Office Hours: I’m the founder & lead instructor at Product Institute. I’m Melissa Perri. AMA!Featured

Hi everyone!

I’m Melissa Perri, a strategic advisor, author, and board member who works with leaders at Fortune 500 companies and SAAS scale-ups to enable growth through building impactful product strategies and organizations. My passion is helping product leaders become effective Chief Product Officers. I wrote the books Escaping the Build Trap and Product Operations. I taught at Harvard Business School for three years in the MBA program.

Before founding Product Institute, I was a product leader in New York City for various growth stage companies, startups, and Fortune 50 companies. I also did UX design as well as Product Management. Through my company Produx Labs, I used to run a team of consultants who worked with scale up companies and enterprises to determine product strategy and set up product organizations for success.

During my downtime, I enjoy remodeling my house and learning to play golf, albeit poorly.

Ask me anything about product, product management, going out on your own as a solopreneur, becoming a board member, publishing your first book, designing product organizations for scalability, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @melissaperri!Elphas – please ask @melissaperri your questions before Friday, January 26th. @melissaperri may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@melissaperriTeresa Torres put out this call today to get info from people on some criticism that continuous discovery is causing UX researchers to lose their jobs: got me wondering: as a thought leader and book writer, how do feel about your work potentially being adopted as a management fad or being misinterpreted by people who are not product experts? How do we make sustainable progress in the craft of Product Management without expert support and champions outside of Product teams? Have you ever considered writing content for executives who aren't product people? I see a major gap between Product people trying to do things well but other stakeholders with the power not wanting them to or misinterpreting things.For example, I've heard a lot of leaders and executives throw around the terms "feature factory" and "build trap" and use as a way to justify reorgs (without support), being sales led in the customer centric cloak e.g. customer feedback in X, so we should build it, to focus on vanity metrics in lieu of release metrics because they have to measure, or to play politics with people by claiming that they know that there's a build trap but it's just temporary, not that serious, not relevant to B2B or some form of it's too idealistic a notion or too faddy and not relevant to us.
Once you put something out there into the world, like a book or an article or a talk, it takes on a life of its own. There are only so many words you can write, and questions you can answer. I have had people misinterpret what I've meant about things as well. I had a CPO friend once tell me that his team at a new company was telling him that the direction he gave them was "against what Melissa Perri says in the Build Trap" so I wrote them a letter saying to trust him, I've worked with him and he knows what he's doing, and what he was saying was actually in line with what I write in the book. Of course, I can't do that for every single company and executive.I try to mitigate this risk by getting early feedback from skeptics and iterating until it's clear. So we have to ask, are the people who are using "the build trap" to justify these actions, do they make up 80% of the product population? 20%? Are these edge cases or is this the majority of people who study my work? If it's the majority of people, that's on me and I didn't do a good job mitigating the risk there and explaining what I meant. If it's a few edge cases, I can't be responsible for every executive who twists my words to get what they want, when it's clear they haven't even read the book because I address all those issues you just pointed out and how they damage companies. And that's how we have to look about this. Some people will yell the loudest about the edge cases, but ignore the silent majority who don't have issues (and a lot of people yelling lately are doing it for internet clout and self-serving purposes).How do I want to handle this? I just want to do more. Yes, I'd love to do more for executives who don't understand product, and I'm trying, but I'm just one person. My goal has always been to empower people to the point where they can successfully execute on their own and don't need me at the end of the day, and I try to do that through talks, courses (Product Institute and CPO Accelerator), the podcast, and books. I think the future of getting product management comes down to getting more excellent and competent product leaders into the field who can work with these other executives and show them the power of great product management. That's what I've seen work, and that's what I try to focus most of my energy on.
I am a solopreneur in the tech+diversity space. I am interested in product management and whilst I love working in multifunctional teams, I love my independence. Do you think there will be space in the industry for people like me? Is it possible to be a successful Product professional without being an employee and climbing up the ladder?
I started off solo, then grew a team of consultants, and now we have a small team that works on Product Institute. While solo, I would do a lot of interim product leadership roles as an IP, then a VP or CPO, and I think there's a lot of opportunity out there to dive in and help product companies. Many companies need tactical help in the short term, or interim leadership help. I think this is a sweet spot for product people with experience. Now, without experience (and I can't tell if you have PM experience from the question) it might be hard to do this. When companies hire interim, they aren't looking to train people, they want someone who can come in and just get things done.
