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109 / Co-creation in the Age of Digital Transformation, with Yuting Chu

Hosted by Paul Gebel




Yuting Chu

Product Manager & Consultant

Yuting Chu has 5 years of experience in Product Management and an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University. He has a track record of building product visions, defining problem spaces, and building product roadmaps to guide end-to-end software development while collaborating with global and cross-functional teams. 

Yuting’s diverse product management experiences spans startups, enterprise, government, non-profit, and agency environments. Before entering the field of product management, Yuting worked in government where he gained first-hand experience grappling with complex problems at the societal level. It was there that he discovered co-creation as the critical tool in tackling uncertainty and ambiguity and as the tool to bridging differences and disagreements.  

As a co-owner in his family’s retail business, Yuting learned many lessons in the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. It was these experiences in entrepreneurship that opened his eyes to the power of discovery, design, user research, and being bold.

Yuting fully appreciates the struggles of software developers through his previous experiences in computer science courses. He can often be found loitering in cozy coffee shops or neon-lit 24-hour diners. 

Though product management remains a relatively young profession, the pandemic-induced digital transformation has accelerated its maturation at a rate far faster than it would have otherwise. Yuting Chu believes this phenomenon has positioned product managers to take a more entrepreneurial approach to product development – one that incorporates the experiences of all stakeholders, called co-creation.

In this episode of Product Momentum, Paul chats with Yuting Chu, a veteran product manager and consultant. Though his background rests in quantitative methods, Yuting also brings a human-centered, empathetic perspective to problem-solving.

Product managers are naturally collaborative, he says. As the pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital products, the importance of co-creation is greater than ever before.

“Co-creation means surfacing the various perceptions, hypotheses, and experiences that all stakeholders have,” he adds. “By linking them together, we demonstrate that they’re just different parts of the same puzzle.”

One thing we’re able to recognize through co-creation, Yuting continues, “is that just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean you’re wrong. And just because everyone agrees with me doesn’t mean I’m right. The world’s far too complex for that.”

Catch the entire conversation with Yuting, and learn about The Partner Happiness Framework – a powerful quantitative tool to help product managers surface stakeholders’ pain points and develop an action-oriented mindset for converting problems into solutions in the most targeted and helpful way.

The speaker line-up for ITX’s Product + Design Conference 2023 is set! June 22-23 in Rochester, NY. Learn more!

Paul [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to Product Momentum, where we hope to entertain, educate, and celebrate the amazing product people who are helping to shape our community’s way ahead. My name is Paul Gebel and I’m the Director of Product Innovation at ITX. Along with my co-host, Sean Flaherty, and our amazing production team and occasional guest host, we record and release a conversation with a product thought leader, writer, speaker, or maker who has something to share with the community every two weeks.

Paul [00:00:43] Hey everyone and welcome to the pod. Today we’re joined by Yuting Chu. The only thing that I can say about the conversation that we’re about to get into with Yuting is that I learned a ton. Yuting’s background is quantitative in statistics, but he really cares deeply about the human problems that he solves and the empathy that he brings the solutions to bear. He’s passionate about empowering, engaging, and energizing teams and helping people talk through conversations to find balance. So I hope you take something practical away and can apply it to your teams or the problems that you’re solving today. I know I learned a bunch and I hope you will too.

Paul [00:01:17] Hey everyone and welcome to the pod. Today we are delighted to be joined by Yuting Chu. Yuting has five years’ experience in product management and an MBA from Schulich School of Business in York University. He has a track record of building product visions, defining problem spaces, and building product roadmaps to guide end-to-end software development while collaborating with global and cross-functional teams. Yuting’s diverse product management experience spans from startups, enterprise, government, non-profit and agency environments, and before entering into product, Yuting worked in government, where he gained firsthand experience grappling with complex problems at a societal level. It was here that he discovered co-creation as the critical tool in tackling uncertainty and ambiguity, as the tool bridging differences and agreements. Among his many other achievements, he’s published, he’s been a leader and a speaker in the space. Yuting, we’re really excited to have you on the pod today. Welcome.

Yuting [00:02:06] Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here, Paul.

Paul [00:02:09] Absolutely. You know, we covered a lot of ground in the conversation prior to hitting record, and just to start us out at a high level, the first question that comes to mind is, there’s been a ton of growth in our industry, especially as it comes to defining what product management even means. The past decade has seen that term really evolve and mature. Can you talk about what it’s meant to be a product manager, where you see this industry, and you know, specifically, we chatted about the pandemic and that intersection. I’m wondering, can you just unpack your lay of the land of what it means to be a product manager in the 21st century?

