Digital Product Insights: An Interview with Michael Sacca
After trying to make it in the music business, he began his career in software by taking his roommate’s overflow freelance work in coding and design. Living off of freelance work for five years, Michael learned the necessity of product managers having a holistic view of sales, partnerships, and more. Eventually, he joined Crew, working on experimental products, before Crew was acquired by Dribbble.
We hope Michael’s words provide guidance for your own journey with the product mindset.
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “product mindset”?
For me, the product mindset means solving the problems of the business at the time, through the lens of software. Historically, organizations addressed concerns by relying on marketing and sales, but today, the product is the focal point of organizations and their revenue generation.
Sometimes, product teams focus too heavily on the needs of the customers. However, I emphasize that those using the product mindset focus on both the customers’ voices and the businesses’ needs, solving problems in an elegant way that works for all stakeholders.
What does a negative working relationship between product management and product engineering look like?
To be honest, this is a challenging topic because product managers and engineers are peers; no one reports to another within the group.
When I’ve seen this relationship break apart, it’s often because the product team becomes too aggressive in ownership, lacking consensus and buy-in from the design team. In these cases, they miss the nuanced perspectives that only the engineering team can catch. Both teams need to be bought into the solution, otherwise expect subpar outcomes.
The other common instance is when teams build something simply “because it sounds cool.” I ran into this situation at Crew. A team took six months to upgrade an app with new, exciting-sounding features. Then, they took another six months to redesign it for better UX. While the team had good intentions, we lost a year of creating revenue-generating features and ended up with the same app, just with the features in different places. We moved people’s toys around, and they didn’t know where to find anything.
What does a positive working relationship between product management and product engineering look like?
On the flip side, product managers and product engineers work best when they’re willing to hold the tough conversations necessary to build consensus.
At Dribbble, we operate in a pod system, where we switch focus every six weeks, bringing in new team members accordingly. We rely on leadership and data teams to serve as consultants to tap into. And the UX folks conduct customer interviews for key initiatives or use tools, like Hotjar, to get a sample size of live, recorded interactions.
What frameworks guide you in your work as a product manager?
In my mind, frameworks are a helpful tool once you understand that there is no single framework that will solve all of your problems. Rather, I apply certain methodologies and tools to each individual situation.
Bob Moesta’s Jobs to be Done theory guides the way we focus on anxieties and pain points rather than generalizing people’s characteristics into a single persona.
For example, if a fitness studio is looking for a pain point, they’d cast their net toward people who are slightly out of shape in Chicago and motivated to live a healthier lifestyle—rather than women, ages 25-34 in Chicago who like fitness. This provides a wider swatch of people and helps you attack problems in a more meaningful way.
What do you look for when sourcing product and engineering teams?
Since Dribbble is, at its core, a network of some of the most talented designers, we often tap into those people first.
In general, when working with a new individual or agency, we start with a small project. We’ll bring them into Slack to trust their communication skills and test the quality of their deliverables, building trust before moving onto bigger relationships.
We use agencies for larger projects since they generally are already comfortable working as a team and sharing resources. Regardless, you have to be okay with cutting the cord on those who fail; but when you find someone you like, stick with them.
How Readers Can Connect
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to explore Dribbble, the leading destination to find creative work from some of the world’s best design professionals.
If you have questions or want to chat, connect with me on Twitter at @michaelsacca.
Finally, tune in to my podcast, Rocketship.fm, which I co-host with a good friend Mike Belsito. We’re currently exploring a series related to product failures—and, of course, the lessons learned!