We met Marty Cagan at the Product Management + User Experience virtual conference through his talk Good to Great. After enjoying his insights on designing and building products we decided to ask him for an interview.

This is the second part of our conversation. (If you missed, you can start with part one.)

How Important Is It to Foster a Problem-Solving Culture?

There are two answers to that.

In a product company, this is the most important competency for the product company. For an agency, that’s a much more difficult situation.

Sometimes you get lucky and you get a client that understands this and is willing to really work with you to figure out what the right product is.

But mostly, clients think that if they are paying the money, they tell you what to do. So it’s very hard to do product discovery or just come up with great products, when you are only working in the back-end of the process, the agency side.

For a product company, this is what we do. This is what a Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Apple do every day.

They discover the solutions to actual problems.

What Does a Mature Product Team Look Like? Can You Elaborate on That?

A typical product team has a product manager, a product designer, and two or more engineers. In a small team the product designer may also do user research.

In other words that one product designer does interaction, design, visual design and user research.
It typically also includes somewhere between two and seven or eight engineers.

And that’s a typical product team. There might be some other people like a data analyst, and they might have a delivery manager. But that’s the core, product manager, product designer and a set of engineers.
They work as a unit to solve business problems.

How Could a Design Team Effectively Impact Business Decisions when It Comes to the Product?

For a separate design team we use the term silo. When it is its own organization, is not helpful.
What we need are designers embedded on each team.

If you want to be helpful, you have to sit right next to the product manager and the tech lead. Otherwise, there is very little chance that you are going to have an impact.

So I’m assuming that you sit right there, five days a week, right next to the product manager. Literally right next to the product manager.

If you can’t do that, it’s a huge disadvantage.

Roberto Verganti Says That If You Want Radical Product Innovation You Need to Leave Current Market Trends Because They’re a Form of Comfort Zone. What Do You Think About This?

I haven’t heard of this person, so I don’t know the specifics of what he might be trying to say.
There are a couple of things that are really well known in product design. The first is that you’ll never get a great solution from your customers.

This is why focus groups are so terrible. Because focus groups literally ask customers what they want. And there are two reasons why that doesn’t work. The first reason is they don’t know what’s possible, they aren’t the technologists. And second, they don’t know what they want until after they see it.
None of us do. That applies to all of us.

So this is what he might be trying to say. You can’t get innovative products from your customers. He might also be trying to say you have to think bigger and have a bigger vision. And I believe that heavily, as well.

A lot of companies are just working on their silly little app. And they aren’t actually trying to solve a big problem.

Do You See an Evolution in Product Teams within the Tech Industry?

It’s hard to answer that because it’s a spectrum in our industry.

What I think is really happening is that slowly more and more teams become better. Now, I think there will always be terrible teams. There will always be outstanding teams. But we can move the average. We can get more teams that are better.

So I think that is happening. I don’t think it’s impossible but it’s hard to imagine some radical change in the basic notion of teams working on technology. The techniques get better all the time, and people get better and they learn.

But fundamentally, product teams are there to solve our business problems. And those never go away.
Our problems never go away.


About Marty

Marty Cagan is the head of product at Silicon Valley Product Group. He has served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for companies including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, America Online, and eBay.

He’s also the author of Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love published in 2008.

For More …

You can reach out to Misael Leon at [email protected].