How Autodesk Builds a Strong Product Mindset & Culture at Scale
In order to thrive in today’s fiercely competitive market and prevent customer churn, product leaders must proactively establish scalable and standardized product processes that empower teams to quickly solve for fast-evolving customer needs.
Autodesk has a rich 40-year history of delivering industry-defining software for architects, builders, engineers, designers, manufacturers, 3D artists, and more. Brian Roepke, Platform Product Leader, is a 21-year veteran at Autodesk with a proven record of building products that deliver value and a great user experience. His currently oversees an organization with about one hundred product managers and many different sub-business units.
In this insightful fireside chat, Brian shares leadership tips for optimized planning and execution, maintaining a focus on customer impact, leveraging advanced tools for change and securing widespread organizational support, and orchestrating cross-team collaboration at an enterprise scale.
Continue reading to discover practical strategies for product leaders aiming to cultivate a robust product mindset and foster a culture of excellence as they scale.
“Don’t be afraid to get your product out in the market [to receive feedback]. It might be wrong, but it’s probably going to be wrong if you wait another year too. So get it out there.”
A key emphasis in Brian’s leadership approach is making the customer the center of product development. Working on a product line with daily engagement from hundreds of thousands of users naturally creates a profound sense of connection. However, transitioning to a platform role often introduces a layer of separation from the customer that can create distractions. “That why”, he says, “it’s vital to remember that the ultimate goal is to serve the end customer.”
To keep a pulse on customer needs, Briain stresses the importance of getting products in front of customers early, encouraging iterations based on feedback. “On the platform side, engineers can be a little more afraid to get their product in front of customers. Get your product out there, make it measure, get feedback, and then iterate, iterate, and iterate.”
Empower Your Product Team to Take Ownership
“Productboard helps our PMs take more ownership over the product process.”
Empowering product managers to build exceptional products requires motivation and the right tools. At Autodesk, Brian’s organization has implemented a strategy that ensures both.
Each month, Autodesk holds an executive-level check-in where product managers have the opportunity to present directly to the Chief Technology Officer. These sessions provide a platform for managers to showcase their successes and, more critically, their challenges. By identifying these areas and formulating adaptive strategies, product managers are encouraged to be transparent and take ownership of their projects. This responsibility fosters a deep sense of investment in the product’s success, cultivating a team that is both engaged and proactive.
In addition to these monthly check-ins, the integration of sophisticated tools like Productboard has been instrumental. Autodesk product managers needed a way to create better roadmaps to demonstrate the outcomes they’re looking to achieve.
“We brought in Productboard, and this was this really cool opportunity for us to start to drive consistency across all the PMs and how we wanted to display, manage, and share roadmaps,” says Brian. “Productboard helps PMs take more ownership over the product process. OKRs live within Productboard, as well as roadmaps. Before Productboard. We had no consistency. We had a huge mess and a huge mix. We had some on wiki pages. Some in PowerPoint, some in Excel, some not even documented.”
Build a Strong Internal Network
“Having a really strong group of people as thought partners with that you bounce ideas off of helps you become a better product manager and leader.”
The art of building a strong internal network goes beyond just building great products, it’s about personal and professional growth as a product manager or leader. Forging meaningful connections opens the door to diverse perspectives and insights, providing guidance, challenging your ideas, and helping to refine your strategies.
Being proactive in maintaining these relationships is key. This means regular check-ins, sharing updates, asking for feedback, and offering assistance. For those where networking doesn’t come naturally, it’s crucial to step out of your comfort zone and establish a system that works for you. The effort put into building and maintaining these connections pays off in the long run.
Master Effective Communication & Storytelling
“You could have the best data in the world, but if you don’t wrap that into a story, nobody’s gonna listen.”
For Brian, the power of storytelling cannot be overstated. “You could have the best data in the world, but if you don’t wrap that into a story, nobody’s gonna listen,” he says, “we’re a heavy storytelling organization.”
The art of storytelling is not just about relaying facts; it’s about crafting a narrative that resonates and engages, and drives action. Brian leverages a simple yet powerful model known as the Pyramid Principle, inspired by the classic hero’s journey. This model follows a straightforward path: situation, complication, and resolution. It begins by setting the stage (situation), introduces a challenge or problem (complication), and then leads to how it is resolved (resolution). Along with this, incorporating presentation skills and being methodical in the storytelling process are key to making narratives impactful.
Learn How to Strategically Use Data
“Don’t rely on just qualitative or quantitative data. You really need that mix of understanding — what do they say they want, and then how are they behaving when they actually use the tool.”
In today’s data-driven world, reliance on intuition alone for making critical product decisions is increasingly inadequate. This necessitates a proactive approach to instrumenting products to capture relevant data, ensuring that every decision is backed by solid evidence. However, it’s not just about gathering vast amounts of data but extracting actionable insights from it. By doing so, product managers can align their strategies more closely with actual user behavior and market trends, leading to more effective and successful product outcomes.
And qualitative data is still important — the key lies in finding the right balance in understanding what customers articulate as their needs (qualitative) and how they actually interact with the product (quantitative).
Autodesk’s approach to building a strong product mindset and culture at scale is multifaceted and deeply integrated into every aspect of its operations. To learn more, listen to the full fireside chat, available on-demand.