Have any of you held a PM position in a fast-growing startup? If so, how do you find it to be a PM in such a setting? Benefits vs. Challenges?
High growth, in my opinion, is a stage in which a corporation expands both its workforce and its output. For e.g., consider scaling from 30–40 people to 500–1000, from $2–10M in revenue to $200+M, etc.
I question because I frequently read articles about product management and frameworks written by individuals who either work for smaller startups or businesses that have already “crossed the chasm” (FAANG, etc.), which have consolidated and grown more corporate-like.
The majority of product frameworks, training programs, and tips simply do not work in a high growth business where chaos and rapid execution are the norm.
Would like to hear your thoughts on this!
I have been working in such an environment for a few years, rapidly expanding from 50 to 500 people in 12 to 18 months. Over the course of a few years, we were able to gradually align the organization around objectives and proceed from the absolute disarray (no structure) it had started in.
Product frameworks must be created and customized to fit the organization, its goals, and its workforce. It is not advisable to embrace frameworks just because they were mentioned in a book and sounded wonderful in theory but have no foundation in your personal reality.
The product operations team is frequently extremely crucial to achieving alignment outside of team silos in an organization that is quickly scaling. They also make the arduous process of redrawing domain boundaries, which will unavoidably be necessary, much easier. This is especially true for organizations that have quickly scaled and relied on a variety of early-stage third parties, each with a distinct approach and culture.
Product management as a whole places far too much emphasis on FAANG, especially during hiring, where selecting candidates with minimally relevant experience might be a surefire way to guarantee failure. When an organization is growing quickly, you need employees that can thrive amid a high level of ambiguity and figure out how to complete tasks when the framework is silent on the best course of action. And you want individuals that create, build, and fix the framework as you go rather than just complaining that it does not work perfectly yet.
In just over a year, we went from 20 to 80 people. anticipating further exponential expansion. I have a North Star and a sizable product.
Sometimes I feel like a cowgirl. It is a crazy journey, your influence is significant, and this is uncharted ground. Frameworks are adorable but fall short. Put on your boots, approach individuals, and think strategically and creatively. And everyone is really enjoyable.
Giving your Legos away is a challenge. You have a really wide range. If the company expands, you will have to give up some of your scope. People will be employed to devote their whole attention to the side project you were working on. However, if you embrace it, your actual sphere of impact will only expand.
Giving your Legos away is such a great idea. Since each person who takes ownership of the Lego is different, I found it difficult to let go the first time and even harder to do it correctly every time. But when what you started improves alongside someone else, it is incredibly fulfilling.
I work in a venture backed startup. We will see if it’s high growth. We just hit 32 FTE and 1M ARR. Up next is crossing the chasm you mention or sinking. Have runway till mid 2024.
How is it? It’s intense. Emotional. It’s like doing everything I’ve done before but with no safety net, amped up personal investment and some clear gaps in experience starting to reveal themselves.
I’m the only female across product (design sits under me as well), engineering and data. Also, only female on leadership team. As much as I can ‘hang’ in almost every situation there are days I miss HR.
I used to. it was a thrill ride with collaborative and sincerely caring leadership in a high trust environment. pay wasnt as great as faang but the challenge and people were incredible.
Now I work at a big company where 8-10 people watch one person work and complain about communications skills because things aren’t simplified to a puppet show. Pay is fantastic, working hours are great, people are certified brilliant because of their degrees and absolutely worthless due to their lack of actual skills.
FWIW I never saw those kinds of frameworks get deployed at big tech unless it was for PMs who were, uhhh, kinda bad at their jobs. It wasn’t any different from growth-stage startup land I’m in now:
- Build the right stuff at the right time for the right people
- Talk to customers and figure out who’s good at giving actionable feedback
- Primary constraint is time, not just for you, but for all your peers
- Every problem or circumstance is different from the last one
- No playbook the business can follow, unclear if it’ll work
The main difference is more autonomy at the tradeoff of having less institutional knowledge about things.
You’re definitely not alone.
Everyone loves to say “people are always the hardest part” and yea they’re right. Until a certain scale personality and individual autonomy will always trump frameworks or processes for better and worse.
We definitely struggle with cross team collaboration and delivery & execution. We went from ~5 (when I joined) to 1xx in 2.5 years. Definitely feeling it more now than ever before.
I can share some general insights on the challenges and benefits associated with the role. Keep in mind that experiences can vary depending on the company, industry, and individual perspectives.
Challenges of Working as a Product Manager:
- Balancing competing priorities: Product Managers often face the challenge of juggling multiple stakeholders, each with their own goals and requirements. Prioritizing and managing expectations can be demanding.
- Uncertainty and ambiguity: The nature of product management involves dealing with uncertainty. You may need to make decisions based on incomplete information, adapt to changing market conditions, and navigate through ambiguous situations.
- Communication and collaboration: Product Managers act as a bridge between different teams, such as engineering, design, marketing, and sales. Effective communication and collaboration across diverse functions and personalities can be challenging.
- Managing trade-offs: Product Managers must make trade-offs between competing features, resources, and timelines. It can be difficult to find the right balance to meet customer needs, business objectives, and technical constraints.
- Stakeholder management: Working with stakeholders who have different interests, priorities, and expectations requires strong interpersonal skills. Aligning diverse perspectives and managing conflicts can be a significant challenge.
Benefits of Working as a Product Manager:
- Impactful role: Product Managers have the opportunity to shape the direction and success of a product. They have a direct influence on solving customer problems, improving user experiences, and driving business growth.
- Cross-functional exposure: Product Managers work closely with various teams, such as engineering, design, marketing, and sales. This exposure offers valuable insights into different functions and enhances overall professional development.
- Continuous learning: Product Managers need to stay updated on market trends, emerging technologies, and user behaviors. This role provides ongoing opportunities for learning and personal growth.
- Problem-solving and creativity: Product Managers tackle complex problems and find innovative solutions. They have the freedom to explore new ideas, experiment with strategies, and create meaningful experiences for users.
- Leadership and influence: Product Managers often take a leadership role by guiding teams, facilitating decision-making processes, and driving product vision. They have the opportunity to influence and inspire others.
It’s important to note that the challenges and benefits can vary depending on the specific company culture, industry, and individual preferences. Different environments may present unique dynamics and opportunities, so it’s crucial to consider these factors when evaluating your experience as a Product Manager.
At a start-up with explosive growth that is going from 100 to 1000, I am the lead platform PM. It is a consumer technology company.
I effectively own two north stars and pods in addition to two items.
The job is highly difficult, and I think it is being compensated well.
My opportunities for learning and for showing effect have both been insane. I have been having a great time and loving every second of it.
Low bureaucracy, quick pace, and a focus on solving customers’ concerns are all hallmarks of this business model.
@AhmadBashir, Can you elaborate more how you work with your teams? In terms of processes, cadence of execution (sprints, defined projects vs ad-hoc requests etc).
@AlanaMartin, Set up the team for individual ownership and accountability. Helps build trust and deleverage myself to focus more on strategic thinking and let the team drive execution.
Any particular example on how you did that and what individual ownership and accountability looks like for your team?
For example, the QAs write test cases to test the product that is being released.
Ideally a PM has to review the test cases for the functional coverage.
I deferred the ownership to them QAs saying, I won’t review because of lack of bandwidth and if anything breaks in prod, they’ll be held accountable. And while doing this, I give them freedom to call their shots on holding devs accountable for timely delivery so that they get enough head room to cover everything without pressure of timeline.
Same with any other function. Give them the desired space and then hold them accountable.
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