Product management theater | Marty Cagan (Silicon Valley Product Group)

Product management theater | Marty Cagan (Silicon Valley Product Group)

Marty’s background (00:00:00)

  • Marty Kagan has been helping product teams and product managers improve their craft, processes, and careers for over 20 years.
  • He has worked with more product teams and product managers than any other human alive.
  • He has written two of the most popular books in the field of product management: Inspired and Empowered.
  • His newest book, Transformed, is being released this week.
  • Many companies have over-hired during the pandemic, leading to the creation of unnecessary roles such as agile coaches, product owners, product Ops, and business analysts.
  • This results in a situation where people who are not real product managers are dramatically overpaid for the value they provide.
  • It is easier to deliver output than it is to deliver outcomes.
  • Most product management advice found online is wrong because it is based on the assumption that product managers are project managers.
  • Project managers focus on delivering output, while product managers focus on delivering outcomes.
  • Product managers need to be able to think strategically and understand the customer's needs in order to be successful.
  • Product managers should focus on delivering outcomes, not output.
  • They should be able to think strategically and understand the customer's needs.
  • They should be able to work effectively with cross-functional teams.
  • They should be able to communicate effectively with stakeholders.
  • Product managers need to have a strong understanding of the customer's needs.
  • They need to be able to think strategically and creatively.
  • They need to be able to work effectively with cross-functional teams.
  • They need to be able to communicate effectively with stakeholders.
  • They need to be able to use data to make decisions.
  • Create a culture of trust and respect.
  • Give employees the autonomy to make decisions.
  • Provide employees with the resources they need to be successful.
  • Encourage employees to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
  • Celebrate success.
  • You are focused on delivering features, not outcomes.
  • You are not involved in the strategic planning process.
  • You do not have the autonomy to make decisions.
  • You are not given the resources you need to be successful.
  • You are not encouraged to take risks or learn from your mistakes.
  • Feature teams are not empowered to make decisions.
  • Feature teams are not given the resources they need to be successful.
  • Feature teams are not encouraged to take risks or learn from their mistakes.
  • Feature teams are often focused on delivering features that are not aligned with the customer's needs.

His take on the state of product management (00:04:46)

  • Marty Cagan, from the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG), has been writing critically about product management and leadership theater due to the chaos and fear caused by rapid change and disruption in the tech industry.
  • Cagan's approach differs from Lenny's as he focuses on identifying and sharing principles and practices used by successful product companies.
  • SVPG's heuristic involves observing proven techniques used by multiple innovative companies.
  • Cagan and his team aim to help startups and large organizations achieve success by identifying commonalities and effective techniques in product management.
  • Cagan acknowledges that successful startups often rely on their founders' skills and leadership, regardless of specific techniques.
  • Cagan empathizes with journalists who balance critical questioning with maintaining productive conversations and avoiding scaring off guests.
  • Cagan finds it entertaining to hear companies describe themselves in interviews, as their perspectives may differ from his observations.

Product management theater (00:12:08)

  • Product management theater, characterized by over-hiring, lowered hiring standards, and unnecessary roles, has led to decreased productivity and innovation in product development.
  • The rise of generative AI and remote work has further contributed to reduced velocity and innovation.
  • Companies outside Silicon Valley often have bloated teams and excessive processes, hindering productivity and innovation.
  • Agile methodologies like Scrum are often misunderstood and implemented poorly, exacerbating the problem.
  • Despite heavy investments in product development, many companies lack tangible outcomes, resulting in significant waste.
  • Successful companies achieve more with less by adopting efficient practices that better meet customer needs and increase their chances of survival in a competitive market.

