Product Talk’s North Star metric is to increase the number of product trios who adopt a continuous cadence to their discovery work. Teresa shared this goal at the beginning of 2022 when describing her plans to scale the impact of Product Talk.
Explaining why Product Talk has become a course-first business, Teresa wrote, “It’s a much more human way to teach and learn.” If you missed that post and want to read more about the evolution of the Product Talk business, you can find it here.
Today, we’re excited to announce another new development for Product Talk and yet another way we’re scaling our impact: We’ve expanded our pool of instructors.
Meet Ellen Juhlin, a product coach and consultant and Senior Director of Product Management at Orion Labs. Ellen will be teaching a January 2023 cohort of Continuous Interviewing and a March 2023 cohort of Opportunity Mapping.
We’re excited to announce another new development for Product Talk and yet another way we’re scaling our impact: We’ve expanded our pool of instructors. Meet product coach and consultant @ellenjuhlin. – Tweet This
If Ellen’s name sounds familiar, you may recognize it because she’s both an active member of the CDH Slack community and was featured in a Product in Practice post about involving engineers in assumption testing.
But if this is your first introduction to Ellen, we wanted to give you the chance to get to know her and learn more about her product background.
We’re thrilled to be expanding the pool of Product Talk instructors and we hope you’ll join us in giving her a warm welcome!
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you end up in product?
My degree is actually in theater, and specifically sound design. I did a lot of theatrical work in college at Carnegie Mellon. My first year out of college, I was working at South Coast Repertory Theatre, which had a really complex audio automation system by Meyer Sound. It cost tens of thousands of dollars and took a three-day training to operate and program this thing, but it was really powerful.
Because it was a permanent install, we also became a beta test site for new software updates, so I was filing bug reports and giving feedback and opinions about the software. Then when Meyer Sound had a product specialist role open, I was like, ‘Oh great, I’m already an expert!’ It was a great fit.
And that’s how I got into product development—I was beta testing, writing documentation, spec’ing out new features, and learning a lot about technology and hardware, networking, software, processing, clients, all sorts of things. This was around 2005.
Then I moved into different product management roles within Meyer Sound and other product launches. A couple of years later, I wanted to switch into something that was more consumer focused. That’s how I got connected with the folks at Orion Labs. It’s a B2B company that offers voice communication to teams in industries like hospitality, retail, transportation, logistics, and security. The core product at Orion offers instant voice communication like a walkie-talkie, but reinvented so it can be integrated with other web services and offer more context like location and online status.
My skills in both product and design and audio were really great for a voice communication company like Orion, so I’ve been there for the past nine years. I’m now an executive for Orion, leading product and all the global apps, bots, hardware, and firmware that we’ve built along the way.
Do you do anything related to theater anymore?
I still do sound design and build interactive sound sculptures as well as more extended immersive art experiences. I build set pieces, interactive robots, all kinds of things for people to have a journey and interact with things along the way. It’s a different kind of theater, but it’s pretty fun to have that creative outlet. Our website is urbanreplayart.com, so you can see some of our projects there.
Can you share some highlights of your career so far? What are some of the projects or accomplishments you’re proudest of?
When I was at Meyer Sound, I was in a very central role between customers and engineers. In that role, I really appreciated having a background in a creative field like sound design. I understand how that works in a theater day to day and could then turn around and talk to the engineers and convey between them: Here’s what would be beneficial for these people and how we can address that with our very fancy technology. Bridging that gap from creative to technical had some challenges. But we had interest from the creative people who really wanted to know how it was made, what the secret sauce was. And at the same time, the engineers were really excited that they could go to a Cirque du Soleil show and hear the results of their work, so that was really gratifying.
As part of that, I got to meet some famous artists, like Herbie Hancock. He came to the Meyer Sound factory and we got to spend some time showing him the products. At one point, he just sat down at the piano and started playing and it sounded amazing. It was really cool to be there with only four other people.
Later at Orion, it was great to see the transitions the company went through over time and mentor people along the way. In the first couple years I was there, we hired a designer who was very smart, had a lot of skills, and became really interested in becoming a product manager. She had been doing some of this stuff already so I was like, great, let’s get you into that role. I gave her other opportunities, showed her tools, gave her ways to think about things, and she ended up leaving the company in a role as a senior product manager. I was sad to see her leave, but really proud to give her the tools to grow her career and send her off to her next amazing accomplishments.
And also in the early days at Orion, we got a really big development contract that involved multiple product deliveries over the course of several years. I very quickly saw that this needed a lot of project management as well as communication with stakeholders internally and externally.
The project was struggling at first, due to lack of a dedicated project lead, but I pulled the team together with the engineering manager and was able to quickly rescope the project to meet the requirements within a high-confidence timeline. This greatly improved our relationship with the client, and I ended up leading that development project over the next several years, delivering products that would ultimately become key to our business, too—things that we might not have built otherwise, or not built until much later.
And with that work, we were able to fully transition from a consumer focus—which was not going to be successful—into business and enterprise. Originally, the product was focused on individuals communicating with their friends and family. But those pieces we built, like a web console to administer users and groups, and other advanced group communication features, are what allowed us to start targeting B2B and unlocked a lot of doors for us.