Yuting [00:02:41] That’s a great question. And I think what’s happening is the pandemic has forced, although our profession is young, product management is young, through the pandemic, through the digital transformation that’s happening in the world, it’s also caused the entire profession, to mature at a much faster rate than we otherwise would have. And part of that transformation, part of that maturation process has also been helped by other companies, other people in the broader community who are experiencing digital transformation to recognize the value of product managers, the value that we bring to the table. And one of the things that’s happened over the past even two years or three years is recognizing that software is eating the world. People are now seeing software as a tool that can enable them to fundamentally change how they do things. And that bodes well for product managers because there’s a recognition that we are there to help them solve problems with technology and even help companies make that transformation from a paper-based system to a completely digital, remote system.

Paul [00:03:48] Yeah, you know, you touched on a couple of things there, and the role of product in software has always been a little bit of a give and take. There’s always been sort of a, “Are we leading the product or are we just defining what users are guiding to already?” So as product managers in this, you know, quickly evolving space, how do we talk about measuring behaviors? OKRs and KPIs, there’s a really scientific approach that comes through in the writing that I’ve seen from you, and I’m wondering if you can unpack just a little bit more, what does it mean to have a mature product mindset in this space, especially post-pandemic? What has this done for our industry as far as how we fit? What does the product manager do anymore? Is it the same as it was ten years ago?

Yuting [00:04:33] Well, that’s an amazing question, I think, fundamentally we have to recognize that because the world has become more digital, that means we’re very quickly inviting more people into that table to have discussions about what problems to solve, how are we framing a particular problem, and the way we frame our problem affects the solutions that are acceptable. And our solutions and our problems, how we frame them, all depend on the context that we’re in. And so different companies in different industries with different business models will experience the same problem in different ways, and their solutions that will satisfy them will also be different.

Yuting [00:05:15] And so as product managers, it’s our role to recognize that instead of choosing one approach over another, instead of choosing A or B, it’s really A and B; it’s more of a ratio. For example, there’s a lot of discussion about, you know, should we go Agile or should we stay at waterfall? Well, that’s not the question that we should be asking. The question we should be asking is, “what is the level of Agile that we need that will create value for us?” And so for some companies, maybe 10% Agile is good enough, and other companies maybe they need to be 80% Agile. And so fundamentally, product managers have to ask ourselves, “is what we are doing helping, hindering or hurting our end users, our stakeholders?” And more importantly is, “How can we co-create with our customers, our stakeholders, our business owners, based on their backgrounds?”

Yuting [00:06:06] Because when it comes to OKRs, KPIs, and metrics, the real world isn’t a math test. We can be logically correct, academically correct, intellectually correct, but still wrong in the marketplace because the marketplace is changing much faster than our ability to comprehend it. And so we have to bring in alternative viewpoints to solve problems. KPIs are an essential part of that. However, we also have to incorporate people’s interpretation of KPIs. For example, if your NPS score is going down, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it can actually be a good thing if you’re already planning on deprecating this feature. It could be a bad thing if this feature is the core value prop. And so I think now, because so many companies are entering into digital transformation, product managers are now in a position where instead of automatically saying no or saying why we should do this, we’re developing a more of an experimental, entrepreneurial approach. You know, instead of saying why and no, let’s ask ourselves, “why not?” and be entrepreneurial and experimental.

Paul [00:07:12] So you’ve unpacked a ton there. I think the way that I heard you say the “logically, mathematically, and academically correct” was along the lines of, sometimes we need to learn to trust our intuition. And I don’t know if that’s oversimplifying it, but the aspect of vision crafting as a product management role, right, where we’re called on to not just be product aware but also business aware, “Is there a market, is there a balance here that’s going to allow us to succeed with what we want to do?” And the nugget there about deprecating a feature and possibly some of those vanity metrics going down, being a good thing, I don’t think is talked about very often because you only ever want to see growth. All of the charts should go up into the right, and the way that we are measured is often, you know, everything must succeed. But I think in a more holistic sense, a product lifecycle should include an end-of-life and it should include a balance between Agile and waterfall, if necessary.

