Guest Post by: Sean Raftery (Mentee, Session 9, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Jordan Bergtraum]
Product development roles and “product” as a discipline are rapidly evolving within technology companies. This evolution is a result of the value that Product brings to an organization looking to build or scale digital products. Product Management at scale has also evolved but at a slower pace. At startups or growth stage companies, a “Product Manager” is responsible for identifying what needs to be built and then executing on building the product. Larger product functions break down the PM function into Product Owners, Product Managers, and Project Managers. It is beneficial to understand the difference between these roles, and in particular the different experience and skills they require. Doing so will help you better support your team, but also identify and improve on the skills and areas you personally excel, helping you choose the right career path, strengthen your reputation, and building your brand and narrative. By performing an honest personal inventory of your skills, experience and interests, you will be in a better position to choose the career path that best suits you.
My career began atypically. As a music major struggling to find work following undergrad, I found an opportunity for an internship at a start-up digital advertising agency. Our focus was building web applications that integrated with the newly created open APIs released by music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Pandora. This internship grew into a full time role as a project manager .I was responsible for defining timelines with UX, design, and engineering and holding the team to those timelines. During this formative time, project management was my personal core competency and that remains the bedrock of my skills in product.
As my expertise grew, so did my exposure to the breadth of responsibilities expected of product management, such as marketing, strategy, and product vision, which culminated in my next role as an enterprise Product Owner at American Express. This role involved less strategy than expected because market analysis was typically performed by the the business units, which meant my role was delivering high quality solutions to problems dictated by the business. This is where the difference between Product Ownership and Product Management became overly apparent to me. The Scrum Masters on my scrum team performed the tasks that I was most familiar with at the beginning of my career and Owners are the voice of the customer and business within those same scrum teams. Product Managers, were they a singular role at American Express, would own the product’s strategy, marketing, and direction. My time at American Express was critical to understanding the variety of product management responsibilities.
Product professionals should take inventory of their experiences, as I have. Being honest with who you are, can help you craft a narrative about your strengths and the strengths of those around you in organizations of any scale. A Product Manager at a start-up will likely need to take on a greater breadth of tasks than a PM at an organization with scale. Being able to contextualize the requirements of your role, your strengths and what motivates you will help both you and your organization succeed. If you are interested in a role in scaled product organization, this self assessment will help you better craft your narrative and how you fit into the product function.
I found, coming from an agency project management background, my strengths lie in prioritization and advocating for the client and user on a scrum team. Hence, I am best suited as a Product Owner. Identifying user needs, or customer needs in the B2C environment, is currently a weakness of mine and a skill that is a hallmark of both B2B and B2C product managers. Presentation skills and narratives that build consensus, are also critical path Product Manager responsibilities. My time spent studying these differences and owning my strengths and my weaknesses has allowed me to identify areas of opportunity for my personal growth within Product Management.
Take the time to understand the differences between project manager, product owner, and product manager. Project managers are most concerned with execution, software planning, and release planning, Product Owners are focused on being the voice of the customer and business within the execution-oriented scrum teams, and Product Managers are the owners of the product’s relationship with the customer entirely, strategy and marketing responsibilities. These definitions help not only scale your business, but also scale your career in a tactful and graceful way.
Sean is a product specialist based in NYC. Currently Product Manager at SwiftKick Mobile, a boutique mobile application agency based in Austin, TX, most recently Product Owner at American Express and the Lead Project Manager for the Americas at F Sharp, an advertising tech solutions provider, and production agency. Sean is a lover of music, tech, and sports. #FlyEaglesFly #TTP #Sixers #COYS
More About The Product Mentor
The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…
Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.
Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…
- Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
- Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
- Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
- Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community
Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!
The Product Guy