This is a topic that I get asked all the time by industry professionals looking to make the transition between the two worlds and so I thought it worth raising the issue of why it can be so hard to transfer between the two. Having worked in Recruitment for almost 4 years specialising in Product Management I have placed Product Managers into organisations of all shapes and sizes; from global enterprises to 5 person starts ups!! Having spoken to Product Managers of all backgrounds to understand the major differences and why at times it can be challenging to transfer these skills from one organisation to another.
To begin with, the hierarchy, responsibilities and job title of Product can vary from organisation to organisation. However the end goal is usually the same for all businesses: how do you drive growth? How do you improve ROI of your product? Whether product success is around driving acquisition of new customers or improving churn rates, the bottom line is ultimately to improve commercial success.
At a larger organisation with tens of thousands of staff, the PMs generally own a small section of a product; naturally this is heavily dependent on your rank within the business. There will also be separate teams that focus on the commercial strategy; others that work within a technical capacity handling backend operations in order to set the engineering roadmap; and of course internal teams to support the product commercials. Due to the wider team playing a part in the concept through to delivery of the product, your role is to work collaboratively with a number of key team mates who support with the entire product life cycle. In this instance, collaboration is key to success as often you will also have project management teams that will help run sprints and the delivering of key features of your product. You will work with a number of different stakeholders from support, marketing, sales and senior stakeholders within their organisational matrix meaning that part of the role becomes a “story teller” in order to drive real engagement and buy in to your Product.
Within a start up on the other hand it is a completely different level of responsibility. More often than not you could be the very first Product hire, meaning that it is down to you to build a product and strategy reflecting the vision of the company. This can range from setting up the full product roadmap, customer feedback for product improvements, managing release plans, running sprints, prioritizing features, looking at analytics to make data driven decisions… to even looking at marketing related activities to ensure that the marketing strategy reflects the product, the brand and the company. The list is endless; and the buck will stop with you. You’ll pretty much have autonomy to drive the entire product. Your actions will directly impact the product and of course the success of the business; the level of ownership is colossal. So really prioritisation is key. This is a start-up after all and so it’s imperative that you really think about what’s important and what can add real value to your users. Stakeholder Management is also at a very different level as often you will be reporting directly in to a CEO/Owner; they really need to buy in to your business cases/ ideas to put budget behind you which could be their own capital meaning that handling their expectations is critical.
In essence, the main challenges to transfer from a global juggernaut to an early-stage start-up is around the level of core ownership and responsibility. I get asked by Product Managers from both backgrounds about how they can change between these 2 very different worlds and the advice I give is purely around the responsibility you are looking for and the ownership and commercial savviness you are keen to take on. Ultimately from a start-up to a larger company means that you give up a lot of control and autonomy to join a collaborative environment whereby you rely on multiple teams to get your product delivered; but from an enterprise to a start-up you need to be ready to take on the challenge and weight of the full business on your shoulders.
If you are looking to make the change between the 2 worlds then give me a call for advice or lets meet for a coffee to discuss different ideas around how you can make this transition successful.
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