I completed the Product School Masterclass so you don’t have to

Founded in 2014, Product School provides product management training to professionals worldwide, with 20 campuses across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, as well as Online.

One of the courses they run is Product Masterclass: How to Build Digital Products, which comes with a $1,999 price tag, so I thought I’d take the course and see whether I was able to get nearly two thousand dollars worth of value out of it.

What does the course entail?

The product masterclass consists of seven videos from product leaders with a variety of backgrounds: former product team members at Netflix, Quora, Facebook, and Samsung, so a fair bit of experience in large organisations with strong product practices.

The videos cover approximately 160 minutes of content, where the presenters talk you through a variety of subjects, providing theory and experiences from their own careers.

What subjects does the course cover?

There are seven speakers, each covering a different topic, including:

  • Product Management or Product Marketing: Which is right for you?
  • Defensibility 101: How to build and break software monopolies
  • Branding for builders
  • How to prioritize as a Product Manager
  • Overcoming cognitive biases (Product Managers are people too)
  • Building Successful Digital Health Products as a PM
  • 3 key biases in product and how to avoid them

As you can see from the course subjects, there doesn’t appear to be an overall structure and strategy to the course, and instead it feels like a collection different talks put together. However, do any of the talks provide us with insight and action that we can apply to our own roles in product?

The subjects in detail

Product Management or Product Marketing

The course starts with “Product Management or Product Marketing: Which is right for you?” module, presented by Mauren Keating, former Product Marketing team member for Adobe Photoshop and who is now a content strategist at Facebook.

We’re walked through slides that look at the commonality and differences between management and marketing, with the aim of understanding which kind of role is best suited to you.

From my perspective I’d have liked to have heard more about Maureen’s experiences of the different roles, but more importantly I’d question why this comparison was the first module in the course. Why is product management or product marketing the most important question to set the scene in the masterclass? Why not user research, experience design or maybe a more informative look at product management or product ownership?

Defensibility 101: How to build and break software monopolies

Abhinav Sharma, the former Product Lead at Quora, is the expert walking us through defensibility 101, however my first question when greeted by this module was what do they mean by defensibility?

You’d have thought that the definition was included in the first few slides, but it wasn’t, and you’re left to work out that they are looking at how to make your product secure and difficult to displace from its position in the market.

With examples of how AT&T and Netflix have great defenses, courtesy of their large resources and high barriers to entry, it made me question what can most product managers take from this module to apply to their day-to-day lives?

Can the majority of product managers strongly influence how large an infrastructure an organisation has? It seems like more of a VP of Product or Head of Product question, so I wasn’t convinced this subject was pitched at the right audience.

Branding for builders

The course’s most engaging speaker was Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix, Chief Product Officer of Chegg, who took a walk through the power of brands, with lots of real world experience from his journey with Netflix, where he took it from a small challenger to the status quo to the global phenomenon it is today.

Gibson Biddle

He defines a brand as “the story that builds a trusted relationship between customer and product” and works through a couple of brand models with good illustrative examples, but as with the defensibility module, I think this module is aimed higher up the product career ladder.

How to prioritize as a Product Manager

Ketan Nayak, former Product Manager at Dropbox, brings us back to the world of day-to-day product management, with his insight into the challenge of prioritizing what to build next.

His view is that in many organisations some of the PM tasks have now been given over to specialists (think user research, data science, business analyst etc…) which has distilled down the PMs core task into prioritization, in order to get “the right product, for the right user, at the right time.”

He provides four clear, key lessons that PMs should be aware of when it comes to prioritization, which are really useful, practical considerations that can be taken away and utilized in product teams around the world.

Overcoming cognitive biases (Product Managers are people too)

Ken Sandy, VP of Product at Masterclass, covers some interesting observations when it comes to the biases that we as Product Managers needs to address, however, the route to get there wasn’t the clearest for me, as there was no module overview that helped me understand what we were going to be covering and why it was important.

Survivor bias, reputation risk and authority bias are genuine concerns for organisations in their approach to making decisions, and there are some real gems of insight into how to address them within Ken’s presentation.

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Traditional example of survivor bias

Building Successful Digital Health Products as a PM

Anu Ramakrishnan, Product Manager for digital health products at Samsung, walks us through the considerations when building high value successful digital health products, which is a very specific niche. In this module there are some particular considerations that do not present themselves in many software markets (e.g. the need to get FDA approved).

However, despite the specific nature, the areas for consideration do apply to general product management in that:

  • For users you may need to consider more than just the immediate use, for example with a patient worn connected device you should also consider the physician who might prescribe the product or the health worker who might use or monitor it regularly.
  • For technology you may need to consider legal as well as functional requirements
  • For the market you need to understand who’s actually going to be paying for the product (a user or an enterprise)

On the whole though, this talk felt quite specific to the digital health space, and I’m not convinced that many people taking the course will take away lots to apply to their roles.

3 key biases in product and how to avoid them

Clemence Tiradon, Director of Product & Design at Ebay, takes our second journey through the world of biases, where she uses the analogy of using glasses to consider the right things for developing your product.

  • Wear other people’s glasses to ensure we don’t suffer from affinity bias, where we assume others think like us
  • Wear your glasses backwards, to ensure that we look our problems with a view to disproving our theories not confirming them
  • Take off your glasses and look around to ensure you don’t miss things that you might otherwise

Clemence’s style for covering biases was more easily accessible than that shown by Ken Sandy’s, which made following the content, and considering the lessons it taught, much easier.

Was there $2k worth of value in the course?

If you’re a day-to-day product manager, then asking your boss to spend $2k of his training budget on you doing this course is a big ask, especially when I think that maybe half the course is aimed at people further up the career ladder. I’d perhaps look around for a better targeted course.

If you’re a VP of product, then you can probably spare the $2k from your own budget, but you’ll only be using half of the course aimed at a strategic level, and in reality you might be able to pick up some of this insight from TED talks, webinars, or reaching out to experts via LinkedIn. The other half of the content you’d probably know anyway.

My key takeaways from the course

Overall, I picked up a few interesting pointers, including:

  • Don’t build an ROI matrix (Ketan Nayak) — You can spend all your time working out the return on investment of lots of features, with a view to then ranking them in order to get your priority, but in reality if you look around your business its is often very clear what the shorter term priorities are as they’re staring you in the face.
  • You’re only speaking to part of your market (Ken Sandy) — When it comes to feedback if all you’re listening to are existing customers, then you’re suffering from survivor bias, as you’re not hearing the voice of customers who aren’t using your product (either because they never have or they’ve since left you). Make sure you’re hearing a range of voices.
  • Brands are too important for just marketing teams (Gibson Biddle) — For a brand to be truly strong, its essence needs to permeate across the organisation, and the product team needs to bring this to life through the decisions it makes

Product School could probably drop one of the biases talk and maybe consider some content on user research or analytics, as well as leveling out the content to be aimed at a consistent audience.

Disclosure

As full disclosure, I got to access the course for free and completed it in April 2020. I have not been approached by Product School to write about this course, and have not been paid to do so.

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About Rob

Rob was a professional soccer player, and cinema manager, before moving into software development 20+ years ago. He was a founding team member at a FinTech startup and is now the product owner at luxury watch retailer Watchfinder.

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Helping people kick start their product management career at gettingstartedinproduct.com * Product person at Watchfinder

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