20 November, 2020
This sixth episode titled ”Building Products That Customers Love”, that aired on November 19, 2020, we had Marty Cagan (Silicon Valley based Product Executive & Consultant, Author of ‘Inspired’) in a conversation with Dan Berte ( IoT Director and Chief Architect at Bitdefender, and a product expert himself).
Marty Cagan has been teaching the world how to build better products for decades. His bestseller Inspired, one of the most influential books on product innovation, was one of the first to focus on the role and responsibilities of the product managers. Ex-VP of Product at Netscape and Ebay, and now Partner at the Silicon Valley Product Group, he’s a big believer that product innovation should be led by product leaders.
Marty and Dan shared invaluable insights into the role of product managers and product led innovation. Here is a sneak peek into their live discussion:
3 takeaways from Marty and Dan’s live discussion:
►”You really can’t find a successful product where there isn’t a good story behind it. Because you know, these products are all hard. If they were easy, then probably anybody could do them. But they’re all hard. And I think what makes these stories so powerful is how the team overcame all the challenges.”, Marty on good product stories and what makes them so.
►”Discovery is what’s suffering in the pandemic, not delivery. Because discovery is not a divide and conquer activity, like delivery is. Discovery is a collaborative activity. And so that sitting together around a prototype and debating it for hours on end, that that’s much harder to do when we’re, when we’re dispersed. And that’s been true, that’s why the vast majority of innovative companies are not distributed. Because of that. And the few that are successful distributed, most of them are really delivery centric.”, Marty on the parts of product that suffer most due to remote work during the pandemic.
►”We have many, many different techniques. Some techniques for framing and digging deeper into the problem. Most of the techniques are around coming up with a good solution. We have quantitative techniques, we have qualitative techniques. And I want to be clear, none of that is covered in CSPO training. So yes, you should go to CSPO training! Does that make you even remotely qualified to be a product manager? Not even close!”, Marty, on the product manager’s training and a basic set of abilities.
Are you more into Reading? The Full Transcript is below!
Dan: And good afternoon to everybody who’s joining us. I mean, I don’t even know how to start a session with Marty Cagan. People start saying ‘Hey, he’s a guru. If you haven’t heard about him, he’s fantastic.’ Why would you not know anything about Marty Cagan? But I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna do that. Because I’m sure every one of you who’s here knows who Marty Cagan is. But, you know, a founder and partner at Silicon Valley Product Group, graduated University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in Science and Applied Economics, author of ‘Inspired’ and soon to be released book ‘Empowered’, former HP, Netscape, and a bunch of others. But that just doesn’t do Marty justice. So Marty, if you may, just a couple of words – words about you, what you’d like us to know.
Marty: Yeah, well, thanks again for inviting me and for everybody who’s to the end to this. So yeah, I’ve just been working in the tech industry really my entire career since right out of college. I was very unusual for my generation, because I learned to programme when I was seven years old. And that was not normal back back then. But, but anyway, I think actually, that was my head start because I learned to code as a kid. I love technology. And my father was a professor of computer science. So I, I had an unfair advantage. And I got introduced to a lot of the new technologies. I even met some of the people that created those new technologies. And so I just wanted to programme when I was in college. And I started for the first 10 years of my career as a developer, as an engineer working on tools for other developers. Still a favourite area of mine. But, you know, over time, I got more interested not just in how do we build a great product, but I got interested in how do we decide what that product should be? Who decides that? How do they decide that? To me, that was even harder. I don’t want to say, I mean, I’ve ended up just because of curiosity really, over the years: I wanted to learn Design, I wanted to learn Product Marketing, I wanted to learn Data Analytics, I wanted to learn all these different parts of a product team. So most of the parts of a product team, I’ve had a chance to really play that role on product teams. And luckily, I was at companies early on in my career that encouraged people to learn other areas and, you know, had managers there to help you get better. So anyway, that just led me on a career. And in fairness, most of it is just luck at the right time, right place, because Netscape was really the original internet company. And some of the earliest developers were friends of mine. And so I got introduced and I got to work for Marc Andreessen and it was really the perfect place to be at that era, at the birth of the internet. And then, through Netscape, I met all these startup founders, including Pierre Omidyar, whom, I ended up joining his company, eBay, early on. But, but more importantly, really, I made these friends with people that were starting – I mean, the people that started Google, that started Amazon, that started later, you know, Facebook and Twitter, Netflix. And so it was just a perfect place at the perfect time. And especially if you’re interested, like I am in the dynamics of what makes great product teams, what makes great products. Yeah, it’s just been a fun ride. And I, I’m still writing it, it’s, you know, it’s been a long time. I mean, I’ve been doing this non stop for nearly 40 years, just just exclusively tech product. So, um, so yeah, when you do something that long you get a lot of opinions about it. And I’ve been sharing those opinions to people who are willing to listen for a long time.