Paul [00:08:09] But I’m wondering if I could put everything into a fine point. The role of the product manager has changed, and the way that we are helping the conversation move forward is by taking all of the math and metrics and interpreting it into a business decision that we can move ahead with confidence around. Is that a fair assessment or is there something in there that’s important to call out?

Yuting [00:08:34] Yes, I would say both. They’re both correct. And because of the digital transformation that’s happening, as product managers, we’re naturally collaborative. And what’s happening now is that that collaboration is rapidly extending into co-creation. So co-creation means we want to surface the various perceptions, hypothesis, and the experiences that people have, and we want to try to link them together to show that they’re just different parts of the same picture. They’re just different ways of solving the problem. And so how can we surface them and put them together like a coherent puzzle so that we understand the bigger picture and how each of our perceptions fit into it? And so we’re actually already seeing co-creation starting to spread throughout the product community. It’s just that we don’t necessarily use those words.

Paul [00:09:23] Yeah, I think you’re helping segue into something that I was hoping we could get into a bit more. You wrote, pretty much in the middle of the pandemic, a really thought-provoking article on what you call the happiness framework, right? and if I could summarize it really briefly, it’s taking this strategy that we’ve been talking about, and the fit in the market for where this intersects with business and helping product managers develop an action-oriented mindset around, how do we get the problem to the solution in the most targeted and helpful way?

Paul [00:09:53] And I’m wondering if you can help maybe unpack a little bit of what you were thinking when you were writing this and putting these thoughts to paper. You’ve got a ton of systems thinking in the diagrams that you shared and the way that you unpack this. But for those who haven’t found your article yet, can you share what your take is on the happiness framework and what this means within the context of what we’ve been setting up so far?

Yuting [00:10:13] That’s a great question. So one of the challenges of being a product manager is that whether you’re a software agency or especially if you’re a B2B software company, it’s satisfying your customers. But who are your customers? In your client company, it could be your buyers, the users, also your IT implementation team. Not only that, but your stakeholders have stakeholders themselves. And so we ask ourselves, are we delivering value to them? How do we solve pain points for them? What is a pain point? And if you ever get into a discussion with a sales team, a customer success team, and a product marketing team, they’ll all say very different things. But each of them, they’re not necessarily wrong, but they’re not necessarily right either. And so how do we tackle this uncertainty, this ambiguity about, how do we know what those pain points are and how do we know which of those pain points we should solve?

Yuting [00:11:03] And so the Partner to Happiness framework really came from someone named Gene Purcell, who did research on this, because apparently it’s a very big problem within the business world. And so when I came across it, I realized, “Hey, this can help us help product managers solve these challenging problems.” And so what this framework does is that it takes away some of these endless debates, some of these logical debates that could happen that drag on forever and ever and it really uses data to surface, who in the organization, who in our customer environments, who we should be paying attention to, and who we don’t necessarily need to focus all of our resources on.

Yuting [00:11:42] At the same time, we can also use it internally in our product organizations too, because as product managers, our job isn’t done just because I’ve shipped software and tossed it over the wall. I also have to ask myself, “Have I built this feature that will make it easier for our sales team to demo with pride? Have I built this feature in such a way that helps the implementation team implement more quickly and more seamlessly so that our customers will be much more satisfied? And have I built this feature in a way that makes it easy for our customer success team to diagnose and solve our client’s problems?”

Yuting [00:12:16] And so the Happiness Framework helps collect the data and visualize it in a heatmap that allows us to identify, who are the red blips that we should be concerned about, who are the green blips where we can say, “Hey, we don’t necessarily need to overinvest in these guys,” as well as it helps steer the conversation into less about, you know, I’m right and you’re wrong, into a conversation where we can put the focus on solving pain points for the customer. Because one thing that we recognize in co-creation, and even that a systems environment is that just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean you’re wrong. And just because everyone agrees with me doesn’t mean that I’m right. The world’s far too complex for that, and this framework helps address that.

Paul [00:13:00] I can’t agree, thumbs up, like that enough. I think that that comment of, “just because everyone agrees with me doesn’t mean I’m right and just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean you’re wrong” is, you know, a little bit more of that in the world and it would be a much happier place, pun intended.

