Modern Product Management with Marty Cagan

This Q&A with Marty is not one of the best, the questions are not particularly good, but still a few good insights on key themes like strategy, the PM role, agile methods, etc.


  • The main thing I get frustrated with at companies, is that they have no strategy – not even a bad strategy, just none.
  • They have some objectives, like grow the business or reduce churn rates. And then a roadmap of features. But that’s it.
  • This is a difference with good product companies, where the strategy is right at the heart of what teams do.
  • Strategy requires doing things that are hard, like making decisions about what not to work on. They have too many priorities. They don’t really understand what it means to focus.
  • Thinking and looking at insights is required for good strategy. It takes a lot of work.
  • Managers need to sit down one-on-one with product teams to discuss how they are contributing to the strategy.
  • Product strategy should tell you what problems need to be solved. This is what you then give to the product teams to tackle. Not just passing down a roadmap.

What is an empowered team?

  • Do they get to figure out the best way to solve the problems they are tasked with, or does somebody else figure that out?
  • But to do that, they need a true cross-functional team. PM, UX and design, and engineering.
  • The biggest thing missing from most teams is a real product manager. They have product owners, but not a product manager.
  • A product owner is just a backlog administrator. This is not that helpful to a product team.
  • These people can be coached most of the time to be a product manager though.
  • The PM is a problem, because there is only one on a team, unlike engineering. And if that PM is not capable, then you have a big problem.

Trust in product teams

  • The executives need to trust the team, and in particular the product manager.
  • Otherwise they won’t let them figure out the solutions.
  • In the team it requires trust between the different roles, because to solve the problems it means everyone working together.
  • Character is also important. Don’t hire jerks, otherwise it is hard to collaborate as a team.

Agile methods

  • Lots of teams say they use Agile or Kanban, but this doesn’t mean they really are agile in nature, they are still following a roadmap and building features.
  • There are a bunch of processes out there that call themselves Agile, but they are not. The most famous one is SAFe – this is just marketing, there is no agile there in shape or form. It’s command and control and waterfall.
  • Companies sometimes have these Agile religious people. Anytime you have a religious view on these things it is dangerous.

Product Discovery

  • Discovery is much faster than delivery. We should do doing 15-30 prototypes or tests a week.
  • We like discovery because we can very quickly find out whether something is worth building or not.
  • Don’t like using the term MVP much anymore because it confuses people. It’s just another prototype mechanism. Most prototypes, and most MVPs, are going to be thrown away at the end.
  • I’m allergic to process. A competent product manager is choosing the right techniques for the job.
  • The four risks: value, usability, feasibility, viability, all require different methods.
  • Sometimes it’s very easy and it just goes on the backlog. Sometimes it’s very risky and we have to do a lot of prototyping.

The difference between B2C and B2B

  • It depends if it’s a good or bad B2B. Most B2B companies are terrible. That’s long established. They do terrible products.
  • If it’s a good B2B company, the difference is not big at all. Basically you should build products for business users the you build for consumers.
  • Most B2B companies are not well run from a product perspective. They are really sales driven.
  • That leads to a whole bunch of bad behaviours.

How to measure progress in the discovery phase?

  • Try not to think of discovery as a phase. It’s what design and PM do every day.
  • You can look at silly metrics like how many prototypes we did. But none of that matters.
  • What matters are the results. Look at the result KPIs.
  • Everything else is a vanity KPI.
  • You can do 100 prototypes in a week and still have a terrible product.

What does a sales team or CEO say when asked when a feature will be ready?

  • It’s normal for customers to ask about features.
  • You need to have a conversation with them about what they are really trying to do.
  • The real answer is easy: we will solve the problem by a certain date. Not a certain feature.
  • This is easier in B2C than it is in B2B.

Recommended book: Lean Analytics – this is one of the best in the series, and good for learning the data analytics part of the job. Also take a course on statistics.

What skills do product managers lack the most?

  • Four big things:
    • Deep understanding of your users and customers
    • Deep understanding of the data and analytics
    • Deep understanding of your own business
    • Deep understanding of your industry
  • A key thing for product people is constant learning. If you don’t like learning then you won’t like this job.

Published by

Tim Woods

Product manager (formerly software engineer and marketing manager) with 17 years of experience in the field of innovation management. South Coast of England.

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