Dan: That’s awesome. That’s exactly what I’m trying to get out of today. And I’m hoping, I know for a fact that everybody who’s joined us is in the same boat. So we have an assortment of people who are anything from founders, to professionals in different companies, large and small, we have, you know, product and innovation people we have marketing people, we have, you know, your, your engineering people and literally, across the vertical space. So I’m happy, you know, because because How to Web is a spectacle, as a festival of tech in that part of the world. So, um, you know, I’m sure a lot of people ask you, what things people do wrong when it comes to Product Management, maybe even Product Marketing, for that matter, because they’re all interrelated. But yeah, I’m gonna try something else. So what’s your favourite product management story? Be it a product or a team or a service? Let’s start with that. Any, like all the years, whatever..
Marty: Yeah, I mean, I have lots of these stories. That’s kind of what my favourite thing about the job is. Because I’ve had a chance to know so many teams. I absolutely love the original Netflix story. The birth, the origin story of Netflix, I told that story in the book inspired. I love the story, the the origin story of Google AdWords, which was, which was actually the, that’s the product that makes Google like 90 something percent of their money. That’s an amazing story. I love the AWS story, the Alexa story, iPhone story, these are all great product stories. You really can’t find a successful product where there isn’t a good story behind it. Because you know, these products are all hard. If they were easy, then probably anybody could do them. But they’re all hard. And I think what makes these stories so powerful is how the team overcame all the challenges. You know, they were almost out of money, literally, at Netflix. At Google, the engineers and the sales people were absolutely dead set against doing the product that eventually made the company as successful as it is. And these are just, these are normal obstacles that product teams have to overcome. And of course, what’s amazing is how they overcome them. I mean, more recently, I just, I can go for an hour just on this. What Airbnb did, they’re just now going public. You know, that’s been an amazing success story and a great product story. Great origin story, three cofounders that were awesome, are awesome. Slack, of course, has been a great story. No company has spread as fast around through enterprise as Slack has. That’s great, that’s just a great story. Well, yeah, they’re everywhere. These companies are everywhere. I’m just picking some companies that are kind of local for me, but there are also great examples in London, great examples in Stockholm, you know, everywhere today.
Dan: We’re definitely going to dive into that part of the world in a bit and actually try to dissect the, you know, whatever is different or whatever opportunity there is, that’s special there. Um, you know, I’ve always wondered actually. Of course, a lot of the good examples, you know, people refer to Apple or products that they’ve developed in the past, or possibly still develop, and I only have one question for you on this actually. I think it’s gonna help us understand your point of view on this. So, was Steve Jobs a product manager?
Marty: So, yeah, I mean, Apple is tricky. Steve Jobs definitely played a major product management role, but let’s see, where to start? On all the important things, Apple is just as good, in my opinion is Amazon, as Netflix. But you have to realise Apple has three kinds of products, first of all, in their massive company. And they need to treat, so they do treat all three of those kinds of products very differently. When people ask that question about Steve Jobs, we’re really talking about things like this, right (Marty showing his phone on screen)? We’re talking about phones, or computers. And he did play a major product management role. And in fact, on their product teams, it’s really design in engineering, and the product management role is covered by the executives. Now, that’s true on these multi billion dollar devices. And I would argue he was one of the best product managers that ever lived. So he understood the business constraints you see. And he was very good not at saying what the teams needed to fix, he was good at telling them when it wasn’t good enough. So he had a very good understanding of the market, very good understanding of customers, and what they really, you know, really wanted, and that made him incredibly valuable. And combine that, of course, with being very visionary. He had a very good sense of, you know, that fundamentally, products were something where people would really want it, but was just now possible. And I mean, if you look at the arc on major Apple products, that’s really what they’ve been about. And sometimes they’ve been too early, like the Newton was too early. Newton wasn’t ready. The technology wasn’t ready. Would it have been a successful product if it was ready? I think absolutely. But it was too early, wasn’t ready. But on the other hand, the iPhone was just ready, just barely ready. In fact, most of the competitors thought it wasn’t ready. That, for example, touchscreen technology was not ready for what Apple was about to do with it. But he had this vision that it was just about there. And if they get a little luck in a lot of effort, they could make it there. Now realise it took them three and a half years of product discovery work to come up with the first iPhone. So this was not a small effort. But that was great. Oh, by the way there..
Dan: Go ahead.
