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February 01, 2024

Mastering Product Management— Bridging Academia and Industry Insights at CMU Silicon Valley

Creating Product Managers of Tomorrow: A glimpse into Product Management class at CMU SV

By Utkarsh Khandelwal and Phil Geist

Product management is a critical role in the tech industry, and mastering it requires a unique blend of academic knowledge and real-world industry experience. At CMU Silicon Valley (CMU-SV), students have the opportunity to learn the art of product management through a blend of academia and real-world industry insights taught by Professor Adrian Ott, an award-winning entrepreneur, author, and former senior-level tech executive.

Nurturing Product Managers: A Holistic Approach

Ott's Product Management class at CMU-SV is structured to give students a holistic understanding of the product lifecycle. The course emphasizes a balanced approach, ensuring that students not only grasp the theoretical aspects of product management but also gain practical experience. By working on real projects, students are taken through each phase of the product lifecycle, fostering a deep and comprehensive understanding. For example, students were asked to form five groups, select a popular software product (e.g. Instacart, Spotify, LinkedIn) and pretend they were now the Product Managers building the next product roadmap for a new feature they ideated and researched. The Instacart project team ideated “Inclusive Recipes” for homesick international students who wanted to gather ingredients from international markets and cook comfort food from their home country recipes by applying PM techniques.

group photo of group leaders
Five students gather together from one of the five group project teams.


The Complete Product Lifecycle

The class takes students on a journey through the entire product lifecycle, with a focus on the following key phases:

  • Market Research & Problem Discovery: Understanding the market and identifying the pain points that a product can solve is a fundamental step in product management. Students learn to conduct market research, analyze trends, and identify customer needs.
  • Interview and Validation: Validating assumptions is crucial in product development. Students engage in real-world interviews with potential users to ensure that their product ideas align with customer needs.
  • Features & Functionality Ideation: In this phase, students brainstorm and ideate features and functionalities that address the identified problems. They gain experience in translating customer feedback into actionable product features.
  • PRD, Product Roadmap & Press Release: Creating a Product Requirements Document (PRD) and a compelling press release are essential steps in product management. These documents help communicate the vision and functionality of the product both internally and externally.

Bridging the Gap with Industry Experts

While the academic perspective is crucial, real-world industry knowledge is equally important in the field of product management. To provide students with practical experience and industry insights, Professor Ott's class brings in industry leaders to interact with students on a regular basis.

Every week, prominent product leaders from renowned companies like Google, Microsoft, Meta, Salesforce, Palo Alto Networks, and Zynga visit the PM class. These experts share their vast experience and best practices in product management, helping students understand the industry dynamics and stay up to date with the latest trends. 

Distinguished Speakers

Last semester, the class boasted a lineup of distinguished speakers who have made significant contributions to the field of product management.

Some of the speakers included:

satyajeet salgar headshot

Satyajeet Salgar, Director of Product and UX, Google AI, former YouTube and Google Search PM:

As Director of Product, Satyajeet has had a profound impact on YouTube's product development. His experience provided students with invaluable insights.
    • Satyajeet shared top 10 tips for becoming a great product manager including focusing on the user, gathering feedback, and gaining user empathy.
    • He provided an in-depth understanding of managing large products and teams in a complex tech company like YouTube.
ott guest speaker
Satyajeet Salgar presents to the class how to be a better Product Manager.
  • Memorable quotes from Satyajeet's class presentation:
    "The main job of a PMis decision making. How you measure a good PM vs. a great PM is the quality of the decisions they make. Do you make good decisions?"

    "I once had a meeting with Christopher Nolan. He was troubleshooting a problem where a customer would make a request to the theater manager that the volume to be turned down during a morning showtime and then the volume would stay that way for the rest of the day. Nolan was searching for a solution since he spent a lot of time trying to get the sound right for Interstellar. This is just one example where you can get these bizarre experiences because you're in a position of decision making regarding a product."

