was very interesting discussion. And so what I see is but it very much depends on individual strings, and approaches, and attitudes and stuff like that.

But what I find interesting is when you look at the product owner, all of it. If we regard it as a as as a part of the scrum robot of the of the command process. If we just reduce it to that what I find there are basically 3 different impediments or problems that they face organizations especially specifically in regard to users and customers, because that’s what they are actually meant to work for they, they, they have to bring in the customer and user perspective into the process. Right? That’s their the the purpose.

And the first thing is that they actually often really don’t want to deal with users and customers. And that’s again, how they are individually structured. They don’t really care. They’ve been okay. Well, I I do the backlog refinement, or whatever that’s fine.

And the second thing is that they want to, but they don’t really know how to deal with users and customers. Maybe they have some dashboards with user and analytics and stuff like that, but really dealing with the actual needs of users and customers. talking to them and really understanding that that’s not easy, right? And if you are just a standard certified product owner. That’s basically not what you’re what you’re educated or trained for.

And the third thing is. you really want that, and you really know how to do it. But you are not allowed to do that and that’s one of the main problems I face me personally. But when I talk to product owners and companies, we’re really ambitious about it. But then they say, Okay, no, they don’t let me talk to customers. my, because either it’s the product manager. But this whole you know, with the whole a market view and the viability of the business and marketability, and all that, and this person might be allowed to talk to customers. But even though maybe not or it’s the sales people, the mark, the people who say, No, no, no, this is our domain. Please don’t. please don’t get in touch with our customers. You, you would only confuse them. And that’s, I think, very, very big problem that you just even if you want to do that, that you are not allowed to do it.

Paul Blunden: it seems in I mean you. You know my agency is a research agency. So we talk to customers all the time. It seems incredible that brands you know, they don’t allow their product teams to talk to customers.

And you mentioned about products and interest you earlier, and that it’s not the same as customer centricity. How customer centric are the brands you work with?

KP Frahm: yeah, is some more than others. Obviously. So that’s a spectrum, obviously. And it’s not just a spectrum in terms of, okay, these companies are user centric. And these are not all these are in the middle. It’s all also spectrum over time for every one of those. So being product-centric or aiming for a product-centric operating model is usually enabling those companies to be more user and customer centric if it comes to discovery.

So that’s basically how these things fit together. The one thing is how you organize your teams. And this would enable you and the product team to be more customer and user centric in terms of discovery and research.

so that’s basically part of being product centric, that this is that, there is a strong focus on on these kinds of things. And the more product centric you get as a company. the more likely this to to be more user centrics when it comes to creating user value.

So that’s my experience. And there are some companies who are further along this path than others, obviously, and as some are really interested in speeding up that process, and some aren’t so, but that’s reality. Right? but the main thing is these things have are connected product centricity and user centricity and my goal is to enable that or to facilitate these companies and these organizations into that direction.

Paul Blunden: And do you think this is a question, then, of maturity, of the organization? The more mature ones are more customer centric, or well, what are the barriers then, that that stop them getting there?

KP Frahm: A maturity is a is a is a difficult concept. Because what? What? What does it mean, anyway, I mean maturity in regard to what? So there are a lot of mature companies around that are not really good at these things and the other way around.

So I don’t know if it’s a matter of security, it’s rather a matter of ambition in the top leadership. And what I realized is that companies that are led by people who are just managers and not owners. that they tend to be less risk willing. And they don’t want to change things that much. They say, Okay, this is all established. That’s just drag along. It’s good enough and if you are. If someone was really invested with skin in the game. then these people really well, they have a drive towards this kind of change and towards a user uses centricity and also organizing of a company around products

Paul Blunden: that’s really interesting. And then I wanted to move the conversation on to maybe asking you about a product success that your project or engagement you’re particularly proud of. particularly, perhaps, where the product field has played a role.

KP Frahm: yeah, I mean the that I let me ask answer this in in in 2 steps. The first is my, my, my favourite product that I have been involved in as a back. Then in the mid nineties, I I wasn’t the product manager because product management role was purely for fast moving consumer goods. we didn’t have these product management roles back then for digital and so that was basically my first product that I that I created and that was it’s still around and still growing. And it didn’t have anything to do with the product for you, because it was like a long time ago.

But I learned a lot of stuff that came but that I used to developing the product field. And this is called a precipportal pressport. It’s a German platform for yeah, for organizations to put their statements make their statements public, and for journalists to address these or to have a look at these and that that was kind of interesting experience. Back then, that was when I fell in love with that. And it’s obviously the first successful product that you are involved in is maybe like the first child you have, or something that you are really connected to. So that’s the that’s the first thing.

But when it comes to using the product field it’s not really a product that I’m proud of. It’s how the product with this company, the specific company to use the product for you to understand what they need to do to become a product centric organization because it’s also an assessment tool. So what we did was we? We use the product for you to assess the, the, the strategic quality of all the products. And then we found patterns. How the organization. didn’t do very well in specific areas.

And so the CEO learned that with that kind of assessment and said, Okay, if if that’s the case, we need to invest in that specific area which was organizational change because the specific area that they invested it was we have to create a real, powerful product development unit people that are really capable of leading a product development process.