Paul [00:13:17] Hey folks, please excuse the quick break in our conversation, but I wanted to share a quick reminder. Coming June 22nd and 23rd, 2023, ITX is hosting our second Annual Product and Design Conference and I’m super excited to confirm we have finalized our guest speaker roster. As you know, we’ve already announced that former Product Momentum guests Jesse James Garrett, Rich Mironov, and Radhika Dutt will lead day one workshops and deliver day two keynotes. New to this year’s lineup are UX design experts Krissi Xenakis and Jocelyne Dittmer and design futurist Phil Balagtas rounding out this year’s speaker lineup.

Paul [00:13:48] Krissi is a product design leader, advisor to startups, and an educator at School of Visual Arts Products of Design MFA Program. She focuses on helping designers deliver impact, creating systems to empower design teams to succeed. Jocelyne brings more than 14 years of product industry and consulting experience. She’s currently a Design Leader at IBM, where she leverages a human-centered approach to product design and taps into the best of what emerging technology has to offer. And Phil will travel all the way from Barcelona, Spain, to join conference attendees. He founded the Design Futures Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement and education of the Futurist Thinking design approach.

Paul [00:14:24] To help us stay on task over the two-day event, we also have Mike Belsito, CEO of Product Collective, returning as master of ceremonies. If you have any questions or want to know more, you can go to That’s at All right. Let’s get back to our conversation.

Paul [00:14:42] The other thing that comes out of a dialog like this is when you’re in the midst of, like a product manager, say they’re early or middle in their career and they’re trying to build a backlog for the first time. They’re trying to suss out requirements and get a roadmap that they can articulate to a set of stakeholders that they can plan on with confidence. In those kinds of conversations, a technical person or a UX designer, both experts in their fields, are going to be loud and smart, and that recipe often ends in loud and smart people, quote-unquote winning, conversations. And I think a lot of times the kind of dynamic that you’re teasing out here about realizing there’s nuance and subtlety to conversation and that pain points, while we throw this term pain or frustration around as if everybody understands what this means, a pain to a UX designer and pain to a technical architect can mean totally different things.

Yuting [00:15:38] Definitely.

Paul [00:15:38] And those kinds of conversations only come out when we’re willing to, you know, have a little servant leadership, have a little humility, and understand, these are both right answers, and, you know, one doesn’t have to win. And realizing that the product manager’s job is really almost negotiator or compromiser between all of these competing demands and understanding how to fit this map together.

Yuting [00:15:59] Definitely.

Paul [00:16:00] Can’t agree with this enough. I love the way that you put that.

Yuting [00:16:02] Yeah. And I think one of the major value propositions of this framework is that it helps to shift the conversation from a debate to a dialogue where that meeting space is now used to really surface people’s perceptions, opinions, and why they have them, and then identify these moments of connection that connect us to the customer and moments of connection that connect us with each other as well. Because, you know, I don’t always want to be saying no to the sales team. At the same time, I also don’t want to always be saying yes to the sales team, but then how does that impact my relationship with them? How does that impact my relationship with the UX team, with the engineering team? And so having this framework to center our conversations helps recognize that, “Hey, we all have different roles to play in helping this customer solve the problem.”

Paul [00:16:54] Yeah, I love that level of empathy. You know, I have one or two last questions before we run out of time together and it’s shifting gears a little bit, but I can’t help but want to squeeze this one in. You come from a very quantitative background, right? You have a background in statistics and I think you have a lot of those kinds of analytical aspects to the way that you write and the way that I hear you thinking out loud. Is there something that the qualitative side of the industry, that right brains and left brains can talk to each other more effectively, that if you are more creative and aesthetic in your UX design approach, that learning some quant theory… Or if you are more engineering or statistical in your background… You know, I hear such a blend in the way that you talk about empathy and human needs as well as measuring and planning, and that balance just comes through. Did you mean to point your journey in this direction or did it just kind of happen?

Yuting [00:17:48] That’s another great question. A lot of this type of thinking I learned when I was working in government where you really had to solve really societal-level problems. And you recognize that, a lot of times, on the quant side, yes, in some situations it’s very, very important. But in some situations, it can actually be really dangerous to rely on quantitative data because, you know, in some cases, there just isn’t enough data to support one idea, but that doesn’t mean you ignore it. And sometimes we can get too trapped in our quantitative world. You know, we’re always measuring things, but we also have to understand, what’s the bigger picture?

