Representing MIT Sloan at Cisco: What we Learned about Product Management
Written by Andrew Mairena; Edited by Raj De
Cisco recently held a Case Competition for first-year MBAs interested in product management. Of the participating MIT teams, the “Whitewalkers of Boston” (1st year MBAs and GoT fans Andrew Mairena, Wenwen Gao, Joaquin Richards, and Raj De) were selected to advance to the final round to compete against 6 other schools in San Jose, CA on November 3rd. During both rounds of competition, we were tasked with becoming mini-experts on IT infrastructure, broadband spectrum, the worldwide IT market, and customer segmentation — a challenge we thoroughly enjoyed.
As part of the trip to final rounds in San Jose, we also attended Cisco’s inaugural Product Management Summit. The PM Summit introduced us to important concepts of design thinking within a large B2B company like Cisco. We heard from guest speakers and worked through design challenges alongside many Cisco PMs. Here are some of our key takeaways from the Summit’s focus on design thinking for PMs.
Michael Kopcsak — Sr. Director, UX Design & Research at Cisco
- As a product manager, you are responsible for a movie, not just making moments in time. Essentially, you need to be able to tell a story in all directions of the organizations to convince others of your vision and engage them.
- “Design Thinking” starts broad and then sorts the chaos into a coherent story.
- At Cisco, the PMs invite customers into the “design thinking” process to engage them as well.
Chris Jones, Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG)
Typically, product development is a waterfall process, which is very sequential. There are three main problems to this approach:
- Sequences the contributions of individuals, where in fact, the process should be a “dance” around functionality, design, and technology.
- Equates someone’s success with an output, e.g. “we incorporated all P1 and P2 features into the design.” In reality, you can achieve 100% of the requirements and still build a bad product.
- Ignores the risk of the proposed ideas. In the waterfall process, we immediately strike down any perceived “bad” ideas and focus on good ideas. In a good design process, we iterate on bad ideas and failures until we succeed.
He introduced the mindset of “Product Discovery,” which is a way to test hypotheses. The concept allows us to tackle four types of risks upfront:
- Usability: Can our customers use it?
- Feasibility: Do we have the right skills and resources in the organization to build the product?
- Business: Can our salesforce sell it?
- Value: What value are we adding if this product existed?
He cautioned the term “MVP” for two reasons:
- The PMs often define the minimal requirements without customer input.
- Once these requirements are written, they are rarely revisited and reiterated.
Advice: An MVP should be iterated and improved upon.
The team from the “Design Gym”
- As PMs, the way we frame ideation sessions is paramount. Asking “How Might We…” and allowing your team to throw ideas on sticky notes is one way to encourage new voices.
- Empathy maps are a tool to understand your user and her pain points, and to translate those needs into insights and opportunity statements.
- PMs are in charge of telling stories, and one way to do this is through storyboarding: illustrating a narrative sequence of a user’s experience. The storyboard resembles a comic strip and should be detailed, showing the user interacting with specific features.
That’s all, folks! We had a blast representing MIT at Cisco. Reach out to any of us if you want to talk further.