The PM Journal | Log 13
During all these professional years, I’ve worked on product companies and consulting. Although I have a sweet spot for consultancy, a product company has particularities that make it good too.
After living for two years and a half in Dublin working in a product company as a Product Manager, I recently moved to Amsterdam and I’m back in the consultancy world as a Product Lead at a digital product consulting company called Mobiquity.
Many people have asked me lately what differences I see between these two experiences. So I decided to write this article giving my personal view mostly on product management.
Product Company vs. Consulting Company
Product companies are the ones responsible for a specific product or a group of products under the same intellectual property, which means legally owned.
Apple, Uber, Disney, GE, Google… are all product companies, with tangible and intangible products.
Consulting companies provide services. There are many different types of consultancies. Some organizations are more on a strategic level with a client or work helping startups grow or are at the client just for coaching practices… and others — like Mobiquity— develop digital products for customers.
Besides Mobiquity, Accenture, Concrete Solutions, ThoughtWorks, Bain&Company… are all consulting companies with different approaches.
Based on some of the most important product management aspects, I have defined below — in my personal opinion — the differences between the two types of companies considering my experiences:
- Product Company: Usually in a product company that preserves a product-led mindset (that is the most important detail) will give trustworthy autonomy to product teams in making decisions. It is a combination of a top-down company’s vision and strategy with a bottom-up team’s product opportunities and goal commitment. It is always good to remind that product decisions should be made by qualitative & quantitative insights aligned with goals.
- Consulting Company: As with everything in product management I will say: it depends. You can be working with a client that gives you complete autonomy to get the job done. That’s the best scenario, of course, however, in consultancy you must be way more transparent with the process and involve key people throughout the work building trusting relationships. On the other hand, in cases a client wants to just give you ready requirements to build a product, the stakeholder management skill comes to play in a high-level expectation. Your ability to influence will drive the future of this relationship.
- Product Company: Generally a product team works in a specific area of the organization, in a particular product or portfolio. The downside is that most common people don’t experience different markets and segments, or learn other domains that can enable product growth besides what the company supports.
- Consulting Company: In consultancy, you can work on a B2B product today and tomorrow transit to B2C in a completely different segmentation. Work in a bank building an app and shift to building a machine learning solution for education. It is a remarkably wide environment.
Product Development Lifecycle
- Product Company: Working on a product company you participate in the full life of a product. Create and deliver something new, then guiding it through all the stages with inside metrics available to you to help plan your strategy. You have more control over killing a product if needed or changing it conform new opportunities appear.
- Consulting Company: For consultancies that’s quite different. There are types of consulting companies that supply people and you operate as part of the client’s team. In this scenario, you can work during the entire cycle. But usually, in this business, you don’t stay in a project too long, which gives you the opportunity to learn about different markets and products. Then when you start at a client, you might be working on a specific stage of the product, or you might create a new product and let the scale stage for example be supported by the client’s team. In any case, the chance to work on every single step of a product lifecycle through diverse projects is big.
- Product Company: The most common scenario is to lead the same team for how long you stay in the company (or grow to another role). People will come and go as part of turnovers, but you might be years working alongside the same people.
- Consulting Company: On the other hand, as in a consultancy you don’t stay too long in a product opportunity, which means the same for teams. You will work with different people every new rotation. The bond this creates within the organization is huge. You will know many more colleagues in your consulting company. Everyone has stories to tell and knowledge to share about products, markets, stakeholders.
- Product Company: In a company that appreciates metrics, you find lifelong quantitative data of every product and feature. Analytics is your BFF. Understand the history of a product helps you find new opportunities, gives you clarity of where the product is going forward, the legacy size of it, or even the chance to kill the product/feature. Another point is that you have access to KPIs and other variety of company metrics to combine with your insights.
- Consulting Company: A disadvantage on consulting companies because usually you don’t get the entire history of a product/feature or additional organizational metrics. Of course, if you get a client that is open to sharing, it’s a win-win. Or, if you create an entirely new product you can start its own analytics. On a side note, the client also needs to be willing to pay for an analytics tool in case it doesn’t exist.
Stakeholder Management (not users)
- Product Company: Product teams deal with internal directors, CEO, VPs, marketing, finance, etc. Everyone is part of the same culture, which helps build a more reliable environment. As well as, in the case of a sales-led mindset, getting top-down decisions from the leadership because of how deep everyone is committed to the product.
- Consulting Company: For product teams in a consulting company, that’s quite different at a product development level of course. The directors, CEO, VPs, and other departments are the customers. Essentially for product managers that operate between stakeholders and the team, the ability to influence and coach, keep everyone in the loop during the process is a daily intensive task.
Discovery & Delivery
- Product Company: In relation to discovery process, that’s part of the day-to-day activities of a product manager. Independent of the way you do, you just do it. In a product company, you might be gathering insights to improve your product by creating new features that solve a new problem or refactoring your product with more modern technology. On delivery, the company probably has a well-defined way of working that all teams follow and sometimes even join releases. Also, the legacy might be rather big and you need to take the dependency factor into account.
- Consulting Company: Depending on which stage of the product you start at a client, you might be discovering opportunities for something completely new or building an MVP to validate a solution. Either way, as I always say, discovery is an ongoing process. It doesn’t matter the phase, you will be aiming to validate a product that solves a problem. The delivery process varies from client to client, and what they support in terms of technology. Also, you can use Scrum with a team and change to Kanban with another. The common scenario is to use the consulting company's way of working and coach the client on best practices.
Consulting company is challenging and requests a lot from you. You have to be willing to step up your game. And be prepared for complex stakeholders. It is an exceptional position to improve product management skills, soft and hard, and grow professionally. Consultancy enhances your strategic and critical thinking and your capacity to deal with difficult situations.
Product company can be challenging as well, especially if the management mindset is not customer-centric. But sometimes you can get stuck to a product and/or an area without much room to grow. Then it will tell how skilled you are to improve your situation within the product, finding new ways to turn things around.
Both have pros and cons. I personally feel comfortable in these two environments. It depends more on where I am in terms of career goals, then I find a place that fits well with what I want to accomplish.
The most important thing is your happiness wherever you are! 😊
(Please notice that I’m not native in English and I apologize for mistakes)