Marty: I was just gonna mention there’s a good book that came out from the technical lead, one of the engineering tech leads on the iPhone who was responsible for one of the hardest parts of the iPhone, which was text entry, and he wrote a book. Ken Kocienda, yes. The book is called ‘Creative Selection’. So if anybody wants to hear an engineering perspective on the product discovery of the iPhone during the Steve Jobs era, that is a great account. I love it, I thought it was a very good account. And it’s good for people to hear the engineering perspective, not just the design perspective or the product management perspective.
Dan: And that’s very, that’s exactly what I wanted us to get to, because my next question would be into your other examples about Netflix and eBay, and Google. What drives these people? So I was kind of let down by the Steve Jobs biography. I don’t think Walter Isaacson really understood the man. He had full access, but I don’t think he understood what drove Steve Jobs to do what he did. Now, of course, he may have been abrasive, and people never really always loved him. And there were all these things about him. But my question was that I never really understood what made him be who he was? What was his drive to do the things he did? And what is the, you know, what do you think drives these people that are ultimately successful in product management or have the vision to do things?
Marty: I mean, from my part, I actually really did like that biography, I thought it captured a lot. And it was pretty fair, for example. But, but to your question. Well, first of all, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that these great leaders can be a great leader of a company in terms of make a lot of money. But there could be very different motivations. Some of the CEOs out there, I think, have terrible motivations. Their motivations are just greed, basically. They just want to make billions of dollars. And that’s it. And other ones, of course, and I think Steve Jobs was, was a good example. I think Jeff Bezos is a good example; Elon Musk, good example. They, they’ve already made more money than God, right? So that’s, it’s not about the money. But I think what they are.., and I think Steve Jobs was an authentic example of this – he wanted to use his time on earth to try to make a dent in the universe. And, and he felt like he could do that by creating some amazing products. And I think that a lot of my favourite leaders, that is their motivation. They see that they could use technology to make something better. Now, sometimes they’re a little naive about that. We all can be, I think, sometimes naive about that. Sometimes we, we think people are – you know, we only look at the happy path, we only look at the customers that are going to use our technology to do great things. We don’t always want to look at those people out there that might use our technology to do really not good things. So, Facebook, for example. So that’s, so not all leaders have the same sort of awareness and I think appreciation for ethics and unintended consequences. But for the most part, most of the founders I meet really are excited about making a difference somehow. Even if it’s really just in the lives of a set of users. They meet a set of users for something like finance, and they realise their life is just miserable. The software that they use every day is awful. And they want to improve their lives. That’s a lot of them. And those I think, you know, I wish that was all of them. But there are of course, some that are, that have a very different motive. But we know that at this point.
Dan: Well, that was a segue to this. Thanks for that, it’s an excellent point. I want to remind everybody that we are going to discuss questions from from the audience as well, so I’m going to encourage everybody who’s following us to send us questions. I already have one that’s good, that’s a good follow up to our current conversation. Anca Bundaru sending us a question and she’s asking: ‘Marty, if any, what is the one thing you wish all product managers should know but don’t?’
Marty: Oh, that’s a hard, that’s a good and hard question. I mean, there’s – I will say, as a general statement, most product managers in our industry, I’m talking worldwide, most of them have no idea how to do their job. So that is a huge problem in our industry. And that’s usually because the only training they’ve ever had is a CSPO class. What they are is a Product Owner, not a Product Manager. They know how to play the role of a product owner on an agile team, which is, of course, a tiny part of the product management job. So we have a huge issue in our industry. And I honestly will go further, because – most of the product teams I meet, the engineers are not the problem. Most of them are are good. The designers are not usually the problem. But the product managers are most often the problem. So yeah, we have a real issue there. What do I wish they should know but don’t is how to do product management. That’s what I really wish. Now, specifically, if I could change one thing, even if we only looked at serious product managers, the people who are really committed to their job and are willing to put the time and effort into doing their job well. Even if we just look at them, the biggest thing I would like to change, and I wish I really had said this 20 years ago, that’s when I think it should have been more loudly said, is Ethics. What we were talking about before – Ethics. Ethics is not, you know, you can’t blame all the problems in our industry on the product managers, really. The real guilt is on the leaders of those companies. However, I would admit that the product managers are usually the first ones to see problems that are starting, that are brewing. And I would love to see more product managers, first of all be more aware of those ethical issues, and then have the skills to, and the courage, to escalate those issues, and really bring bring them to the leaders and say: ‘Here’s what I think is going to happen if we continue on this. I know this is not what we intended. But what I think is going to happen is our product will be used by these bad people, or our product will cause this problem in the environment, or whatever. And that and I think we have we can do this in a better way that doesn’t have those bad consequences.’
