Here at RedCat Digital, our consultants have a wealth of experience helping people work in the world of product management. We help companies ranging from big enterprises to startups find the right person for their role, and help people get them the best job for their skillset.
We’ve collated the product management expertise that we’ve gathered over the years to help give a picture of a day in the life of a product manager. We’ve tailored our career advice to two different ends of the scale – to show what life is like as a product manager or product owner in both startups and big companies.
As a starting point, it’s useful to consider the responsibilities and roles that come with the product manager or product owner role, whatever the organisation. The end goal is usually the same for all businesses: How do you drive growth? How do you improve the return on investment derived from the product? Whether it’s improving user acquisition of new customers or reducing churn rates, the ultimate aim is always a commercial one.
In a big company, for instance one with tens of thousands of employees, product managers generally own a small section of a product – the size and level of responsibility is obviously heavily dependent on their seniority within the business.
In such a large organisation, 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 commercial considerations of the product.
Given this environment, where product managers are part of a large team supporting a product, the role is in large part about collaboration.
Collaboration, in fact, is key to success in the product management role in a large business: it involves working with different stakeholders from support, marketing, sales and senior staff within the organisation. All that means that the job becomes in many ways a “storyteller” role, with a large part of the job being to drive internal engagement and buy-in to the product.
There’s a totally different level of responsibility at startups. Rather than being one small cog in a large, structured machine, you will play an outsized role in directing the direction and vision of the company. If you’re in a product management role at a startup, there’s a good chance you’ll be the first product hire at that company – meaning the success or failure of the product will sit with you.
This can mean you will need to do things like set up the full product roadmap, get customer feedback for product improvements, manage release plans, run sprints, prioritise features, look at analytics to make data-driven decisions, and even looking at marketing-related activities to make sure the marketing strategy reflects the product, the brand and the company. It’s a potentially endless list, and the buck (as regards the product) will stop with you.
That means that another “soft” skill is key here. In a big organisation that soft skill is collaboration. In a startup, it’s prioritisation.
Working in a product management role in a startup means considering what is really important and what can add value; something you’ll need to be able to communicate to your stakeholders. But stakeholder management will be very different to in a large organisation, as much of the communication will be with the founder or CEO – who needs to know exactly what value the product is bringing in.
Comparing the two
The real difference between these two types of organisation, then, is the level of responsibility. A product management role always involves a lot of responsibility, but in an enterprise organisation you’ll have different support teams to rely on. In a startup, you’re much more on your own – but you’ll also have autonomy and control to take the product (and the company) in the direction that you think is right.
RedCat has expert consultants to help people find the right product management role in different size organisations – and can help guide you on what sort of organisation will suit you best.