While at Product Camp Silicon Valley, there was a presenter who had a great idea of discussing the differences within Product Management at small, medium, and large companies. This discussion was slightly sidetracked by a few people who had clear opinions and agendas instead of wanting an open discussion forum, valuing each person’s experience as different (aka there isn’t one right answer and everyone should accept that fact). Product Management differs by company, by industry, and by year. Like many things, it is living and evolving each day. A Technical Product Manager at a large company such as Amazon may own a feature while a Product Manager at 80-person startup may own an entire product or product line, and no two companies are really the same. I’d like to open the discussion here, through my own personal experience.
First, what is a small, medium, or large company? I would suggest that number of employees and revenue both play into determining what is a small, medium, or large company. I would personally categorize a small company as having 100 or less employees and revenues of less than $100MM; medium as 101-1000 employees with revenues of $100MM-$550MM; and large as 1001+ employees with revenues of greater than $550MM. This is a swag estimate, but it is what I will use within this short analysis.
Second, what are the segregation of duties within Product Management of small, medium, and large companies? At a small company, the product manager could be the CEO. If the CEO is more development oriented, the company may hire a product manager. As the company grows and either the CEO takes on CEO responsibilities and hires a true product manager or s/he can step down and take that direction (but who would really do that?). Product Managers at small companies can own the P&L, can greatly influence the product and wear many hats. As the company grows, the hats become segmented and other people or teams could then own those functions. At a medium-sized company, you’ll likely run into teams that have a knowledge expertise who lend their skills to many products and projects. You could have a product manager who owns one product or many; or owns a set of features in one. To be honest, I’ve seen the most variety in medium sized growing companies. At a large company, I see a head of product who owns the product management organization who wants to ensure everyone is trained in the newest methods who also owns the direction of products, the product line, and the P&L. The individual product managers typically own features or parts of features. It’s in large companies in any industry where I see much government regulation, politics, and red tape. Product Managers are able to be less creative within the entire product but instead own the success of a specific area for the product. For someone wanting to learn product management, I would recommend a large or medium sized company, as in a small company the person needs to know product management and the tools for how to make a product successful. In a larger company, there will be a team of product managers from whom a new person could learn.
Now that we’ve discussed the segregation of duties we can summarize:
(1) Small – Many hats, do-it-all, bootstrapper; owner
(2) Medium – Potential owner, more segregated duties to a team
(3) Large – Feature owner, can learn from others in the company
I hope you’ve enjoyed the initial discussion of product management at small, medium, and large companies and I welcome all readers to continue the discussion in the comments.