Dan: Well I agree. That was harsh, to call most of product managers unprepared for it. It’s actually, that’s a huge opportunity. It’s it’s harsh, but it’s true I guess in many, many ways. So is product management a function of culture? Well, what I mean by that – not necessarily the corporate culture. More like, culture culture.
Marty: You mean country culture.
Dan: Country culture, yeah. Geography culture.
Marty: Okay, you know, that’s a that’s a fun question, for example, and I, in fact, there’s a new book out called ‘The Culture Map’ that I’m in the middle of reading right now. I heard about it from people at Netflix. It’s a good call, a good book so far on this topic exactly, about how the cultures around the world.. I would say, in my experience, and I have not gone everywhere in the world, obviously. But I love meeting teams in different parts of the world. And I’ve been in about 30 different countries, with product teams. Most of them around the world, I find when it comes to product, there’s no issue, we all basically got the same things that are important. There are a few things that are no question. For example, I have struggled for years in Japan, because good products, to me, require real collaboration and real debate. And it doesn’t really matter what the person’s level is. In Japan, that is very difficult to get somebody to do. Culturally, it’s very difficult. It’s, it’s rude, it’s not something they’re used to. And so I have struggled to try to get the kind of collaboration we need in the Japanese culture. There are brilliant people there. And I’m optimistic that the new, the youngest people right, now just entering the workforce, don’t have as many of these worries as their parents did. But Japan is tough. You know, you’re in our Eastern Europe. In, in a lot of Europe, especially in the East. One of the things I do, work, you know, I don’t want to say this is a problem. It’s more like I find myself coaching teams in that part of the world on this topic, which is, and I’ll just throw it out there, hopefully people know I’m not trying to insult anybody. I’m just trying to share some of these observations. There is a predisposition to process. So I meet so many teams that really love process. And process is dangerous. Especially if you use it as a crutch. In fact, Jeff Bezos at Amazon is scared to death of process. He refers to it as day2 behaviour. He likes to say ‘Be careful that process does not become The Thing’, where you get teams so focused on the process, and they forget the customers, they forget the product, and they’re just focused on process. I see that problem a lot. And so, a little bit of process – not a problem. But, but the kind of process that a lot of people do is just deadly. Yeah, so you have to be careful.
Dan: So I assume you’ve worked with some product managers in Eastern Europe before and you’re somewhat familiar with the, you know, the characteristics of the space and how people do things. So, I mean, this question can be asked enough. I’m going to try to dispel some of the myths. I know working with people across the pond both ways. There’s still a sort of admiration and envy for companies and product managers and, you know, and startups in Silicon Valley. And it’s always been like that, and it’s natural and normal. But is there a magic sauce? Is there something about the talent here or a secret ingredient in Silicon Valley that’s, you know, a reality that would never apply to Europe or Eastern Europe? So just to get it off the bat, what do you think, you know, what do you think you would tell everybody back in, you know, Central and Eastern Europe maybe, on their position on the world map for potential to be in that space as well?
Marty: Yeah, well, first of all, you know, for a long time, even companies based in in Silicon Valley, or Seattle, or New York – a lot of times our best engineers are in Estonia, they’re in Romania, Hungary, they’re all over. So that has not been a problem. If there was one thing I could change around Europe in general, if there was one thing, you know, if I had the power to make a law, which I can’t. But I would say, you know, it’s much harder in most of Europe to to give employees stock ownership than it is in the US. And this is actually a very important thing that not enough people talk about. And this is a little bit cultural. But in good companies anywhere in the world, I would argue, anywhere in the world, the people who work there, especially product managers – they think like owners, not like employees. Is very easy to tell when you meet somebody who thinks like an employee. The official word for this is they have a sense of agency – means like they feel like this is theirs. Bezos says every year we need our people, especially product managers, to think like owners. The easiest way to do that is to make them owners. That’s why we give them all stock options. We want them to be a part owner in the company. And you know, there are other ways to do it. You can do profit sharing plans, there are other ways but one. But too many times in European companies, I meet companies where the employees, the people that work there have no financial, other than being paid every month, they don’t get any long term tie to the success of the company. And they feel like just an employee rather than an owner. And that I think is a real problem. A limitation.
Dan: I, um, we’re gonna take a break for a minute in a short while. And I would like to discuss this further and actually develop on it. Because I think it’s a great point that.. Honestly, I expected a totally different answer, I think it’s fantastic. So I’m going to take one more question before we pause for a minute from Sebastian Cochinescu. And he’s asking what would be the best approach when delivering new products? He’s asking what it takes: to create a new market need, or just address an existing problem. So I guess, and I’ve also prepared a question on this – so thank you, Sebi, this is fantastic. You know, when do you know that you have the market fit, I guess, is what he’s trying to ask so..
