In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital keynote, Marty Cagan, author of ”Inspired” and “Empowered”, explains the important role of product leadership in any great product company–and why it’s so hard to get right.
Watch the video to see the talk in full or read on for an overview of Marty’s key points:
- Empower your teams by giving them problems to solve
- Coaching is the best use of your time
- A powerful product vision is everything
- Set up your teams to maximize ownership and autonomy
- Build your Product Strategy on Focus and Insights
Empower Your Teams by Giving Them Problems To Solve
As a long-time advocate of empowered teams, Marty explains the concept: Whereas a feature team might be given a roadmap of features to build, truly empowered teams are given customer problems to solve, autonomously deciding how to tackle these.
But when trying to empower your teams, do not just back off to give them space to figure things out. The key, he says, isn’t less leadership, but better leadership. It’s the product leader’s job to provide an environment that allows this empowered way of working.
Coaching Is the Best Use of Your Time
Marty distinguishes between management (coaching and staffing) and leadership (providing strategic context). To empower your teams and ensure your product company’s success, you need to master both.
“Coaching is the single most important responsibility of every people manager”, he explains. If you’re a first-level manager and not spending about 50% of your time on coaching your team on knowledge, skills and context – he says you are simply not doing your job right.
A Powerful Product Vision Is Everything
Leaders of product, design and engineering, Marty explains, need to set the strategic context their teams operate in. That includes the product vision—a powerful north star that keeps the customer front and center, and guides your product organization. Done right, your vision will not only inspire meaningful work but also serve as a recruiting tool. The caveat is that a strong product vision is far from easy to get right. It is not analytical or data-driven, Marty explains, but needs to trigger an emotional response to unite your teams behind it.
Set up Your Teams To Maximize Ownership and Autonomy
Team topologies, according to Marty, are another important and difficult part of the product leaders’ job. His advice is to maximize ownership, autonomy and alignment. Feeling like they own something meaningful, he explains, inspires your teams to do their best work. Quoting Netflix’s Reed Hastings, he recommends that you aim for “highly aligned, loosely coupled” teams: They can act autonomously without unreasonable dependencies but are aligned on their objectives.
Build Your Product Strategy on Focus and Insights
While your Product Vision is the high-level north star that should guide you through the next few years, the product strategy is a living thing that should be updated at least every quarter.
A common misconception: “Trying to please as many stakeholders as you possibly can is not a Product Strategy”, Marty says. Instead, it is about how you make the most out of the people, the money and the time that you have.
Strategy starts with focus, he tells us, by choosing the two or three things that are going to make a difference. Then you can immerse yourself in insights and data to get the context right. But make your strategy actionable. Even the best product strategy is worthless, if you don’t execute on it.