Life as a Chief Product Officer — Alumni Stories

It’s not just aspiring Product Managers who benefit from getting certified. Seasoned professionals also find themselves turning back to education to solidify their skillset, show off what they know, and gain the skills needed for their next career move.

We chatted with CPO of Yoga International and Product School alum, Matt Douzart, about his path to product and what inspired him to get certified.

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How did you get started in Product?

My start in product was similar to many of us who have been working in the field for some time. Fact is, there wasn’t any sort of formalized pathway to learning the skills needed to manage product from any level. In 2008 I was in a position of leadership in companies far too small (at the time) to have formalized ‘Product’ departments.

We honestly didn’t even think of what we were doing as a “product” at the time, but we had needs nonetheless, and with a meager operating budget, we taught ourselves design, development, content production, marketing, and other key skills needed to manifest our vision. As our business grew and the needs of the business outgrew our personal skill sets, we began to use our background with these disciplines to inform our approach to developing products in cross-functional teams with individuals who are far better at the individual skills required to iterate on an existing product.

What inspired you to pursue a Product Management certification?

Back in 2008 when I informally began my career in product, there wasn’t a formalized path to a career in product—at least not in digital products. We were making the transition from being a print publication to a digital publisher and VOD.

As a result I picked up the skills needed to push our vision forward, and over time, the experience I gained in these different disciplines provided the technical background needed to transition over from co-founder wearing any hat necessary to the Head of Product, but since there was a lack of formalized training, the experience in the disciplines needed to maintain and grow a product was all I had.

When I learned about Product School’s certificate path, I felt strongly that I should go through the program to address any short-comings and blind spots in my game. I’m through the first of three trainings I’ll do with Product School and the investment is already paying off.

You’re a Chief Product Officer (CPO), what does that role entail? Can you take us through your day-to-day?

Women practising yoga on the beach

As a rapidly growing company, Yoga International’s team is rather fluid. We have an org structure, basic job descriptions, and SOPs, but as we scale, and emerging opportunities develop, change naturally occurs. We do an excellent job of operating as a lightly supervised, otherwise self-organizing  cross-functional team, so on some days I can be found playing the role of Chief Product Officer—attending meetings, agile ceremonies, tending to longer-term strategic planning, and working with the rest of the leadership team to keep the company operating at its best.

On other days I may do very little on the product leadership front and you’d find me working on wireframes or prototypes of a new feature or tweaking some aspect of the UI. Most days it’s a bit of both of these and everything between. In Product School, we discussed the concept that Product Owners/CPO’s are the “CEO of their product” while others have said a Product Owner is in fact more like a janitor than an executive.

Day in and out we collect under developed wants and wishes from internal stakeholders, users, etc. Many of these “requirements” are in conflict with one another, and the pecking order isn’t at all clear.

It can be downright frustrating at times but with the right blend of saying “no” to what isn’t valuable, asking skillful questions that help clarify the idea in the stakeholder’s mind, and the ability to discover the intersecting opportunities of these requests we help turn trash (janitor!) into treasure (leadership).

We also have to cater to the preferences of engineering, and the demanding nature of leadership to bring balance, and order to what oftentimes can feel like chaos.

It’s a hard, and sometimes thankless job, with what most of the time feels completely devoid of real influence, but I personally wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

What was your experience with traditional education? Did it prepare you for your current role?

I had a terrible time with formal education—as a homeschooling dad from long before COVID-19, this is a passion of mine! Math was my achilles heel, and ultimately led me to the conclusion that university wasn’t for me, so I turned my college job into a career path that led me through entry level to an executive level in retail which provided me with the skills needed to move to the next step, and with each new step came a broader skill set. 

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What was your experience with the online cohort? Was it what you were expecting?

I enjoyed studying online in real time quite a bit! Keeping it live helped with accountability, and the ability to better understand the perspective of the person asking questions was also helpful, compared to watching on-demand where we don’t understand the background of the people engaged in the discussion.

After your experience, would you be happy taking more online courses in the future?

Absolutely, I’ve already completed another online certification program, and I am scheduled to take the Product Leadership and Product Executive certifications in the coming months.

Man learning online

What did you think of your instructor, Felipe Vieira?

Felipe was great! He presented the curriculum clearly, and tied a lot of it to tangible examples from TripAdvisor. He was also really down to earth and laid back which was superior to being “lectured at.”

What was it like going back to education as someone who already has a successful career? How were you able to fit it into your daily schedule?

These were the two hardest parts, but since the information, and the structured approach to developing product was so valuable to me, I made it a priority and got through without missing a class. 

What do you think were your key takeaways?

The biggest take away by far were the final pieces of the puzzle needed to help us wrap our minds about fully making the transition to agile development. We were already gravitating towards the transition before it was covered in class, but I was able to make some key connections to our processes and the transition has delighted individuals from inside and outside the development team.

How do you think 2020 will shape the product/tech worlds?

We’re already seeing the change. The events of 2020 have already begun to alter the things our users value, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that core values without aligned action will matter more to large segments of a customer base. There’s also been increasing polarization between these segments, so I suspect we will see brands begin to gravitate towards serving specific niches at the expense of attempting to be “one size fits most.”

Besides the unique challenges of 2020, what do you think will be the challenges for Product Managers in future? What will be the rewards?

I honestly only see things getting easier. The science of product management is young, new tools, frameworks, and supportive fields like ProductOps are emerging, all of this shifts the heavy lifting in ideation and problem solving from intuitive to data-driven.

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Are there any other skills you’re hoping to develop in your career? Or any other goals?

I’m trying to learn to play the guitar right now. That has nothing to do with product management on the surface, but I’m finding that each new thing I learn adds perspective to how I view and approach a problem or create something new. The study of music theory is also helping me to connect some of the dots in the mathematical theory I once struggled with. I suppose I am saying that with any new skill comes broader perspective, and that broadening empowers us to see our work from new vantage points.

Finally, if you had to sum up Product Management in 3 words, what would they be?

Simplify. Ship value.

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