And that was that was then I’m still really proud. And that was kind of the first moment when I realized that the product is not just to use it for a specific product, innovation or product. But it’s also an assessment that will allow an organization to understand the state or the maturity of their organization when it comes to product centric when it comes to being digitally competent. And so that’s what I think the product added the most value when I look at it from now.

Paul Blunden: I think it’s one of the I’ve only got to learn about the product field recently. Actually, we’ve used it in one of our clients. And one of the things I love about it is that that impact on the organization.

I have a background in sort of Hr stuff. But it seems all of the conversations I have with product leaders in all the different roles, nearly all of the challenges of humans, people, Organization related and having tools that help to visualize what’s going on there, I think. so valuable. Because yeah, it just seems to hold organizations back to the organizations kind of become these Frankensteinian monsters that that don’t really work very effectively.

yeah, anyway. one of the things that I I want to understand, which is probably going to play a role in that is whether you had a view on AI and how it might affect the product arena in particular or product teams, if it if it will at all any of you.

KP Frahm: Well, and there is a spectrum. I actually We’ve been our company. We did a research project that was funded by from the State and we called it Product Coach AI which was based it. Use the logic of the product fields, the geometry that the product field provides and build an algorithm based on that of our geography aiming to help a product managers to always find the best way forward in their in their work and not just what feature to build, but to say, Okay, we need to do some. We need to understand the user better. Or we need to have a better idea on the competitive landscape, or we do have to think about our goals a little bit more strategically, or stuff like that.

And this this this AI gave some advice, some recommendations on what methods to use to address those challenges. So this is one of the things that the very specific. Why, how I think that these AI kind of tools help a product people to make a better job.

in general, I think it will help us a lot in making sense of user data, a lot of data that comes in. And then you, it’s very hard to sift through it and understand it. And that’s obviously a field that AI can help us with.

And another like it’s a yeah. It’s a very provocative maybe unpopular opinion. I always think of the role of the product manager as a bridge technology which means in actually, it’s not needed in the perfect world, the perfect well teams organize or build products by themselves. They don’t need this product management role. And I think A. I will play a role in that if that’s ever going to happen, it’s just an idea that’s just my thought. but that is, that is also something that I think that there is some kind of AI that that does a lot of the stuff that the product manager does today and helps a team to collaborate on product delivery, discovery, distribution and development.

Paul Blunden: So I can understand why that would be a controversial opinion. So that’s a really interesting one, and thanks also for sharing a real world example from the work you did the development of the algorithm, because when I asked to these questions, a lot of people are speculating on what’s going on, and the very few actual real world examples of generative AI being used effectively, there’s a lot of stuff going on. But that’s really useful.

Paul Blunden: And well, finally KP, can I ask, what’s your biggest learning since you’ve been sort of in this product space, which obviously you’ve been in for a very long time.

KP Frahm: well, that’s a tough one, because I learn every day, and it’s really hard to do. Put it into ranking. But when I think about it, the biggest learning is probably when I realized that I have always been in product. No matter the role that I have had.

I have been a project manager in marketing like in the nineties. I’ve been a CTO. I’ve been a a business developer. I’ve been a sales guy. I have been managing director. I’ve been a lot of I have a lot of roles.

And at some point I realized they are all roles around the product and the centre and they are all required. And so that was maybe the biggest learning that every person, every role in the company is part of the picture when it comes to product and product is yeah, like in the centre. And I learned that. well, 15 years ago I realized that.

And from then on everything changed for me. because then I then I work on tools to facilitate workshops to invite other people to learn the very same thing that they are actually connected to the product like even the Hr guys or the legal guys, they are all important part of developing successful products and to that connection. That was that was kind of yeah. the learning that the connections are there that they are needed? And what do we do to facilitate those connections? That was that was kind of my biggest breakthrough, say 15 years ago.

Paul Blunden: Oh, that’s a fascinating insight in the perfect place to end, actually, because it sort of leads back nicely to product centricity, I think.

Thanks so much for your time. It’s been really interesting talking to you, and learning your views, and from your experience over the last x many years. thanks again. I really look forward to watching this back.

KP Frahm: likewise. Paul. Thank you very much for inviting me. That was a very pleasant conversation.

Paul Blunden: If you want to find out more about the product field and KP’s company, I’ll put the details in the chat, including Link to his profile and website. So you can find those.

I hope you found that as interesting as I did. It’s becoming very clear to me that product centrist and customer centrist here highly complimentary. But the barriers to both, the mainly in the organization.

Interesting, that KP suggests AI might be a solution to that challenge quite controversial. So I’ll watch with interest and see what happens there.

Anyway. This was another interview in my series with product leaders and do check out the Channel to find the others.

I’m Paul, Blunden, I’m founder of UX24/7. And we help product people, designers and people who do research to deliver high performing products and services.

You can find out more about what we do by visiting our website. That’s ux247.com or find me on linked in and message me there, and better still, subscribe to this channel, and there’ll be another interview soon.

Thanks very much for watching.