Lessons on product development shared during Figma’s Annual Conference (1/2)

Vikram Goyal
7 min readJul 5, 2023

Config is Figma’s flagship annual conference.

The entire playlist is accessible on YouTube and I watched videos of a lot of sessions from Config 2023.

I have been blow away by the quality of these talks. There is just so much insight packed into these talks.

I am sharing my notes from some of these talks.

In part 1 of this series, I focus on the talks around product development. (Talks around design are shared in part 2).

These are the talks summarized in this post:

Rituals of Modern Product Teams

In this talk, Yuki (CPO, Figma) and Shishir (CEO, Coda) discuss the importance of rituals in creating a strong team culture. (Rituals are set of practices which are unique to the company’s way of working. Rituals are known by every employee and are templated).

They emphasize that designing rituals should be approached in the same way as designing your products.

The talk deep dives into three types of meetings and the rituals associated with them in some of the top teams.

  • Cadence Meetings — Staff meetings, project sync, standups. They tend to be recurring with same group of people. Examples are shared from Zapier’s leadership update meeting, Figma’s weekly update meeting, YouTube’s bullpen meetings and Stripe’s Ops reviews (a wheel is spinned to pick the tech incidents to be discussed).
  • Catalyst Meetings — Decision making forums, product reviews. They can serve as a catalyst for making progress, changing direction and making decisions. Examples of rituals are shared from Amazon (working backwards approach through the press release format), YouTube (eigen questions — how to frame great questions), Figma (alignment widget), Hubspot (flashtags) and Coinbase (RAPID framework for making decisions).
  • Context Meetings — All hands, offsites, new hire orientations, 1:1s. They are seen as foundational and are critical to build a foundation on which everything else stands. Examples of rituals are shared from Google (TGIF — Weekly company All hands where the employees could ask the CEO any question), Disney (Day in the theme work where employee takes on a role and spends a day in the theme work), Square (Partnership agreement for 1:1s)

The talk is a must watch for all product leaders who want to design team rituals to improve efficiency and decision making!

Type of meetings and example rituals from top companies

Re-thinking Product Building

In this talk, Katie Dill (Head of Design, Stripe) and David Singleton (CTO, Stripe) discuss Stripe’s approach to building products.

They talk about the following practices adopted at Stripe:

  • Better dev-design collaboration — Both engineering and design involved in working on the product from start and there is no formal handoff process.
  • User centric approach to development — everyone across product, design and engineering teams is talking to customers.
  • Iterative approach to development — Big ideas take time to come to life. They get the first version of the product out in the hands of some customers as soon as possible. These are their alpha users and are very closely involved in helping give shape to the final product.
  • Friction Logging — This is a recurring ritual followed by multiple teams across the company. Once or twice a month, some area of the product is chosen and the team runs through the flow end-end. They put on the user’s hat and make detailed noted on friction faced by the user. Solutions to these issues are then slotted for development.
  • Giving visibility across teams on what everyone is working on — Every fortnight, a single deck containing screenshots of every team’s work is shared across the organization. This helps teams know what others are working on and drives better alignment and collaboration.
Screenshot from the talk

Leading through uncertainty

In this talk, Brian Chesky (CEO, Airbnb) discusses with Dylan Field (CEO, Figma) discusses the importance of design in navigating uncertainty. He shares how he transformed Airbnb into a design-led company and the current operating principles of the company.

*This talk became particularly famous because Brian mentions that they got rid of the traditional product management function. But he goes on to clarify that it was an evolution of the function — where product management and product marketing are combined into one.

  • Brian Chesky describes the near death experience Airbnb had with the onset of Covid — their business crashed by 80% within a span of few weeks.
  • He mentions how he started a special collaboration with Jony Ivy (former Chief Designer at Apple) to aid Airbnb’s transition to a design led company.
  • A/B Testing — Strongly against A/B testing everything. It is abdication of decision making. There should be A/B tests only for things where you have a clear hypothesis. Post the test, you should be able to clearly articulate why a particular version worked
  • On Simplification — removing unecessary things is considered as simplification. But Brian’s learning is that simplification is distilling something to its essence
  • Roadmapping and release cycles — Something gets shipped only if it is on the roadmap. CEO owns the roadmap. They have a major release every six months. Roadmaps look forward to about 3 years. But the list of items become fuzzier, the more you go into the future (greater than 1 year). There, the roadmap items are more dynamic.
  • Cross-functional alignment — They involve marketing much earlier in the development cycle. Focus on building a marketing campaign is right from the start. (Reason: Lot of features fail simply because people didn’t know they exist. So, distribution is as important as development)
  • Integrated Approach to development — There is a high level of centralization in the organization with the CEO owning the roadmap and major decisions. This makes it easier to get buy-in and budgeting for ideas.
  • Adoption of Storyboarding (inspired from Walt Disney) — To understand the entire end-end journey of the host and travellers. There were almost 70 screens that a user saw. All these were printed and post on a single space aka the storyboard. This helped get a bird’s eye view of the entire experience and helped them holistically prioritize the changes required.

Brain also highlights how designers can drive change across organizations by speaking up when it matters. He ends with a passionate appeal to designers “More designers should rise up and start a company”.

How Slack builds products with customer love

In this fantastic talk, Ethan Eismann (Slack’s EVP of Design) talks about how Slack builds product and the product principles they follow.

The talk can be divided into three parts:

1. Introduction to Product Principles

Ethan begins by highlighting a common challenge faced by growing organizations. As more people join, it leads to diverse perspectives, which often leads to misalignment (since everybody’s approach to product developed is shaped by different experiences).

Solution to above — Product Principles

Product Principles are fundamental propositions that serve as the foundation for decision making. They help drive alignment across functions and up and down the decision making chain. This leads to better and faster product decisions.

They are meant for everyone who contributes to building product. They are meant to inform execution rather than strategy or roadmapping. (Can be thought of as a checklist that helps you anticipate feedback to features or areas that you present in review)

2. Product Principles at Slack

Ethan lists the five product principles at Slack — Don’t make me think, be a great host, prototype the path, seek the steepest part of the utility curve and take bigger bolder bets.

For each of these principles, Ethan lists down the guidelines and gives specific examples from his Slack Experience.

Five product principles adopted at Slack

3. How to apply product principles within your own team

Ethan shares six principles which a team can follow to apply product principles in their team. The principles are highlighted in the screenshot below.

Applying the product principles at your team

Here is an article by Ethan on the product principles — Link

This is a brilliant talk and must watch for every product team!

Conclusion

Great insights are offered in the talks. Would highly recommend going through this videos to understand how some of the big names in tech build great products.

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Vikram Goyal

Currently PM@Airmeet — building a kick-ass product for conducting remote events and conferences.