Product Marty Cagan

Establishing a True Product Culture

In my last article I discussed the differences between an IT Mindset and a Product Mindset.  I must have struck a chord because I heard from so many people, from all over the world, that they were stuck in an “IT Mindset” organization.  Unsurprisingly, their next question was how do they change their organization, or in some cases, their question was around whether it’s possible to change an IT Mindset organization, or do they need to just leave and move to a startup?

The first thing I want to emphasize is that I do not believe you must move to a startup if you want to truly innovate.  In fact, many of the world’s most impressive truly disruptive innovations have come from well established companies (e.g. Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Netflix, Google, Facebook).

However, you might notice that my examples are mainly Internet-era companies, and they are all run by strong tech-savvy leaders.  I don’t think that’s an accident.  As Marc Andreessen said recently on Twitter: 1. Software eats the world; 2. Every company becomes a software company; 3) Software people run every company.

I am constantly with companies that may have started life as something else, but have come to realize that they are now essentially a software company, and are actively working to change how they think and act.

As to the question of how to change your company, as luck would have it, a new book has just recently been published that does what I consider an excellent job of describing what we really mean by a strong product culture.  The book is How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (the former CEO and former head of product of Google).

Readers of these articles will recognize most of the themes of the book:

  • the importance of hiring and developing very strong people (referred to in the book as “smart creatives”)
  • building and nurturing strong, cross-functional, co-located, empowered product teams
  • giving those product teams clear KPI’s (OKR’s)
  • the critical importance of very strong product managers
  • focusing innovation on technology-enabled solutions (key technical insights)
  • the strong use of data
  • relentless focus on the customer experience

Google might be the first product company to publicly discuss their product culture in this much detail, but they are by no means the only good example.  Another case where the company shared publicly some real insight into their product culture is Netflix (if you haven’t seen their culture deck it’s terrific).

So if your company is trapped in an IT Mindset, I encourage you to read the Google book, and maybe even buy a copy for your CEO. Then start identifying areas where you might be able to apply the ideas.