Feature teams vs. empowered product teams (00:18:33)

  • Product managers (PMs) are often disliked due to negative experiences with incompetent PMs who primarily act as glorified project managers in feature teams.
  • Real product teams focus on solving customer or business problems rather than delivering specific features.
  • The success of product teams is measured by delivering valuable solutions, not just shipping products.
  • Strong product companies prioritize time-to-money over time-to-market.
  • PMs are essential for solving complex problems that require solutions beyond usability and feasibility, such as ensuring value and viability.
  • PMs ensure that the product meets the needs of the users and the business.
  • PMs should not be involved in the day-to-day tasks of designers and developers.
  • Many individuals with the title of "product manager" are not actually doing the job of a product manager.
  • Motivated individuals can develop the skills necessary to be a product manager.
  • Companies need product managers who can contribute at a high level.

Skills of a real product manager (00:24:48)

  • A real product manager focuses on value and viability, not just feasibility.
  • A product manager is a creator, not just a facilitator.
  • To represent value and viability, a product manager needs expertise in:
    • Users and customers.
    • Data analysis.
    • Compliance, sales, marketing, financial cost, monetization, and go-to-market issues.
    • Deep understanding of the market.
  • A product owner is responsible for managing the backlog in Jira, which is not the main job of a product manager.
  • An empowered product manager is responsible for creating solutions with design and engineering, representing value and viability, and bringing deep understanding of the market.
  • A feature team product manager is somewhere between a product owner and an empowered product manager, doing more than administering the backlog but also a lot of project management.

The product management reckoning is here (00:29:27)

  • Delivery team product owners and feature team product managers are facing a reckoning as companies realize these roles are not what they thought they were.
  • Generative AI will compound this issue.
  • Product managers should raise their skills and move from delivery teams and feature teams to become real product managers.
  • Individual contributors can do this by doing a self-assessment and raising their skills.
  • Companies will appreciate and promote product managers who understand these things.
  • Product managers can also try running a set of teams in a new way to see how it works.

Taking control of your product management career (00:32:05)

  • Many online resources for product managers propagate the project management model.
  • Most certifications for product managers are bogus as they focus on the project management model.
  • New product managers often rely on these resources and end up learning the wrong skills.
  • There are great resources available, but they are not as easy to find.
  • Product managers need to take control of their careers and seek out the right resources to learn the necessary skills.

The challenge of finding reliable product management advice (00:34:59)

  • Most online product management content and many books on the subject are not based on best practices, leading to a cycle of misinformation.
  • The most important skill for product managers is critical thinking and evaluating information.
  • Research the manager you'll be working with during the interview process, as they play a crucial role in your development.
  • Marty Cagan, a renowned product management expert, created Silicon Valley Product Group to provide companies outside Silicon Valley with access to effective product management methods, tools, and techniques.
  • Product management theater, where companies pretend to do product management but are not actually doing it effectively, is a common practice in the tech industry.
  • Shri, another product management expert, has confirmed the existence of product management theater and is working to address it.

The disconnect between good product companies and the product management community (00:40:18)

  • Most B2B software is of poor quality due to being sales-driven.
  • Sales-driven product companies are often not led by product people, which contributes to their poor product quality.
  • Empowered product teams can do everything a feature team can do and more.
  • People who are content with being on a feature team and not caring about the customer experience should not be in product management.

Top-down vs. bottom-up cultures (00:44:23)

  • The CTO of Meta described Meta as a top-down culture, despite it appearing bottom-up.
  • Product teams don't do product strategy; product leaders do.
  • Product leaders make strategic decisions and bets, then give teams the latitude to figure out how to solve the problems.
  • Empowerment does not mean teams decide what to work on; it means leaders do their job and teams figure out how to solve the problems.

The shift in product management post-ZIRP era (00:47:06)

  • Many product managers (PMs) were focused on growth and optimization during the ZIRP era.
  • With the end of the ZIRP era, there's a return to building, finding product-market fit, validation, and discovery.
  • Some teams are still stuck doing optimization work and need to transform into product teams.
  • The shift towards product teams is not necessarily tied to interest rates but rather to the quality of leadership and the need of the business.

The changing landscape of product management (00:49:44)

  • The principles of empowered product management remain stable, focusing on value and viability.
  • Techniques are undergoing radical changes, especially with the emergence of generative AI.
  • Generative AI can be used for various tasks, including writing product requirements documents (PRDs), strategy development, and bug triage.
  • The challenge is determining what generative AI is good for and how to use it effectively.
  • People tend to trust the results of generative AI too much, leading to potential issues.
  • It's recommended to think through the answer first and then use generative AI to improve, challenge, or refine the initial idea.

