Fredrik Lindberg is an Enterprise Product Lead at Spotify, where he has been working for the last eight years. Based in Stockholm, Fredrick has worked on a variety of projects such as subscription revenue and financial systems. He chatted to us about how he got started in product, career tracks at Spotify, and the power of outcomes over outputs.
Question [00:01:03] Where did you get your inspiration to work in product? Did you have a family member in tech, or was there a mentor who kind of pushed you into it?
Fredrik: [01:16] So if I go back to sort of where I started in tech, it’s sort of funny. I’m in Sweden, and we got broadband quite early. The government invested heavily back in the mid 1990s. So my high school had really, really great broadband then and I started just doing webpages and just playing around basically with computers and understanding…MP3s and all of that.
I wanted to dive in deeper. So I started doing computer engineering. This was basically done back in 1999 and so I took a bachelor’s in computer engineering. When I started, the head principal of the program came with the newspaper and basically just pointed at the jobs and said ‘when you guys are done, you can just point at any job and you will have it’.
And in 2001, I graduated at the top of the .com crash. And there were no jobs at all.
So I took up marketing after a while, I did some traveling. And I think I found my niche…I really like tech but I’m more into what you can do with tech and the impact that tech can have. I realized after a while that I will never become the greatest programmer, because I just don’t have the interest. I’m more keen on what can you actually produce with that.
I didn’t know really what product management was. So that was sort of more just by accident that I ended up at Spotify as a consultant.
Question: [00:04:17] Before you got into product, I saw that you were a project manager. What was the transition like going from project manager to project manager? Was there any nuances that stand out?
Fredrik: [04:30] Yeah, for sure. And I would say like there is definitely a piece of project management still. I would say maybe that the biggest difference is the focus on outcome versus output, which I think is really key for the whole mind shift of, ‘why are we doing this? Is this really the right thing to do?’ Um, and the homework around that.
I think that’s where also sort of my background in management consulting also come in a little bit, because it fits really well. Understanding what is the outcome that we want to share, and is it really feasible, and ‘should we really invest in this?‘ I think that project management skills are really useful.
But I would say that as Spotify has grown as well, it becomes more important also to just have project management inside of all the product work, because there’s so many moving pieces. Especially as I’m working with enterprise products. There’s so many people involved potentially in the launch of a new process or a new system that supports the process.
Question: [00:06:33] Speaking of working with enterprise products, I mean, Spotify is obviously a global powerhouse of a brand. What do you think are some of the main challenges for a Product Manager who’s working in such a big enterprise compared with being in a smaller startup?
Question: [00:06:53] I mean, it is interesting because, when I started, Spotify was around 200 people. So I would say it was a basement startup by any means. It was a fairly big company when I started, but I would say that when I started it was more that we just needed to make things work. That was the challenge for me as well coming in, sort of finding that level when it’s just good enough.
Everything we do is more complicated. There is definitely more change management needed in the sense that, when I started, when we had an idea, we basically needed to get a few people into a room and explain ‘this is what we want to do now.’ Now it’s such a bigger process, if we want to do something major, we need to just sell that idea to many more people and get them on board.
And then you just need to understand also what people are listening to. Some people are more inclined on sort of the emotional aspect of it. And then you have just the legal requirements…But I would say it’s a bit slower to get [ideas] off the ground, but then when we’re executing them, we have much more firepower.
Question: [00:09:01] You went through a traditional education, and I was just wondering how you felt that prepared you for a career in product, or do you think it left a lot of gaps that you needed to fill in yourself after graduating?
Fredrik: [00:09:32] Yeah, I definitely had a lot of gaps. I think also that when I started, product management was still is a lot under development. But if you look at now versus like 10 years ago, I think there’s a huge difference in just material available then. I would say that my journey down product management was just like experiencing things for myself, talking to a lot of agile coaches. Also, Spotify sort of was a trailblazer in a lot of these areas.
But I didn’t necessarily always feel at home working with enterprise products because ‘break it and fix it fast’ doesn’t really work with financial numbers. So I had to sort of take some of the things that I got coached by other agile coaches that came from other parts of the business, and then sort of make up some things myself.
But if I look at my educational background, I think just having programmed at one point in time has helped, me because it sort of removes the magic of ‘what is code?’ ‘what can you do with technology?’ and ‘what is development really?’ And if I look at the marketing side, I think it has helped me understand what is important. Our customers here…most of them I worked with on the revenue side of financials, their mission is to sell. So I need to understand their needs and their customers as well. But for sure, I think that formal training in product management has come a long way. I think it’s really a good thing to do as well.
Question [00:12:01] What are some of the challenges with going into more senior positions? What changes the most once you start going vertically?
Fredrik: [00:12:12] I think that I have a little bit of special role at Spotify because I lead both engineering and product, which is not super common here. You also have different paths to take at Spotify. You can be become more of a people manager or you can become a specialist. I’ve taken more of the people manager route. For me it’s really then about finding the dynamics. I’m trying to sort of paint a longterm picture of where I want to go and then finding the right mix of people that can help me get there. I definitely like that the people I have in my team are better than me in their roles. So I see my role as really just about how can I enable these guys and girls to do the maximum impact that they can.
Since I’ve been doing this for a while now, I’ve hit a few roadblocks…that’s okay. We need to do this year on, we need to do. Working with financials, it’s a lot about creating trust and it’s an industry that is under immense change. So it’s important to be empathetic about that.
And so I think, specifically what has changed is that I don’t do the backlog grooming work, I don’t do the, the stand ups. I try to help out more with setting longterm targets, finding what are the metrics that we should be aiming for. And that’s tricky, especially as there are so many that we could potentially aim for, because you have the risk factors, automation factor, the cost efficiency factor and there are a lot of different metrics and a lot of different processes. So I’m trying to add value there as well, trying to find or maybe help guide what we should focus on, what we should not focus on.
Question: [00:26:32] What’s the greatest lesson product management has ever taught you?
Fredrik: [00:26:39] I would say, maybe this is cliché, but probably the power of outcome. I’ve seen it freeing up creativity and minds and just change directions completely. I think it’s just human nature to get stuck on sort of the methodology or the tools of how to get there, and that’s what you communicate. But backtracking done on the outcome can kind of help immensely, and it can cut away months on a project or just getting to the result immediately. So I think that’s probably the first that comes to mind, at least.
We’ll be back next week with Christopher Bee from Zillow with even more of the latest insights from the Product Management world.