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Noé X Marty Cagan : Launching your Product career

On February 3rd we hosted a Q&A session with Marty Cagan, founder of the Silicon Valley Product group. Marty has been an executive responsible for building products for companies like HP, Nextscape and Ebay. He is the author of Inspired which is considered by some as the bible of Product Management (we offer to all Noé students as a welcome gift). This Q&A sessions on “How to launch your Product career” and is full of many insights for people wanting to become Product Managers.
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What should a future PM pay attention to during the hiring process for their first PM job ? 

This is a super important question ! I would advise not to worry so much about the company, but to worry about who you will work for and who will be your manager.

You want to make sure that person knows how good product is done, and trust me it’s hard. Are they willing to dedicate time to coach and help you develop as a Product Manager ? You want them to be able to give you an intensive coaching : a one hour one-to-one coaching at least once a week. Unfortunately such a thing is not easy to find.  

First PM in an early stage start-up vs PM in a structured Product Team - what are your thoughts ? 

I generally have a very strong opinion on this when I know the person. The answer to this question really depends on the person’s goal. If they one day hope to start their own business, I would advise to go to an early stage start-up, but it is also so much more work. You do everything and you learn everything. 

But be careful of something, when you join an early stage start-up : it can happen that the founder will be the one doing the product and you will end up being kind of a project manager which is not a good way to start your career in Product. 

Top 3 things we should adopt as new Product Managers ? 

There are 3 core responsibilities for every Product Manager. The first one is to build the habit to talk to users and customers every single week. You want to become the expert of users in your company. The second is that you need to learn everyday a little bit more about how your business works : How sales works, how marketing works, how finance works, legal, etc. 

And the third is technology. I strongly encourage product managers to know how to program. This doesn’t mean that they should be developers. The goal is to build a very good relationship with your engineers. Building a lifelong learning habit on technologies and what they enable. 

What are the typical mistakes to avoid in your first years as a PM ? 

I would say the most common mistakes are not the fault of the PM but of the manager. By far the biggest problem I see is that the Product manager is doing a Product Owner job. Product ownership is a role within the Product Management job, it represents roughly 10% of the job of a Product Management. 

Many companies don’t even know what they mean when they are opening positions for PM or PO. So, when you are applying you have to really know what they mean behind the job title. 

Any tips on how to kickstart a Product driven culture ? 

It’s very hard for a Product Manager to start changing the culture of a company. The changes necessary have to come from above, meaning the CEO or at least the Head of Product.

There are questions you can ask your company to assess if they have a product-driven culture. Do they think about technology as a cost center ? Do they think of it as “IT” ? These are all very bad signs. Technology has to be at the center of what they do, no matter what kind of business they are.

What evolution have you seen in the PM role ?

First I don’t believe that the responsibilities have changed. It has always been the same : Solve real problems with solutions customers love (and that match with the business).

However I do believe that the technique has changed a lot. PMs, Designers and Engineers have been continuously provided with better tools. 

I have seen an evolution that I’m worried about. It is the growing use of  the SAFe framework (Scaled Agile Framework). It is mainly used in big and older companies. If you want to do Product Management at all, don’t go to a company that uses that process. It is just Waterfall with a new marketing. 

To wrap up what would you say is the #1 thing new PM should know, but they don’t?

Know what you can’t know. Many PMs think they know the answer about the problems they want to solve, they can’t know if customers are going to love something. The danger comes with the arrogance from thinking that you know. And it’s hard to be comfortable to admit that you don’t know. 

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