We start the interview series of Product Mantra in 2016 with a young technologist and product leader Tyler Strand, who is very clear in his thoughts about various aspects of product management. Product Mantra asked Tyler three questions.
Product Mantra: Do you see the role of a Product Manager undergoing an evolutionary change, say in the next 5 years?
Strand: We’re at the beginning of a transition towards corporations viewing technology as a first class citizen and an ongoing investment. I see a lot of (older, bigger, less-technical) companies hiring what I’d call project managers and asking them to liaise between, say, an offshore development firm and a design consultant to get an app built. As digital products become more central to traditional businesses, I think we’ll see the requirements for a PM role shift more towards what you’d read in a Facebook or Google PM job description. More technical, more opinionated, more holistic. The position will become more widely about defining and executing on a product strategy and less about coordinating between parties and keeping a project on schedule, which is how it’s often seen today.
Product Mantra: Is there merit in saying Product Managers should be master of at least one skill – say data analytics or UX or software development or something else?
Strand: One of the things I like about having PMs be masters of at least one skill is that it makes them flexible. When a PM’s daily todo list is slow, they can jump into a specific project and help move things forward that way. I also think seeing a PM in the weeds is huge for building credibility with the team. When a PM is only “managing”, they are at risk of being criticized for doing nothing. That said, there are plenty of products and teams, particularly larger ones, that necessitate full time product management from at least one person. So there’s definitely a time and a place for a PM who doesn’t have mastery over a more “concrete” skill.
Product Mantra: At what stage should a startup hire a Product Manager and why?
Strand: In early stage startups, a founder will usually play the role of a PM while getting the product off the ground. The founders are the ones guiding the product, staffing the team, and ultimately deciding what gets built and what doesn’t. As the company grows, founders have to think about more than just the product itself. Recruiting, business development, marketing, sales, new product development, fundraising, and legal become more time consuming, making the need for a dedicated PM critical. Exactly when this happens will depend on what the company does and the skill set of its founders. In general, I’d say once the team is about 20 people is when a company should start thinking about making a formal PM hire.
Thanks a lot for your time Tyler.
Tyler is a Computer Science graduate from Stanford University and co-founded hostess.fm, while he was still a student. In his present avatar he is a technologist and product manager. His post on Medium “What Do You Do, Exactly?” is a great read for anyone who wants to know what product managers do or for even product managers who are finding it a challenge to articulate what they really do. Follow Tyler’s tweets here.