Marty: Yeah, well, first of all I would say that it’s very rare actually, that you are creating a new market and need. And I would also say it is very expensive to do that. I know a lot of startups have tried, and what they end up doing is not going anywhere until a big company like Microsoft or Google develops the market with their billions, and then they have a solution. So 99% of the time, your product is not a new market, it is not a new need, it’s a better solution to an existing need. And that applies, by the way. You look at Google Search was that way, if you look at iPhone was that way, the iPad was that way. All of these products, they are rarely a new need. They are an old need, with a much better solution. In other words, now the solution is just now possible. So that’s where you really want to focus most of the time – the market is there, they just need a much better solution.
Dan: Awesome. And we’re gonna go for a one minute break and come back. And we’re going to continue with the questions. So just a quick reminder to everybody who’s following us: please send us more questions. And we’ll ask Marty, we ask them to Marty. So we’ll see you in a bit.
Dan: Alright, we’re back. So I want to go back to talking about the specifics and the opportunities of the Central and Eastern European market for product management and startups, and just becoming a hub. So you’ve known this space, you’ve worked with this part of the world before. So like you said, it’s famous for its talented engineering. That’s why there’s so many Fortune500 companies that have development centres down there. That’s why also there are so many outsourcing companies that have just basically turned out code in droves for Western markets. Now, when you have this fantastic resource pool of fantastic engineers, and I’ve heard you say this many, many times – that engineers actually foster innovation more often than product managers and designers, what have you. How do you turn this industry from a resource pool into a product development hub? And I think you already touched on a couple of options, and a couple of ideas of how, but let’s get more into it maybe.
Marty: Yeah. And probably the best country in the world I’ve seen make that transformation from just outsourced engineering, basically, to US companies, German companies, wherever, to creating their own products, is Israel. They have had, you know, exceptional engineers, really, from all around the world, come there. But they, now they do more than just great engineering. They have done, you know, many great products. India has also, you know, for a long time, India was just that’s where the outsourced engineers were. But my favourite companies in India are not outsourcing companies at all. They are the ones that are creating their own products for India, which, of course, is a massive country in its own right, right? Over a billion people. But also, in many cases, now for the world. Same thing has happened in China; the same things happening in Brazil. So I would, you know, I absolutely encourage people, companies and countries to not just provide the engineering, but to really provide whole products. And just, you know, you didn’t ask this. But if it was up to me, the whole idea of outsourcing engineers would be dead. That’s just a terrible idea.
Dan: Did you call them, did you call them mercenaries at a time at one time?
Marty: Yeah, that’s why they’re mercenaries. And if you are an engineer working at an outsourcing firm, get a job as an engineer working on an actual team where you are a full, full member of the team. Because as an outsourcing firm, they can only leverage a small percent of your brain.
Dan: Right? So it doesn’t matter geographically, exactly, entirely where you are. It doesn’t matter the culture you come from. As long as you get ownership in the company that you work in and you feel like you’re part of the solution. And part of the beneficiary of the results of your work for the company, whether it’s a startup, a larger company, and as long as you have some decent training for product manager, be it formal or informal, this will be good to go regardless of the fact that you’re in Estonia, or Romania, or Brazil, right? It should kind of be..
Marty: Yeah, you know, I was saying that even 20 years ago, but the difference is today there are thousands of successful companies all over the world. It is not something that’s just in Silicon Valley. And to be honest, there’s no room in Silicon Valley anymore, anyway. So companies have no choice. Even if their headquarters is in San Francisco, they’ve had to open remote offices. And of course, that was even before the pandemic. The pandemic has just exacerbated that. So there’s just not enough room in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and London for all the companies to be. So they, they go where the talent is. There’s great talent all over the world. And one of the nice things about the pandemic, I think, is that it pushed companies to the point where they realise ‘You know, we can hire this talent anywhere.’ That’s the advantage. They don’t have to live in the same city as the company headquarters. They can be anywhere. There are still advantages if they can be near their designer, their engineers there, but they can be together. But they could be in Bucharest, they could be in wherever, and then do amazing work. And that’s, I mean, I think that’s the story of, you know, the next 20-30 years.
Dan: I mean, you’ve been a fantastic proponent and a big supporter of the idea of being co-located and working together on things to solve problems, working prototypes, instead of, you know, writing down specs and just sending them over to somebody who’s going to work on them, and so on. So, and I’m with you on that, as a product manager myself, I feel disconnected when I’m not in the same room to work with people and things. But that’s what we have to do, sometimes. Especially during this pandemic. So I kind of want to touch on those things. And we’ll take some more questions from from the audience. But how has this year been for you? And what was the biggest takeaway about working? I mean, we’ve had examples of companies that have done successful remote work. A few come to mind, like 37signals and others, have always done things like this, and they’ve never had a hub. And what’s your gist of it? I’m sure you’ve talked about this many times, and other people are just yapping about it. But what’s your take on this year, and the upcoming years as well?