Hi Melissa! Thanks for hanging out with us over on Elpha. Big fan of _Escaping the Build Trap_ and your podcast (Product Thinking)! Wanted to thank you for helping me shape my perspectives about product management and let you know that you're awesome. 💜
Thank you!! I appreciate you reading the book!
Thank *you* for writing it! It's one of the few books that I recommend to other product peeps looking to learn and upskill.
Hi Melissa. Thank you for providing this opportunity. What advice would you give to someone from a non-technical background who is interested in pivoting into product? What transferrable experiences and skills should be emphasized?
I think empathy for other people and problem solving are two critical skills in Product Management. Can you talk about how you diagnosed problems in your past job and built scalable solutions? Product Management is about building scalable software solutions that can help many. If you find skills that transfer that way, you can always learn the tech! There is also a difference between coding and a technical background. I don't think you need to be good at coding to be a PM, but you should look into how to analyze data and understanding software systems and how software gets built. Knowing things like APIs, when to use AI, etc. is helpful -you don't have to know how to implement it yourself.
Hi Melissa! What insights can you share about becoming a board member? How is this role different from your previous positions and what unique challenges does it present?"
Being a board member is one of the best parts of my job. My favorite thing about consulting was being able to see all these really interesting companies grow, and help them do that. Through consulting engagements, I was doing a lot of the same work that I do as a board member, but a lot more deliverables would be involved and frequently I was playing the interim CPO role. This is how I got my foot in the door with my first board role. I could point to my experience working with VCs and PE firms as a consultant, and show that the things they needed help with on the board I had direct experience with. I got my first board role when a head hunter reached out to me about an opportunity, and my second board position came from the same PE firm after we successfully exited that company. Building your network of VCs and PEs is very critical here. On the board, I help with things like hiring CPOs and VPs, advising CEOs/ CPOs on strategy, coaching VPs of Product/ CPOs, directing strategy & roadmap projects and giving advice on org decisions while hiring CPOs/VPs, and bringing in an outside perspective on what other companies are doing and best practices. I am typically one of the few purely product focused board members, so I help the company also translate their product strategies into financially focused stories that help the board understand the current state and path forward. What I like about boards vs consulting is you are usually with the company longer. A typical term is 2-4 years, where as with consulting you are usually there for under a year (although I've been with some companies longer on occasion). Watching the company grow over time is always rewarding. If you want to be a board, get really good at relating your work back to company goals.
Hi @melissaperri, thank you so much for taking the time out to answer all of our questions. I just started reading "Escaping the Build Trap" so your AMA is so timely! I have a question for you: I have been volunteering at a startup as a Product Manager. We plan to launch the platform in mid March and the business owner has asked me to come on board to be paid not only as product manager but basically taking over his role and running the platform. I was wondering if you had any advice for me. I surprisingly don't have as much imposter syndrome as I normally would which is great (I love the platform and vision so excited to take on the challenge), but I am also aware that I don't know what I don't know and that this would be my first paid role as a product manager (while also doing some business management and wearing many hats). I am looking to know also if there are any good resources for product managers who don't have other PMs in their organization to learn from. I want to continually grow and learn and I feel like I have an opportunity to create something really special. I am willing to bring on board more experienced product managers, though I wonder if that would undermine my credibility. Greatly appreciate your expertise and insights, and thank you again!
Wow! What an opportunity! The best thing you can do is set up a way for you to continue learning some best practices that will help you in this role. One of the hardest things about joining as the first PM wen you haven't been a PM before is that there is no one in that company to learn from. So how do you set up ways to learn outside the org? Can you ask for a budget for a coach? Can you join a mentorship org with product leaders who can give you advice as you go? You'll need to seek that outside the company. But this is going to be a really fun ride for you, and the best way to get better at something is to practice, so you'll get plenty!
How would you recommend someone prepare for a PM interview at various stages of their career (junior v. senior IC v. leadership, etc)
