Product AMA with Marty Cagan on Clubhouse
Marty Cagan from Silicon Valley Product Group and author of Inspired and Empowered, generously gave his time to answer questions about product — from breaking into product, doing well when you start, changing careers into product, and being a better product leader and coaching execs.
Here’s notes from the session:
What makes you a great product manager if you don’t have experience?
Extra years isn’t automatically good; you may be spending more years ingraining bad habits.
Marty Cagan said he doesn’t believe being great at product goes with age. He asked a 16-year-old’s mom for permission to hire him a product manager! He is now a successful CEO.
So what is it if not age?
👉 Good product people want to learn about all of the business — legal, sales, marketing, compliance and security, monetization — the hunger to learn it all is key.
👉 “Product is always hard” and good product people get around issues and find creative solutions outside the box. They have grit.
👉 Studied design, engineering, or product — a triple threat to know all three. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that [a triple threat] who wasn’t successful in this industry.”
👉 Have curiosity about the technology that enables innovation and a desire to get into users’ heads and understand them.
“Being a great PM is more about how you think about the world than what you learned in your 20's.”
How do you vet a future manager as a product manager?
🔍Use LinkedIn to research them before your interview. If the hiring manager has consistently worked at companies with empowered product teams, they should know what good looks like.
🔍However, just because someone knows what good looks like doesn’t mean that they’re willing to take time to develop you. So during the interview, interview them! Question their plans to grow their reports into great PMs especially if this is your first product role.
What is a litmus test to evaluate if your possible future team is really an empowered product team?
🤝 Evaluate the team structure:
• It’s easy to identify a delivery team: SAFe methods, outsourcing engineers, and often have product owner as the title. Run from these! That’s not where you’ll be able to practice product.
• On the other hand, feature and product teams look very similar: PM, designer, engineers that aren’t outsourced and often running scrum. Although the PM in a feature team is more project manager than product manager.
🤝 Evaluate the team process:
- Are the engineers only there to code or do they participate in product discovery?
• Do the designers think it’s a dumb solution that’s just being built and matched to the company style guide?
• Ask the people working there ‘How is work assigned? Does the team participate in product discovery to find solutions to problems or are they given a roadmap of features to build?’
• Keep in mind that the presence of a roadmap alone isn’t an issue; how the contents were derived and placed there is the key part!
How do you get into a product manager role — direct apply or transition within a company?
👉 A company that already knows and trusts you can more likely support the switch into the role.
👉 A 1–2 year APM program to fast track you to be an awesome product manager is an excellent opportunity. Google’s philosophy for their program: If they pick the right people, 50% will leave to start their own startup!
👉Shorter PM internships can be hard to get product management experience as compared to project management since it takes ~3 months just to ramp up on a product area under a good manager in order to begin really practicing product management.
How do I know if I’m actively creating an empowered team?
🔷 Expose your team to a lot of customers on ongoing cadence. This not just the PMs; other roles like design and engineering need to be exposed to the end user.
🔷 PMs need to learn all aspects of the business — marketing, sales, service, monetization, compliance, and privacy, etc. — and share generously what they’ve been learning with others. Doing this allows you to build trust in the organization.
🔷 “Good products don’t happen by design by committee.” Empowered teams are trusted to deliver the best solution for the customer’s problem.
How do you transition from user researcher to product manager?
1️⃣ Everyone is different so any advice on switching needs to be specific to you and your skills and background, not applied to generalized stereotypes about user researchers.
2️⃣ Start with an awareness that no one knows everything; there will be gaps in your skills and knowledge. 👉 Do a self assessment to identify your blind spots and create an action plan to learn more in those areas to strengthen your candidacy.
❗️ I think that best part of this advice is that he didn’t want to give her random advice because everyone’s background and journey into product is different.
This is why I tell people to ask specific questions. There isn’t a one size fits all answer for a field as varying and multidimensional as product management which can make it hard to give actionable feedback.
It can be hard to turn a Clubhouse room into a personal feedback session but don’t be afraid to make the best use of your time and opportunity, even if that means getting a little vulnerable.
How do I do a product management project to showcase my skills as an undergraduate student trying to get into product?
🌱 “It’s hard to do PM as a project; you can do engineering as a project or design as a project.”
🌱 Take a coding class, a data analytics class, and a finance class while you’re still in college.
How do you switch a team to be empowered when you’re the newest, least experienced person on the team aka the least trusted?
🚀 The most senior person needs to drive that change; ideally, the CEO!
🚀 Outside of that, get your manager to support you and champion your designer and engineers to get to listen to real users every single week.
🚀 Additionally, show that you deeply understand the business to build the trust that you may be lacking.