Shraddha Patil, Director of Product at Palo Alto Networks:

Shraddha Patil's session focused on B2B product management best practices. Her expertise in cybersecurity and product management offered critical insights.
    • Shraddha discussed how data-driven decisions are made in B2B product management to balance business goals and user needs.
    • She explained the key differences between optimizing for conversion in B2C models vs maximizing value in B2B models.

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Shraddha Patil engages with students during her visit to class.
  • Memorable quote from Shraddha's class presentation:
    "As a Product Manager, one critical skill you need is possessing the ability to get to the nerve of someone's pain. Decoding the core of their pain or problem is how you get your foot in door and get things done. You have to be able to break the problem down into smaller chunks that people can actually understand."


Derek Kwan, Principal Product Manager at Microsoft:

As a principal PM at Microsoft, Derek shared his journey to become a successful product manager. His experience spans startups to big tech.
  • Derek discussed his career path and transition from startups to Microsoft, highlighting key differences.
  • He also provided an inside look at the product management lifecycle - from planning to research, ideation, launch, and post-production.
  • Memorable quote from Derek's class presentation:
    "Avoid being too lost for too long. Commit to what is happening right now. Your current state may overlap and change into something that eventually makes you happy.  It's okay to switch your path later."

    Derek Kwan asked students to think about the question:
    "What does success mean to me?"

Devang Gaur, Product Manager at PayPal:

Devang shared a focused session on A/B testing for product managers. As a CMU MSSM alum, he also provided mentorship.

  • Devang explained the 5 key stages of the experimentation framework: define goal, hypothesize change, variation design, running experiment, and analyzing results.

    five stages of experimentation
  • He offered advice for students on standing out in PM interviews, networking effectively, and transitioning into the industry.
  • Memorable quote from Devang's class presentation:
    "As an engineer, if no one is using my product, then all of us fail. Failure without learning is detrimental. You have to be more accepting of failures."

    "It's very hard to find a product without a lot of failures. A/B testing is a way to figure out how fast you want to fail."

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    Devang Gaur talks about experiment failure rate.

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Vidya SrinivasanPrincipal PM at Meta:

  • Be prepared to pivot, you never know when an unexpected change of circumstances will arise. Vidya told a great story of how she had defined the Microsoft Teams Product Plan as PM and then had to scrap and rewrite it a month later after Covid hit. 
  • PMs provide clarity to the team, so communication and soft skills matter.
  • A product manager is like a conductor of a symphony. Unlike a CEO, product managers influence without authority.

    "Apply your product intuition. Look beyond the data."



thomas shelley headshot

Thomas Shelley, Former Senior Product Manager at Zynga Poker and Head of Product at Keeper

Thomas Shelley is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where he earned a master's degree in Information Systems Management. Throughout his career he has had his share of experiences working with effective as well as useless PM's. Thomas shared some of his secrets and insights in what it takes to be an effective Product Manager.

Part of his day-to-day activites include: managing tickets in Jira, taking notes in meetings, and communicating with engineers on status updates. He also stressed how an effective PM is essentially being a bridge between business and tech. 

  • Thomas provided tips on how to be a good PM such as: writing down your goals and writing down how you expect to solve those goals, thinking critically about what you want to achieve, and communicating those goals with your entire team both downstream and upstream.
  • Thomas also shared the idea to consider whether or not the opposite of your strategy could also be a valid strategy for someone else in essence challenging critical and inverse thinking.
  • Memorable quotes from Thomas's class presentation:
    "An effective PM helps their team hit the target and is always thinking—"how do we get there"?"
  • "A good strategy has to be specific. You can't boil the ocean and try to do everything. Ensure that your company has a strategy document that actually exists."


    guest speaker five, thomas talks about company goals
    Thomas Shelley talks about company strategy, goals, and having a specific time period.

Professor Adrian Ott's Product Management class at CMU Silicon Valley provided students with the opportunity to work on real projects and learn from distinguished product leaders, this class equipped future product managers with the skills and insights they need to excel in this dynamic field.

Thomas Shelley poses for a photo with Adrian Ott and her students in the classroom.

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