5 Minutes With Cameron Adams, Canva - Leading The Product

5 Minutes With Cameron Adams, Canva

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Cameron AdamsAt Canva, Cameron Adams, the Co-Founder and Head of Product has done away with the title Product Managers. Instead they use the term Coordinators. Read our interview with Cameron.

1. In what ways has Product Management evolved over the last 5 years?

I think one of the most interesting shifts has been away from the formal definition of a Product Manager to one that is much more contextual. Traditionally, at many companies, a Product Manager would have to come from a specific specialisation, which — depending on the company — might be marketing or engineering. At Canva “Product Managers” (though we prefer to call them “coordinators”) can come from any part of the business, as long as they have the passion and the ability to help build amazing products.

2. Why is Product Management important in your business?  

We try to keep our product teams as flat as possible. This means that we don’t use the term Product Manager. The term “manager” has bad connotations in most corporate structures. It also implies a hierarchy which we don’t hold to here at Canva.

Each of our teams is composed of all the members needed to build their product — engineering, design, marketing — and they are responsible for setting their goals and driving hard to fulfill their vision. Having everyone invested in the goals makes for great motivation, but there’s still a role there for coordination. A Coordinator makes sure that all the parts line up at the right time and keeps track of the bigger picture while other members of the team are diving deep on particular problems.

A crucial part of the Coordinator role is also helping the team to prioritise product development. They do this by surfacing appropriate data such as customer support tickets, bug reports, and sifting through metrics. With these pieces of information the team can then make the correct decisions to steer the product into the future.

3. How do you lead teams to develop and launch products in your business?

Although we — as founders — have certainly played a direct role in launching products at Canva, we are now actively trying to empower our teams do that. As the number of initiatives increases, we are quickly becoming a bottleneck for decision-making, so passing on our experience and knowledge has become the most effective way to scale up as the size of the company grows.

At the root of it, a startup can only succeed if it gets as much value out into the world as quickly as possible, so we press the importance of this in developing and launching our products. Having a team that is aligned in their vision helps a great deal in doing this, so constantly communicating that vision and making sure that everyone’s on the same page is a vital part of leading the product.

4. Are there specific leadership qualities that a Product Manager must possess to be effective at the role?

Certain projects require coordinators with certain skillsets, but there’s some core skills that are always required:

Great communication

The ability to rapidly synthesize data

Peacefully resolve disputs

One of the most underrated skills I can think of is also the ability to think tactically and strategically at the same time. A good coordinator needs to be able to concentrate on what’s happening this week as well as what’s happening next year simultaneously.

5. How did you get into Product Management?

I’ve always approached product from a strong design background. After working as a designer at Google I saw the pros and cons of having a strong engineering slant to product management. I also have a strong technical background, but at Canva I’ve striven to bring design more into the conversation. This has helped us focus strongly on user experience, making sure that the product is serving our customers in the best way possible.