How do you Identify a Product-centric Company: Patterns and Anti-patterns
As a job searcher, how do you determine if the company you are thinking of joining is product-centric.
When I look for a new product role, my number one criteria is: “Work at a product-centric company.” Outside of the obvious examples like Google, Amazon and other tech giants, I struggle with how I would go about identifying companies that are product-centric. This article tries to answer the question and I would love folks to share their thoughts and ideas so that I can improve it.
I have written it using pattern and anti-pattern examples to show the contrast between product-centric and product-aspiring organizations.
I have separate sections for what you can learn from being on the outside and what you can learn from talking to those that work at the company. It is not enough to know the outside view and so I work hard to network with folks and/or ask good questions during my interviews to learn about the true product culture at the company.
My first challenge in answering this question was that if you have not networked with anyone on the product team at the company you are interested in, or if you are not interviewing there currently, what can help you.
- Pattern: The head of product is on the executive team
Anti-pattern: The head of product is buried in the organization — reporting to CTO, COO or other exec.
- P: Head of product has a strong track record and career path as a product manager (Good advice from Marty Cagan on this)
A: Head of product has not been a product manager before
- P: Their product marketing messaging uses language focused on customer outcomes
A: Product marketing is merely a list of features
- P: News articles and press releases mention customer impact metrics
A: Focus only on tech jargon and buzzwords (e.g. AI, IoT etc.)
With Inside Information
You can learn a lot more from folks that work there via networking or asking good questions during your interview.
Pair this section with an excellent article by Andrew Skotzko: How do you know if you are interviewing at a Product-led company
- P: The PM and team have access to users for product discovery
A: Sales or Customer Success are gatekeepers and limit access to users
- P: The PM engages with users frequently for product discovery — at least weekly
A: The PM only engages on a project basis — e.g. usability tests for a specific feature
- P: The PM uses qualitative and quantitative data to gain user insights
A: The PM cherry-picks or data-snacks to support confirmation biases
Defining and Measuring Success
- P: The PM has agency in defining the product roadmap
A: Internal stakeholders have a strong say in defining the roadmap
- P: Goals for the product team are defined as outcomes
A: Goals are defined as outputs; focus on delivering features
- P: The product team goals are aligned with company business goals
A: No clear connection between what the product team works on and impact on company’s success
Product Development Team Structure
- P: The product has a stable and dedicated team of engineers
A: Teams are shared between PMs; frequent reassignment of engineering team members
- P: The PM works with “triad” team members: tech lead and UX designer
A: Share a UX designer with other teams; tech lead not engaged in product decisions
- P: The product team can deliver with limited dependencies
A: High dependencies on other engineering teams, designers or other key stakeholders
Product Development Team Culture
- P: The team creates a safe environment for growth; failure is an opportunity to learn
A: There is fear of retribution; lack of interest in learning and growth
- P: The team is committed to self improvement
A: Limited or no retrospectives; blame culture; mired in team dysfunction
- P: The team is committed to prioritizing and paying down technical debt
A: High debt that has accumulated; conflict between prioritizing debt and new features
- P: The team celebrates its wins
A: Continue to grind out features
Product Manager Career Growth
- P: Commitment to learning and growth of PM skills
A: Very little time for self-improvement; do it on your own time
- P: Manager/leader plays a role as a coach or provides access to a coach
A: Manager/leader only focused on managing