Product Marty Cagan

Product Management Then and Now

Occasionally in my work with technology product teams around the world, I run into product managers that are still practicing the role as it used to be defined back in the PC era of technology.  These organizations are inevitably frustrated, as the role was not terribly effective and often not respected.

There are many possible reasons why these organizations have never moved forward.  Perhaps the leaders are simply perpetuating what they learned many years ago. Perhaps the organization received “training” from one of the many non-technology firms that try to apply their models of the past to Internet-era companies.  Perhaps the old role has been institutionalized in a formal corporate product development process.

In any case, after I explain the new role to the team, I find that it sometimes helps to highlight the key differences.

I think this probably works better in person, but I want to try this in written form.  Let me say up front that this is a little bit exaggerated (but not much) to shine a light on the key behaviors.

Old: Marketing
New: Product (Product Management plus User Experience Design), a Peer to Technology and Marketing

Old: MBA
New: Computer Science or User Experience Design

Spends Days:
Old: Writing Requirements Documents
New: Product Discovery / Pursuing Minimum Viable Product

Learns About Customer Behavior:
Old: With Focus Groups
New: With User Testing and A/B Testing

Makes Case For Project Funding Based On:
Old: A Business Case
New: Customer and Product Discovery

Old: The Wall Street Journal
New: TechCrunch and GigaOM

Deep Knowledge In:
Old: How To Use Excel
New: His Customers

Old: To Be The Boss
New: To Apply Technology To Solve Problems

Sits With:
Old: “The Business”
New: His Product Team (Designers and Developers)

When Things Don’t Go Well:
Old: He Blames The Developers
New: He Blames Himself

Strives To Please:
Old: His Stakeholders
New: His Customers (because he’s learned that’s the only way to really please the stakeholders)

Makes Decisions Based On:
Old: Opinions
New: Data

Communicates With Stakeholders:
Old: With PowerPoint
New: With Prototypes

Old: Believes His Ideas Are Great
New: Knows At Least Half of Ideas Won’t Work

Worries About:
Old: His Competitors
New: Taking Care Of His Customers

Secret Weapon:
Old: Killer Features
New: User Experience

Strives To Create:
Old: Profit
New: Value (because it’s the best path to sustained profits)

This last point may not be so obvious to people and it is the subject of an upcoming article.