Dog Food-ing Our Way To V2 of Product Institute

Eating your own dog food is worth the challenge.

Eating your own dog food is worth the challenge.

After a few years of consulting, I started to feel the itch to work on a product again. I was teaching everyone how to create products people loved, but I wasn’t making any myself.  Product Institute gave me and my team a chance to do just that. This week, we’ve reached a huge milestone enrolling our 100th public student into the class. She will be joining over 500 private and public students from over 18 countries in their Product Management learning journey.

One of our class tenets is that product managers are not done with a new feature or product when they reach their release date- this is only the halfway mark on the way to delivering real value to their customers. A good product manager will continue to iterate and improve until he/she is confident that the desired outcome has been met. So that is exactly our mentality as we continue to develop Product Institute.

Our goal when designing the course was to strike a balance between the ease and independent nature of online learning with the human touch-points and guidance that an in-person class brings. So in the original model, we placed students into small groups led by their own coach.  This coach would host 3 live video discussion sessions with the group and two one-on-one coaching sessions with each student. We hypothesised this would offer value in the form of direct, personal guidance.  

Nearing the end of our fourth round of classes, we wanted to check in on our hypothesis and see how it was measuring up to the goal. Turning to our students for feedback, we found a few trends. We were relieved to find that our video and written content, the meat of the course, garnered very positive responses across the board. From junior product managers in their first job to those with 15+ years of experience, our students were finding a lot of value in the topics we covered and the frameworks we taught. This was great news.  

Then, there was our coaching format. Based on feedback from the students and coaches, this looked like an area for improvement. We spoke with students about their experience and we quickly started to notice some themes:

  1. The group sizes (between 3-5 students) were too small to foster a consistently comfortable conversation- if one or two students didn’t make it to a chat, for example, the remaining few students felt pressure to participate and speak because there were so few students involved.

  2. There were too many variations in terms of experience level and specific PM roles within groups.  As a result, there was often disparity on what topics would be helpful across the board, or in the complexity of the conversations.

  3. People weren’t using their one-on-one sessions- they didn’t have specific questions or topics they wanted to discuss, or they just didn’t prioritize them and ran out of time.

  4. A percentage of students were not able to complete the course within 10 weeks due to particularly demanding work commitments.  But when they did return to finish the class, they were could no longer use the support of their assigned coach as the 10 week timeframe had passed.

So we knew, based on these patterns, we had to adjust our format.

  1. We needed to redesign these groups. Ideally we would make larger groups of students and match them based on similar backgrounds or similar roles, but a timezone issue made this impossible.  Our students were internationally based, so pairing them with peers from across the world was just not realistic when it came to scheduling live discussions.

  2. We needed to rethink our one-on-one offer- it wasn’t providing the value we originally expected, so what could we offer instead?

  3. We needed to make the timeline of course completion more flexible, so that students could complete the course entirely at their own pace.


We came up with the following new model that we felt would address the above issues:

  1. We will hold several live video discussion sessions throughout each month, open to all students. They are:

    1. Hosted by one of our coaches

    2. Based on topics voted on by students, and span different product management roles, experiences and backgrounds

    3. Open for sign-up, with a limit on the number of students per chat

    4. Varied across time zones, and recorded and shared in case some students cannot attend

    5. Scheduled at the beginning of every month

  2. Students can enroll in Product Institute whenever they’d like. Since there are no longer only three smaller group sessions based on timezones, there is no longer a monthly start date. They can get started, and finish, whenever they would like.

  3. Students can continue to attend discussion sessions even after they have completed the course, making for a rewarding alumni experience and continued learning.

  4. There is still an option for students to add on one-on-one sessions with either the coaches or myself if they want the extra help.

We’re very excited for this new format as we believe it brings an all around better experience to our students. We have just introduced this new format to our newest set of students, so we will continue to conduct user interviews and track patterns to discern if this new structure is an improvement to our first model.  As product managers ourselves, it is so important to that we continue to implement our own tactics and frameworks to constantly iterate and improve our own product.  Stay tuned for updates and progress!



Melissa Perri