Marty: Yeah, well, I mean, it’s been a mixed bag, for sure. And I can tell you that the leaders of the best companies, I mean, whether you’re talking Reed Hastings, and Netflix, or Bezos and Amazon, they can’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Because the level of innovation has not been what it was. So, and that’s a that’s another harsh truth. Now, the real question is why? And what can we do to fix that? That’s the real question. But I don’t think anybody serious tries to argue that innovation has, has certainly gone up or even held constant. Now, to me, the reason why is because every product team really does two things. They’re doing discovery work and delivery work. And in truth delivery work doesn’t suffer from remote working from home. In fact, in there is of course, an important caveat, I always have to remind myself to say: Working from home is terrible if you are unfortunately stuck being, you know – childcare, homeschooling. If you have.. you know, those people have no time for anything, and they’re under terrible stress today. So those people, you know, we have to be understanding of the stresses those people are under. But let’s say it’s just an engineer living alone. And they’re working from home versus working in an office. You know what, there’s an argument in many teams I found, that delivery is even better, because there are less interruptions. Now, discovery is a different story. Discovery is what’s suffering in the pandemic, not delivery. Because discovery is not a divide and conquer activity, like delivery is. Discovery is a collaborative activity. And so that sitting together around a prototype and debating it for hours on end, that that’s much harder to do when we’re, when we’re dispersed. And that’s been true, that’s why the vast majority of innovative companies are not distributed. Because of that. And the few that are successful distributed, most of them are really delivery centric. They are, meaning that it’s not about what they do, it’s about can they build a scalable low cost implementation of that, and many of them have. But so it is harder to do collaboration when you’re working from home. And there’s good research out there now about the reasons why, but it doesn’t really help us much. It just shines a light on ‘Yeah, this is the problem!’. There are ways we can mitigate the issues. And this, a lot of this falls on the managers, but one of them is trust. It’s very hard to have the kind of dialogues you need to have when you’re when you don’t have those personal relationships. And those, even if you had the personal relationships, and many people are starting, they’re interviewing and starting new jobs, having never met in person the company or the team. They’ve never even gone to the office. They’ve never met anybody face to face. It’s all remote. So the bad side is they don’t have those relationships to leverage. But even though people that do – they’ve worked together for five years before, but now they’re working, all working from home – those relationships start to deteriorate because, really because, people who would never say something this way in person, find themselves on email, or on Slack, you know, not worrying about how they phrase something and people are offended, and they’re not talking about it. And pretty soon, you know, you realise I’m working with jerks, and nobody wants to really collaborate that way. So it is, there are some serious challenges with work from home. It requires the managers to play a much more active coaching role. And by the way, this is just one of many topics; I’ve written about these and other people have too. But that’s really what’s going on. I, of course, you know, obviously, we all want the pandemic to end. But I am hoping, what I what I expect will happen after the pandemic is one, we will continue with people working remotely, forever. Because the access to talent is so valuable. However, we will see teams getting together in local offices all over the world for a few days a week, that kind of thing. We’ll see them come together at times, and then work remotely at times, because they’ll be they’ll have a healthier balance between the discovery and the delivery work.
Dan: So, Carl Jennings is asking: ‘What role do communications play in these processes and where is it more critical?’. And this is a loaded question. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. So I think it kind of plays into what you were just saying. So figuring out a method.
Marty: This is, you know, the truth is we, obviously we have to communicate for everything we do. This is not a secret. But the kinds, the nature of communication is much more intense for discovery than it is for delivery. And so it’s communication plays a big role, obviously, in discovery, and that’s why one of the things I keep pushing the teams I’m coaching to do for their discovery work – even though they don’t really want to do a zoom call, I tell them: ‘Do a daily zoom call, make sure you have video on, with your designer, with your tech lead at least every day.’ Even though, you know, it’s a pain. Because we really need to keep nurturing that communication dynamic, for example. So there’s no question. But you know that communication has never really been the issue. We had Skype long before the pandemic, right? Skype was all over the world. It’s not about the communication. It’s really about the collaboration. So that’s a much harder problem than communication.
Dan: Interesting, and actually reminds me of the previous downturns that we had, when travel was just round to hold on everybody switch to Skype, and they thought it was gonna be fine for about a year. And then everybody else just started recongregating because it was just tough to keep to keep up. So yes, I will take your point on using video with my teams as well. That’s a great, excellent point, because we kind of phased that one out at some point. Aneta is asking us, she says: ‘Product managers are heavily involved in the product discovery process. Into what extent do you think they should be involved in the product delivery process and the actual solutioning?’.