Hi Emily! :) This really comes down to the skill needed at each level. When you apply for junior roles, they will want to see that you're coachable, you can build basic products, and you're a good problem solver. A Senior IC needs to have the ability to tackle harder problems and needs less direction. How can you show you are a self starter? Can you show you can just jump in and get to work, and you seek clarity and direction when needed? Can you talk about harder, more challenging situations you've encountered? As a leader, you need to show that you can set strategy and direct others. How have you set direction for you team? How have you leveled up others so that they are a well running team? This is what they look for there. The higher you go in an organization, the more comfortable you will need to be with communication as well, and working with higher level executives and stakeholders. That will come up in leadership interviews too. At any level, I usually have people think through a short case study and tell me how they'd approach it. It should be pretty straightforward for someone ready for the role I'm looking for them to ask good questions, make valid assumptions, and then explain a clear process on how they'd tackle it. I also am testing to see if they are good with receiving feedback, and how they would respond or change direction when new data is presented.
Thanks Melissa! 😊
Congrats on your books! Did you always envision that you would publish a book someday or was it something that became an option as others suggested it?
Haha nooo I hated English in school. I originally signed with O'Reilly to publish Escaping the Build Trap because at the time, people said you needed a book to be hired as a consultant and taken seriously. By the time I finished writing it 3 years later, I didn't have a problem getting work but I like the idea of having something scalable I could hand to people with my thoughts on the subject. I wrote the second book because I think it's one of the easiest ways to help people understand concepts at scale, and I was getting a ton of questions on Product Operations. I like things that scale, can you tell? I don't think books are the only way to do this though!
Hi @melissaperri. Thanks for this opportunity. What advice would you offer someone who has years of Product collaboration to make the move into Product? Every job I’ve been in (Professional Services) has an amazing pipeline of technical, delivery-focused, customer experts for Product that they’re not leveraging (60-70% of the team want to be in Product). Our role involves project management, process mapping, technical configuration/testing, but due to a lack of experience with agile, scrum, etc. we find it hard to make the jump unless we accept an entry level role - not financially possible for most people. As a leader, how can I develop the right skills/experience with my team for them to make this move? I think it’s too late for me as I’d never get a senior enough role/salary 🙁 But I’d like to help my people.
Hi Melissa - thanks so much for joining! What is your advice for working as a PM in an agency within a bigger group that has no defined big company vision? Features are built based on who has the most budget to pay for it and PM best practices like setting OKRs and tracking success metrics are either meaningless or have no overall vision backing them?Thanks!
Agencies are such a different beast than a product company. Their entire model is built off of custom work, so you can't apply the same prioritization and strategy principles 1:1 that you would in product (unless you're building internal tools for the agency). There is no product vision in an agency. I think you can still try to utilize product skills to help people see which features would be more valuable, and you can work with your clients to help them set a vision and do best product practices, but again, the business runs differently.
I started building a startup last year and I paid for a Google workspace account $12/mo for about 9 months pending the building of our app. Due to complications with the contractor, the app is still not fully built. Would you consider me overly optimistic and not a good investment for spending that much (about 120,000 units of my local currency) without a product?
I think this very much depends on your budget and current financial situation! I don't know how much $12 is in your currency. If you feel like it's been a valuable investment that helps you get to your launch, then it was a good idea. If you haven't used it and it's stagnant, maybe close it down until launch?
$12 is about 12,000 units of my local currency. Thank you so much Melissa. I’ve shut it down.
I'm curious as to where you see the product market going in the next 5 years. It was recently recommended to me to look into more boutique companies solving smaller problems than big tech companies (which seem to be in a downturn right now). Any indistries that we should be keeping an eye on as job seekers?
Good question! I think the tech layoffs in the big companies have been a long time coming. They overhired, and they haven't been producing or growing at a rate that warranted that many people. It's a course correction in the market. If you want to learn rapidly, I've always told people to go to smaller companies - larger startups or growth stage companies. The experience you get there in 2-3 years is comparable to what I see people get in 10 years at the extremely large enterprises. The biggest thing is finding a company that ships often so you get more reps in. From an industry perspective, look for the things that are profitable because that's where the funding will go. VCs and PEs are now caring more about profitability, and the profitable companies will be the ones that continue. I don't think there's a particular industry that wins over the others, but maybe a good way to approach it (and just throwing this out there) is look at the companies that are doing well in the stock market and think about what products they buy... play the capitalism game. The companies that are struggling will not spend money.