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Controversial: Can a contractor be a product manager. Yes or No? - Shirin Danesh

Over the period of one week, something interesting happened.

During a conversation with a managing director of a consulting firm, he shared that the firm’s clients (primarily CEOs, CPOs, and Heads of Product) didn’t think they could engage a consultant as a Product Manager.

He said: “We have these amazing product managers with glowing cases and experience, who’ve done great work so far, and because they want to get more experience they join a consulting firm”.

In a second conversation two days later, a friend of mine, head of digital products at a data analytics firm said “we have amazing data scientists and data engineers, but it’s very difficult for us to turn our prototypes into products and take them to market. We can’t hire anyone to come on board and manage our products. We need someone with a certain amount of experience that knows our industry and we need them for the long-term”.

Both sides are hurting due to limiting beliefs.

Listening to these two conversations, it occurred to me that there were three limiting beliefs popping up that are hurting both sides of the business equation:

– On one hand, senior product managers that have skills are in consulting firms;

– On the other hand, companies that have a portfolio of products are in need of product manager to manage multiple products.

Beliefs that need to be dismantled:

1. Product managers need to be full-time, not contract

I’ve heard it said that “if they are not full-time staff, they cannot manage our products”. Well, I believe this is not true. How people get paid has nothing to do with what they do and what they deliver.

2. “If they are not in our industry, they can’t be our product manager.”

Not true. This is akin to saying that if someone has worked as an Italian super celebrity chef that they could not be a chef in any other cuisines! That’s simply not true. There are so many product manager skills that are transferable.

What this also indicates to me is the lack of an ability to filter through resumes to see which part of a product manager’s skillset is a transferable skill and which is domain-specific. This can understandably be difficult if you are a small firm that does not have a large recruitment arm.

3.  “For our products to be successful, the product manager needs to stay for a long time.”

Not true. A product manager, like any other role, has a set of skills that you can simply look for. More importantly – and this is something that I love about product management – it is milestone-based, and each milestone has a set of metrics and success criteria. Also, keep in mind that Millennials are entering the workforce. In the next five years, the likelihood of companies being able to find someone “for a long time” will be unlikely. Millennials are not interested in being in one job for long periods of time. Different generation, different rules.

Solution

I invite you to shift your thinking.

For each phase of a product’s development, identify key skillsets required, metrics needed for improvement. Then go to market in search of a product manager.

I recommend using a recruitment agent that can help find product managers with matching skillsets.

Or, engage with a product management consulting firm that has the talent needed. A firm that can help you articulate what your product team needs based on the current stage of your product. With the consulting firms, you can set an agreed metric and negotiate engagement fees based on performance. Simply put, if they move the middle on the metric, they get paid.

Bringing it all together

It’s said that good product managers are unicorns. The stage of your product’s maturity will determine what kind of product owner will be most suitable.

Remember, consulting firms are worth their salt, enjoy a good challenge. The conversation goes like this: “Here is my product, here is the metric I want you to improve, please introduce one of your unicorns!”

Mini-Actions

On a piece of paper:

1.   List the top three industries that are similar to yours. Look at the data they gather from their customers and what services they offer. Prepare to be surprised!

2.   List all the products you have, and for each one, list the top three metrics in need of improvement.

These will provide you a brief for your talent acquisition team or a conversation-starter with a product management consulting firm.