Marty: Okay, well, the first thing I’ve got to correct is because there’s a big assumption in that statement that is just very far off. In other words, the implication there is solutioning is something that’s part of delivery, which is so far off the truth. Solutioning is the heart of discovery. So discovery includes both understanding the problem and coming up with a solution. In fact, the heart of discovery is coming up with a solution that is valuable, usable, feasible, viable. That requires product managers, real product managers, not CSPO product owners, real product managers. It requires real product designers, and it requires your engineers. That is how we come up with solutions. So that is the heart. If you can’t do that.. Look, most products fail. Not because there’s no market. Most products fail because the solution the team came up with is not good. Not good enough to get people to switch. So that is the heart of discovery, not delivery. Delivery is once you know that solution, you have evidence that’s something that’s going to work, we have to build a reliable, scalable, high performance fault tolerant solution – that’s delivery! And obviously product managers and designers still will answer questions that the engineers identify, usually around use cases that weren’t thought through. But there’s always some questions. So product management and product design has a small role to play in delivery. But that is, you know, primarily, engineering. Their primary job is discovery, which absolutely is based around solutioning. So I hope that makes sense to Aneta because that is a really fundamental misunderstanding. And I have met lots of people that have that confusion.
Dan: Excellent. Actually Cosmin is asking: ‘What are the characteristics, what kind of characteristics are you searching for in a perfect product designer? Because most of us have the fundamentals but are struggling to stand out? What else should product managers know, other than CPO training? What are the fundamental things they should cover?’.
Marty: The first question about the designers, right?
Dan: Product designers, yeah.
Marty: Okay. Because they’re very different jobs, we can talk about each. They’re both critical jobs for sure. So let’s talk about the product designer first. When we say product designer, that’s just sort of a loose term. But the key is there are a real product designer is somebody who’s, who’s trained knowledgeable in service design, interaction design, visual design and user research. Okay, now it doesn’t mean they’re an expert in all four of those areas. A typical product designer, their strength is primarily around interaction design. And they have good skills in service design, they have basic competencies in visual design. And they’ve all been trained in the fundamentals of user research. That’s a typical product designer. Those people are awesome. And, you know, I will tell you that companies like Amazon, Google, Netflix, they hire these people as fast as they can. They are, you know, they’re worth gold to teams. So it’s not, you know, 10 years ago, we had a huge shortage of these people. Today, because there are so many more programmes that create these, these real designers it’s not as bad as it used to be. There are really good education programmes, there are online education programmes for these. So product designer, they are your partner, to product managers. They’re right there. They spend their day, they design via prototypes, they’re creating most of the prototypes we use in discovery. Yeah, it’s a great and critical role. And I want to be clear that we’re not talking a graphic designer here. We are talking a real product designer. Okay. Then to Bogdan’s question – what’s what else should product managers know other than CSPO. So just to be clear, everybody should take a certified Scrum Product Owner class, I recommend that! It’s super easy, it only takes a few hours, you should do that. But don’t kid yourself. That teaches you less than 10% of the job of a product manager. It teaches you basically how the process works of typical Scrum or Kanban. And it teaches you how to do the backlog administration responsibility. But this is not the job. Right? This is not the job. Just like teaching an engineer how to work on an agile team. Is this much; teaching them how to code is years! Right? That’s the difference! Okay, so what else do they need to know? Well, there’s a lot that they need to know. I wrote a book about what they need to know, it’s called ‘Inspired’. It talks about the techniques that a competent product manager needs to have. We have many, many different techniques. Some techniques for framing and digging deeper into the problem. Most of the techniques are around coming up with a good solution. We have quantitative techniques, we have qualitative techniques. And I want to be clear, none of that is covered in CSPO training. So yes, you should go to CSPO training! Does that make you even remotely qualified to be a product manager? Not even close! So the way you learn that – I mean, you can go to training for real product managers, but most people learn it from a manager that knows how to do the job. And this is actually the problem in most companies. The problem is their manager doesn’t, has never seen good. They have never seen product done well. They’ve never done it themselves well, and so they can’t teach their people. I learned that from somebody who was awesome, that was willing to teach me. Almost everybody’s who’s good that I know learned it from someone who was willing to coach them. This is why I tell leaders, product leaders that their primary responsibility is coaching their people to learn how to do their job well.