Can you share your continuous discovery journey? How did you first learn about continuous discovery and what have been some milestones along the way?
A couple of years ago, I took Teresa’s Master Class on a recommendation from a friend. I could immediately see how the different pieces all link together. It was a really great approach for linking business value and customer value.
After I took that class, I asked the product managers under me to also take some Deep Dive classes and one of the first things we were able to implement at Orion was in the way we talked to customers.
Immediately we switched to, “Tell me about a time in the past when you…” and asking about past behavior. This was brought to light in a workshop we were doing with a prospect, so we had a bunch of our sales and success team on a call for a couple hours. My team was able to lead the customer through some specific prompts, like “Tell us how this works in your store or some specific processes you go through.” And the number of insights we got from that conversation was immediately apparent to everybody else on our team, so they were like, “Oh, can you do that again with this customer?”
That immediately took off and we were able to bring other people into the planning process for interviews. My team got really good at trading off roles, interview by interview, and as we were approaching roadmap planning—we’d do a six-week planning cycle—we realized we could plug in outcome mapping here. We’d look at business goals we had and make a business outcome map. Then we’d talk about product outcomes and introduce that into our roadmap planning as a way to shift the conversation away from, “What’s the feature that we’re going to build next?” That’s something I still do today. Every time we’re doing roadmap planning, we revisit our outcome map and see what’s important. That’s become a key tool for planning.
Talking about product outcomes and introducing that into our roadmap planning was a way to shift the conversation away from, ‘What’s the feature that we’re going to build next?’ – Tweet This
Then along the way, things that were feature or output oriented, we’d take a look at the need and meet with our design and engineers and do some story mapping, solution brainstorming, and assumption testing. And that was really great. We even got featured on the Product Talk blog!
Being able to plug in different pieces of the process along the way where it made sense to was a lot easier than trying to stop everything and be like, “Okay, everybody learn this new process. Spend some time doing that and then we’ll get back and do everything that we were doing.”
Being able to plug in different pieces of continuous discovery along the way was a lot easier than trying to stop everything and be like, ‘Okay, everybody learn this new process.’ – Tweet This
That would be a really hard sell and a great way to make people hate the process. So it was really about identifying which parts of the process we could plug in and activate over time. That’s taken off and people have really seen the value of those pieces at Orion. I’ve also been taking that approach with my coaching clients: Here’s how you can plug in this piece. Here’s how you can activate this. Here’s how to do opportunity mapping and see what makes sense to prioritize next. I feel very immersed in it and excited about teaching both Continuous Interviewing and Opportunity Mapping.
We’ve often seen your name in the weekly shoutouts for the Continuous Discovery Habits community. Can you share a bit about your experience with the CDH community?
With the Master Class, I got access to the Slack group. That was really great initially for seeing the other questions that product managers have about their work on a day-to-day basis. A lot of product managers don’t get formal training. They don’t have a cohort of people, and everybody does it a little differently. Just seeing that these people are facing similar challenges to what I’m facing or I have faced in the past, I can jump in with advice or options or things for them to consider for how to solve it in their life.
The thing I really appreciate about the Slack community specifically is that people have really thoughtful questions and there’s always really thoughtful answers. There’s no one saying, “That’s a dumb question.” It’s a really high signal to noise ratio and you learn things just by reading the questions that people have. It’s been great for getting a sense of what people are facing.
The thing I really appreciate about the CDH Slack community is that people have really thoughtful questions and there’s always really thoughtful answers. – Tweet This
What inspired you to take on the role as a Product Talk Academy instructor? What are you most looking forward to about this role?
I enjoy coaching and mentoring. I’ve led other workshops in the past for different software tools, but being part of the Master Class and being a teacher’s assistant for the Continuous Interviewing class, the people that sign up for these classes are really excited to learn and absorb these new techniques. And this is potentially critical to their business, so seeing that engagement and taking on the exercises and the practice is really gratifying. Being able to share the experience that I have and expose these techniques to more people and help them in their journey is something that I’m really excited about.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about joining a Product Talk Academy course? How could they get the most out of the experience?
You get a lot of hands-on practice and feedback in the course—and that’s probably the most important thing. If you read about continuous discovery and you want to implement it, then you’re trying to implement it in your work with high stakes. You’re trying to learn the process and the solutions you’re trying to build at the same time, and that can be really challenging.
Being able to practice the process on theoretical problems so you learn without the high stakes is the most valuable part of the courses. You get feedback and you can course correct as necessary. Then you can take what you’ve learned and implement it. That’s not something you can easily get in the real world with your team, who’s also trying to learn alongside you.
Being able to practice the continuous discovery process on theoretical problems so you learn without the high stakes is the most valuable part of the Product Talk courses. – Tweet This
Note from Teresa:
I am thrilled to welcome Ellen Juhlin to our teaching team. She has embraced the continuous discovery habits in her own work, is a phenomenal coach, and has shown through her responses in the CDH Slack community that she can tackle tough organizational challenges. I know our students will benefit from learning from Ellen.
Ellen is teaching Continuous Interviewing in January 2023 and Opportunity Mapping in March 2023 and she’d love to see you in class!