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Interviewing Software & IT Leaders

"Behind every great product there is a great product manager. That is why there are so few great products out there".

Marty Cagan
Marty Cagan
Founding Partner
Silicon Valley Product Group

Marty Cagan is the founding partner at the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG). SVPG was created to share senior level experience and best practices with technology companies. He is also the author of the book "Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love" .

Marty has been a product executive for some of the biggest technology names out there: Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, America Online, and most recently as Senior Vice President of Product Management and Design at eBay.

Daniel, Business Development Manager for the US Avangate office, met Marty during a presentation he gave at Stanford on "Product Discovery" and afterwards he was kind enough to share with us some tips on product development, with a deep focus on the importance of product prototyping and user testing.

Daniel Nicolescu: What is product management and what is the role of a product manager inside a company?

Marty Cagan: The product manager is responsible for discovering a product that is valuable, usable and feasible. If he can do this, he's done his job. If he can't, there's no point in spending the time and money to build and launch the product.

Daniel Nicolescu: Given the changing speed of today's markets, what development process would you recommend for a software product? Is Waterfall too old to be taken into consideration?

In many ways, the Waterfall process represents an idealistic but naive view of the software development process, where people are able to anticipate the key issues and fully understand the requirements.

Marty Cagan: Standard Waterfall is awful. At the least you must make some significant adjustments to address the core issues. Fundamentally, in Waterfall, validation occurs too late in the process; changes are costly and disruptive, and it takes too long to respond to the market.

For example, I have long argued that requirements and user experience design are intertwined and should be done together. I don't like the old Waterfall model of a product manager doing "requirements" and handing that off to interaction designers that do "design" and then to some engineers to "build".

In many ways, the Waterfall process represents an idealistic but naive view of the software development process, where people are able to anticipate the key issues and fully understand the requirements. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case with product software. In practice, the consequence is that the product ships later than planned due to changes, and then expensive, time-consuming follow-on releases are required in order to correct issues once real users have a chance to see and use the actual software.

For most types of software, I prefer Agile methods like Scrum, but with some critical adjustments especially around design and product management. See this article for more info on succeeding with Agile.

Daniel Nicolescu: What are some of the key techniques you recommend for product discovery?

Marty Cagan: The first is creating a high-fidelity prototype, and the second is user testing. You can read more on SVPG website about prototyping at and user testing.

Daniel Nicolescu: What tools do you use and recommend in prototyping software products?

Marty Cagan: In the Web space, in addition to the many good Web development tools such as DreamWeaver , there are now products that specialize in the prototyping/visualization space: Axure is a favorite of mine. The key is that you use something that lets you very quickly and easily create a realistic user experience.

Daniel Nicolescu: What do you look for in a product manager?

The product manager should listen to his potential customers, but not let them dictate the product.

Marty Cagan: Behind every great product there is a great product manager. That is why there are so few great products out there. The Product manager should be a person that can identify the right product at the right time; that can represent the customer and fight for its needs.

The product manager should have passion for the product, be able to develop and sustain customer empathy, he should be intelligent, have strong work ethics and integrity. He must be confident and communicate easily and efficiently. He must know his product, his customers, and his competitors. He knows there are no excuses for failure and that his success comes from the product success and nothing else. The product manager should listen to his potential customers, but not let them dictate the product.

Daniel Nicolescu: What is the most common mistake that you see product managers making?

Marty Cagan: Probably the most common mistake product managers make is to confusing customer requirements with product requirements.

Many product teams look to the marketing function or sales or the customer to define the product to be built. If you're building a custom product, or doing contract product development work, then letting your marketing or sales organization define your product may be fine. However, if you're trying to build an innovative product that will meet the needs of a wide range of customers, then this approach will rarely produce the product you want.

Product management is responsible for defining the right product. It is the job of the product manager to deeply understand the target market and their needs, and then to work to combine what is possible with what is desirable, to create products that solve real problems.

Daniel Nicolescu: Where can people learn more?

Marty Cagan: My new book "Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love" is now available on Amazon in both hardback and digital download form, and the web site is loaded with free content.

Published date: March 02, 2009

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