Yuting [00:18:26] For example, I always use this example, from a quantitative slide, let’s ask the question of, what’s more important in a car, the gas pedal or the brake pedal? Well, I guarantee you that if you do a quantitative assessment, you’re going to use the gas pedal more and the brake pedal less. So quantitatively, you should actually get rid of the brake pedal. But we know that qualitatively both features come together in an ensemble to create value for the user. And another fun example is the airbag. And if you asked people, how often do you use the airbag in your car? They’ll probably be zero or one. Hopefully zero. But just because it doesn’t get used doesn’t mean it has no value.

Yuting [00:19:06] And a lot of times, going back to the qualitative side of things, the qualitative has such rich insights that we should not ignore it because someone may come to us with an idea, but instead of saying “no” or “why,” we should adopt a more of an entrepreneurial, experimental approach and ask, “why not?” Because underneath that idea there could be some really interesting observations that we haven’t yet fully understood. So for example, I always use, think of the U.S. Space program. Up until we launched a rocket to the moon, everyone thought that it was not possible to launch a giant rocket into space because all the data up until that point said you cannot do it. But it took people who were very experimental, who were very qualitative to say, “no, we don’t accept this constraint; we’re going to break past this constraint because we need to and we want to.”

Yuting [00:19:59] And so it’s important to incorporate both sides and not over-weigh one or the other. And this goes back to what I learned while I was working in the hospital and in government was this concept called fit for purpose. You know, can what I need to solve be solved with this particular approach, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative. If I’m trying to figure out, you know, what should I get for my three-year-old’s birthday, do I need to survey 10,000 people to figure that out? Probably not. I’ll just ask my parents or ask my friend, and that’s good enough. But if I’m throwing a birthday party for 30 kids in the neighborhood, then I might want to do a little bit of quantitative research to find out, you know, who’s allergic to what, who likes candy, who doesn’t like candy, who’s a vegetarian, who’s not. And so we really have to ask ourselves, is this approach fit for purpose?

Paul [00:20:51] I love the way that you bring such practical examples and apply them in such universal ways. That was a great answer. Just got a couple last questions before we’re out of time. The next one, something we ask of all our guests before we let them go. I’m just curious to get your take. What does innovation mean to you?

Yuting [00:21:06] That’s great. I’ve thought about this for quite a while, and for me, innovation is essentially about experimentation and entrepreneurship, because so much of what we have in the world did not exist before someone came up with a crazy idea and decided to test it out. And instead of saying, “Why should we do this?” They asked, “why not?” And so if you think about coffee, who invented coffee? Because coffee tastes horrible, but we still love it. And if you take that one cup of coffee that you’re drinking and you give it to your six-year-old, they’ll drink it and then they’ll spit it out. But if you take that same cup and you drink it yourself, you love it. And so what’s the difference? The coffee is the same. Why is it that your child dislikes it but you love it?

Yuting [00:21:53] And so with innovation, there’s a lot of theories around it, there’s a lot of discussion around it. But the core of innovation comes down to experimentation and entrepreneurship, because, using YouTube as an example, YouTube was originally a dating site, but then someone decided, “You know what? That idea isn’t working; let me just post a random video up on the Internet and see what happens.”

Paul [00:22:17] I love that definition. I think that that entrepreneurial and experimental take comes through in what we talked about and in all your writing. Before I let you go, where can people find you and what are you reading or listening to that’s inspiring you today?

Yuting [00:22:29] First, in terms of what I’m listening and what I’m inspiring to, definitely the ITX Podcast, definitely learning a lot from those that you interview. People can reach out to me on LinkedIn, I’m happy to connect with people over coffee. I’m a big fan. In terms of what I’m reading, there’s a book called Small Scale Research, and I found that book quite useful because the reality is, you know, we always wish that we have all the data that we need in the world, but the reality is we never have enough data. And what data that we have is always minimal. And sometimes we wish we could do more with data. And what this book really captures is that, hey, just because you don’t have enough data doesn’t mean you can’t gain insights from it. Because look at the knowledge that we have about the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks, even dinosaurs. Were we there when they existed? No, we weren’t there. Yet we know more about dinosaurs than we know about some of our customers. And so the book is an amazing resource that I think all product managers should read, especially in the B2B software agency world, where most of the data we have is not statistically significant. But just because it’s not statistically significant doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Paul [00:23:47] What a wonderful recommendation. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you again for taking the time. I have learned so much just talking to you again today. I really appreciate you taking the time. So thanks for joining us.

Yuting [00:23:56] Thank you for having me.

Paul [00:23:57] Cheers.

Paul [00:24:01] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get. So please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world, just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.

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