Dan: Which leads me to a pick Raluca’s question. She is throwing an oddball, she’s asking: ‘What makes the difference between a good product manager and a great product manager?’. Which actually, I don’t even know if we have time to cover, might take us a couple of hours. But we’re going to go through that, and I have another question. We want to go as far with time as we can.
Marty: Well, I mean, you know, good to great is a good question. But really what we’re talking about is terrible to good. That’s what we’ve been talking about, terrible to good. If all you are is a CSPO trained product owner, then that’s terrible. And then what we’re really talking about: Okay, your team needs a competent Product Manager, what gets you to good? We can also talk about good to great, but that is.. now we’re really talking about people who really understand how to leverage the insights in the data, that are really skilled at the techniques, that are comfortable tackling the hardest problems, that know how to work closely with engineering, and design, and executives. So that’s another discussion. But most product teams, that’s not the discussion right now. And the managers are just trying to get their product owners to good.
Dan: So are product managers relegated to the role of deliverance, to the role of individual contributors, or are they going to make it out there?
Marty: Well, a product manager like I’m describing is an individual contributor. They are on a product team. Everybody on a product team is an individual contributor, the designer, the engineers, but we work together to solve hard problems. Now, a product owner is so far away from a CEO it would be ridiculous. And in fact, if you’ve ever heard that a good product manager is the CEO of their product, that is not talking about a product owner that is talking about a serious product manager of a of an empowered product team. And that is because in a real product team, the real product managers responsible for value and viability. The designer of course is accountable for usability and the engineers for feasibility. But the product manager is responsible for valuing viability. And in a startup, that’s the CEOs responsibility, value and viability. That’s why real product management is such a good way to prepare yourself for a startup CEO job.
Dan: And I think we got time to take like one more question. And I’m looking at Marius’s. And he’s asking: ‘What’s your view on the setup in which discovery and delivery are split between different individuals. For example, having both the product manager and product owner on the team?’. And I know you’re very vocal about the roles here. So..
Marty: Yeah, no, that’s a terrible anti-pattern. Whenever you see that, you know that it is almost impossible to innovate, first of all. But as a general principle, we never want to do that. There’s a lot of reasons for this. Now, my guess, unfortunately, Marius might work in one of those terrible processes I was describing before. I didn’t mention it, but the classic example of terrible is safe. If you know that process, Scaled Agile Framework, which is not agile in any way. That’s just marketing. But in that model, they separate the product management and product ownership. But that’s because they don’t depend, that is not about innovation at all. It is just about shipping features. So when you separate those two, like Marius is describing, a lot of bad things happen. First of all, there’s one team that is responsible for figuring things out. Another team is just there to shut up and code. And that is not what we want. Like I said, the major innovations come from the engineers knowing what’s just now possible. So the last thing you want to do is separate those two. Yeah. We could just leave it at that. Don’t do that! You should have one person that is the product manager that covers the product owner responsibilities. That is really important. And if that’s not something you want to do, then you don’t have much of a chance, I think, in a in a real product company.
Dan: Awesome. One last question, and that will conclude our questions that we can take actually. Eugen was asking: ‘At METROdigital we have product teams, but also feature and delivery teams. We also use OKRs. As you might imagine, we have some difficulties with OKRs. and feature delivery teams. We take into consideration stopping, OKRs for teams that are not empowered and autonomous. What would you do: stop OKRs or keep pushing and support them to become more empowered and autonomous?’. Very proud.
Marty: OKRs are a ridiculous waste of time if you’re a feature team or delivery team. They’ll be ignored anyway. So I don’t you know, you can do whatever you want, and won’t matter. Because when you give teams a roadmap, that’s like the opposite of OKRs. And so they’re gonna ignore the OKRs. So don’t waste your time is my advice. OKRs were designed for and birthed from companies that were in the other model, the empowered product team model. So lots of companies have tried to use OKRs on their feature teams, what’s the point of this? They get nothing out of it. And so yeah, I wouldn’t waste your time. The real question is, does your business depend on innovation? If it does then I would argue you need to get serious about product. If not, if you’re a bank, for example, where you got plenty of money no matter what you do, because your government’s controlling most of this stuff, then do whatever you want. But if you are dependent on, if you’re eventually competing against the Amazons of the world, then you’ve got to build the same skills they have.
Dan: I think we’re out of time. But I mean, I know everybody who’s been with us would love to have a couple more hours. And I would too. There’s so much to learn and so much to to exchange with you, Marty. It’s been great. It’s been a pleasure. So I want to thank you for the time and taking discretions of being raw about things, so people can actually take some cues on how to improve on their process and on the performance. At the same time, I want to thank everybody who’s been joining us and sending us amazing questions. So thanks, everybody! Thanks for your time, Marty! It’s a great pleasure and a great, great, honour.7
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