Product management is such a broad field, with opportunities in companies of all shapes and sizes. I recently came across an excellent post about PMing at start-ups vs. PMing at large companies, and I wanted to share my own perspective, based on the points mentioned, on PMing at a large company.
I think it’s very fair to say that larger companies, especially public companies, tend to focus on growing what is already successful. When there are quarterly targets, investor pressure, and lots of eyes from supporters and competitors alike, there’s little room for error and these companies will very naturally minimize risk and continue going after tried and true approaches.
However, there’s an ideal balance to this – large companies still need to focus on the long term and continue to innovate, and as a result a good large company will focus on scalable processes, employee growth, and new technologies.
Large companies definitely look for team players. In my experience as a PM at a large company, I’ve seen the absolute importance of prioritizing the success of the team over what someone individually wants. This makes a lot of sense because as the size of the team gets bigger, the total contribution of the team is much more than the contributions of a single person.
Large companies also look for specialists so that there’s talent and discipline in every role. At my company there are much more specifically-defined roles – for example the UX Researcher conducts customer interviews, the UX Designer creates the wireframes, and the Creative Designer delivers the final comps. Every person is an expert in a particular role, which leads to the best possible output for each step of the project.
I think one of the most important skills a PM can have at a large company is strong communication. By strong I don’t mean forceful – the best PMs I’ve seen at my company have been clear communicators who are good at aligning and connecting different groups, visions, and ideas. Having mental toughness and flexibility goes a long way to delivering the final product when there are 20 differing viewpoints and voices.
It’s very satisfying to know that the products you deliver will impact millions of people and the manpower you have can go a long way in achieving big ideas and missions. For example our company runs a donation campaign every year and even without full participation we’re able to raise tens of thousands of dollars. It’s pretty easy to think of many other initiatives large companies can achieve due to its size and resources.
As a PM I especially appreciated the structured training and mentorship opportunities at a large company. During my first six months I enrolled in many helpful training classes at work and had regular check-ins with my supervisor to discuss my progress and future career goals. While any company regardless of size can offer these, larger companies have plenty of resources to invest specifically in career growth.
I’ve also observed many PMs moving around to try different projects, not just for different devices but even for entirely different domains. There are dozens of teams and funded projects during the year, so it’s definitely very possible to try new things and switch things up without even having to change floors.
One of the more frustrating aspects of PMing at a large company is the sheer number of people involved in decision making. For a given project blockers tend to happen because there are so many people owning different parts that there’s inevitable delay and gaps in communication. A good PM will be able to work around this by being proactive in communicating and constantly following up, but it’s a lot of extra effort for things that shouldn’t be that difficult to do.
It’s also more difficult to have the full context of everything happening in the company. Many issues stem from one team changing something and another team not picking up on the changes. As a PM it’s very important to stay as connected as possible to all the projects that may be related to your own project – there’s always the possibility that at some point the two projects will see some overlaps or interaction.
As a result of this missing context and the huge number of people working on a given project, it’s harder to feel a stronger connection to the totality of what your company is shipping. There’s enough things to worry about for your own project, which you may only have a small portion of ownership, let alone the twenty other funded projects.
In closing, there are always benefits and drawbacks to PMing at a large company, just as there are benefits and drawbacks to PMing at a start-up. They’re certainly not mutually exclusive, and the best way to understand what works for you is to give them both a try.
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