Marty Cagan chose Bergen for his first in person talk in two years

Published 12.04.2022
– I have made a brand new talk. Now I am trying it on you. Feel free to drop your feedback, Marty Cagan begins.

It’s Monday 11 April 2022, and the Norwegian Media Cluster has gathered around 100 people in Media City Bergen for an exclusive talk by Marty Cagan. Some people in the audience have left their cabins and crossed snow-filled mountains to be here, others have postponed their Easter holidays. It is clear that nobody wants to miss this event. 

Marty Cagan is a rock star in the tech product business. He has worked for HP, Netscape, and eBay and is now a partner at Silicon Valley Product Group.

For 40 years he has been working and inspiring companies to develop better tech products. He says there is a huge difference between the best companies and “the rest”. 

Marty Cagan in Media City BergenMarty Cagan in the Atlantis hall in Media City Bergen

The best and the rest
– I have been writing about the difference between “the best” and “the rest” my whole life. I want a better understanding of why there is this difference, Cagan says.  

He gives an example. In San Francisco, you can find a company that is the best in class and across the street another company that is working exactly as it did 20 years ago. 

Cagan encourages the audience (and their CEOs) to watch The Lost Interview with Steve Jobs. It is a 70-minute long interview with the tech entrepreneur that was discovered and published after his death in 2012. 

– I could not believe it. I watched every minute. It was gold. Jobs explained the difference between the best and the rest, says Cagan. 

Salespeople stop innovation  
But how do you run a company to make the best products? Not by putting salespersons in front, according to Cagan. 

– Then the innovation will stop gradually. The people who run the company have to understand the need to constantly develop and improve its products. Product management must be led by product managers. 

Too much process in Europe 
One of Cagan’s slides exclaims “The disease of process”. He says process is more of a problem in Europe than in the US and quotes Elon Musk: “It seems like process becomes a substitute for thinking”. 

– Stop this nonsense! It is really hurting companies, Cagan says.  

Someone in the audience asks why processes are bad. 

– It’s not that there should not be a process, but the problem is when the process becomes the focus.  

According to Cagan, the challenge is that companies overuse processes. Maybe the reason is that the process gives control? Cagan challenges tech companies to focus on people and content instead. He quotes Leslie Kilgore at Netflix who said “lead with context, not control”. 

Mart Cagan in Media City Bergen

Problems and solutions
– My two favorite topics are product discovery and product strategy. The best companies have product discovery teams, the rest have feature teams, Cagan says.

He says that the best companies use 90 per cent of their product discovery on solution discovery

– It is easy to find the problems. The hard part is to make people use your solution.  

Another question from the audience: 

– Maybe there is a fear among the companies, Tom-André Tarlebø says. He is CTO of Indra Navia and jumped on the night train from Oslo to watch the talk. 

We ask him to elaborate after the event. 

– Maybe Norwegian companies are afraid of releasing the reins. We are a bit modest and prefer to use facts and numbers in our decision making. But when you work in a product team, you have to work with hypotheses, Tarlebø says. 

Cagan is not sure if it’s fear, but thinks it’s more like scepticism towards “the unknown”.

– There are a lot of unknowns and those unknowns make people nervous. In the best companies, they are also nervous about the unknown. The difference is that these companies know what to do when that happens, Cagan says. 

 Marty Cagan in the Atlantis Hall in Media City Bergen

Real people
Cagan talks for an hour and then answers questions for 30 minutes in the auditorium at Media City Bergen this afternoon. 

– I hope this was useful. It is great to be in front of real people again, and not behind a screen, he says. 

– Thank you for an inspirational talk, Marty. This is your second time in this building. And as we say here in Bergen: When you have done something twice, it is a tradition, event host Ketil Moland Olsen concludes. He is a Senior Project Manager in Media City Bergen.

Handshakes and mingling on the stage. People are waiting in line to have a chat with Cagan. 

We also have a question for him, before he leaves for Oslo. 

– What are your three key takeaways for companies that want to leap from “the rest” to “the best”? 

– To change from the rest to the best is hard work. Many companies have tried to transform themselves, without succeeding. There are a lot of things that have to be changed, all the way from the CEO down to individuals. 

  1. The CEO has to lead. If the CEO just leaves that to someone else, the transformation almost never happens. 
  2. You need to have empowered product managers, not product owners. 
  3. You have to make sure you have strong product leaders. The product leaders are the ones coaching all the individual workers. 

– And the final question – what comes next? 

– It’s many things that are coming. Cryptocurrency is a thing that everyone is interested in, and virtual reality is happening now. However, it is not clear what will be big, small or illegal. Nobody knows what will happen next, but we are all working on it. That is what I like with tech, it is changing constantly. 

Marty Cagan did this talk free of charge in honor of Anne Jacobsen, the recently deceased CEO of Media City Bergen. All proceeds from the ticket sales will go to funding the Anne Jacobsen Memorial Award.