The disruption of PM skills by AI (00:52:05)

  • Communication skills may be improved by AI tools like Chat GPT, but in the long term, some PM skills may be disrupted.
  • Engineering and design roles are currently more affected by AI, but product management roles may also be impacted in the future.
  • Feature team project managers and backlog administrators may see their roles significantly automated, while empowered product managers focused on value and viability will remain important.
  • Designers and tech leads will continue to be crucial, especially in addressing ethical and legal considerations related to probabilistic software.
  • Viability, which refers to the business feasibility of a product, becomes even more important with AI, as it involves legal, ethical, and compliance constraints.

The purpose and content of Marty’s new book, Transformed (00:55:56)

  • Marty Cagan's book, "Transform," provides practical guidance and techniques for companies to transform their product development processes.
  • Unlike his previous book, "Inspired," "Transform" offers case studies from non-Silicon Valley companies that successfully changed their ways of working.
  • The book is written for a broader audience, including CEOs, CFOs, heads of sales, and anyone interested in improving their company's product development processes.
  • Cagan believes that many product managers feel stuck in their roles and suggests that they take the initiative to push their companies in a better direction.
  • "Transform" aims to help product managers understand how they can improve their careers and product management practices within their companies.

The product operating model (01:02:05)

  • Marty Cagan's book, "Transformed: Moving to the Product Operating Model," introduces the concept of a product operating model as a set of principles common to successful companies.
  • The product operating model focuses on three key areas: product strategy, product discovery, and product delivery.
  • Four essential competencies for a product operating model are product managers, product designers, product marketers, and product engineers.
  • Product managers play a crucial role in empowering teams and motivating change within an organization.
  • The four key roles for successful product development are product manager, product designer, tech lead, and product leader.
  • Leadership is essential for the success of product teams, as it ensures that each group does their job effectively.

New competencies required for successful product teams (01:08:27)

  • Innovation is more important than predictability.
  • Learning is more important than failure.
  • Principles are more important than process.
  • Empower teams with problems to solve.
  • Foster a real sense of ownership within teams.
  • Address product risk in Discovery.
  • Embrace quick experimentation.
  • Test ideas responsibly.
  • Implement small, frequent, uncoupled releases.
  • Instrument and monitor everything.

Marty’s thoughts on product ops (01:11:25)

  • Product Ops is analogous to Dev Ops and design Ops.
  • Product Ops can be used in the product operating model.
  • The heart of product Ops is user research and data analysts brought together under one leader.
  • Some companies interpret Product Ops as focusing on process and governance, which is a red flag.
  • Many companies use Product Ops people to do the "dirty work" for product managers, which is not a good practice.
  • Product Ops people should be high-leverage individuals who help multiple teams.
  • Product leaders should not hire Product Ops to do their job, such as educating product managers.

Advice for founders who don’t want product managers (01:15:13)

  • Marty Cagan advises founders against hiring product managers too soon.
  • Hiring a real product manager too early can cause conflict and slow down progress.
  • Founders should focus on value and viability, which is their job, until product-market fit is achieved.
  • After product-market fit, it's a better time to hire a product manager.
  • Around 20 to 25 engineers, the co-founder should transition from being the product person to hiring a product manager.

Lightning round (01:18:06)

  • Marty Cagan recommends the books "Build" by Tony Fidel and "What's Our Problem" by Tim Urban for their unique perspectives on product management and design.
  • His favorite recent product discovery is the Rivian electric car company, which he compares to the Airbnb of car companies due to its founder's design background.
  • Cagan emphasizes the importance of writing as a tool for thinking and encourages others to develop their thinking skills.
  • His book on product management and design will be available in electronic, audio, and hardback formats on March 12th.
  • All of the information from the book and other resources can be found for free on the website

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