7 Hard Truths About Product From Marty Cagan

I attended an uncomfortable conference by Marty Cagan at School of Product. I’ve been reading him for 15 years now, and I’m still learning from him.

Here are seven slaps from his talk, some of which triggered nervous laughs in the audience:

1️⃣ Delivery > Discovery > Strategy

A product-led transformation is a combination of 3 changes:
– how you release (product delivery)
– how you solve problems (product discovery)
– how you choose which problems to solve (product strategy)
The important detail: those changes are sequential. No need to invest massively in discovery if you can’t ship fast. No need to nail the perfect strategy if you can’t come up with great solutions. Focus on the maturity level you’re bad at before trying to fix the next one.

2️⃣ Agile = Speed

Any agile ritual is useless if it doesn’t help you ship faster. Your agility is measured by how often you bring new increments of value to your customers. Your speed is your ultimate delivery metric. Everything around it should serve that goal.

3️⃣ Obsession for process

Process is there to bring product success. It is a mean to an end. If you put in charge people who are more familiar with process than product success, well, you are likely to excel at process — at the expense of product success. (Some process is needed. Just don’t make it a religion.)

4️⃣ Discovery ≠ Understanding the problem

For some reason, discovery has become this cult about unearthing new problems. As a consequence, people think they need to spend ages figuring out what the problem is… and miss out on the whole solution discovery part, which is where the actual value comes from. You can’t ship a problem to customers. You need to have a found a solution to their problem — a solution whose promise is so great that they will be willing to make the efforts required to adopt it.

5️⃣ Definition of product roles is simple

Who does what in a product team is a recurring source of endless debates. Grey areas will persist, but it was refreshing to be reminded of a straightforward way to define each role’s primary focus:
Product Managers? value + viability
Designers? usability
Engineers? feasibility

6️⃣ Don’t miss out on Stripe

Everyone is after best practices from Apple, Google or Amazon. No-one is looking at Stripe. Their product successes come from a remarkable culture. Seek inspiration there.

7️⃣ Oral mastery = clear writing

Switching away from the content, I was baffled by the ease of Marty on stage. Audience captivated during one hour, using just a couple of slides with one sentence on it, and no notes. Most people don’t pay attention to it because he doesn’t have a flamboyant style, but such a prowess is rare. While practice probably plays a major role in this mastery, I suspect that Marty’s writing weekly habit plays a major role in his ability to improvise flawlessly. Want to get better at public speaking? Start writing more regularly.

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