Product leaders are present in every company, but the way they function within an organization can vary widely. Possessing the ability to adapt to different environments while effectively navigating product building variables is key to being a successful product leader. In his presentation, Kurt used a simple yet effective matrix to share insight on different organizational structures and how product managers can adapt for success.
On the impact of digital maturity
“The size and relative digital maturity of a company will have a big impact on the secondary variables that affect product management. Understanding the structure of an organization and working within it helps with being impactful as a product manager.”
“Digital maturity tends to affect what matters to an organization, and to product teams, the most.”
On variable priorities of a product team
Using that as a springboard, Kurt highlighted the different ways in which digital maturity can affect the priorities of a product team. Let’s take a large digital company. Priority may be placed on optimization or new growth generation. A large traditional company, on the other hand, may find more value in the expansion of digital literacy. Knowing how to adapt to organizational priorities and product building variables is key to effective product leadership.
“Let’s start with a large traditional company. Here you may find higher importance placed on digital literacy, with authenticity often put on the product managers. Next, you’ll see more use cases, with a higher value for standardizing processes measured by efficiency. Also, they may be more risk-averse, which comes at the cost of speed.”
“On the other side, small digital companies tend to focus on product market fit and scaling, where user-centricity is key and user research is prioritized. In a startup, resources could be more limited. The process is flexible and aimed at speed in delivery and learning. This all means that as a product manager, you could end up wearing many hats.”
“In a large digital company, focus tends to be on optimization and new opportunities, and user research is highly prioritized. You’ll find that standardizing processes come with a focus on outcomes delivered. Next, role definition is hyper-specific, which can make cross-functional alignment complex. This means product managers drive a smaller component which ladders to larger.”
On effectively adapting to make an impact
At the end of the day, product teams share a common desire no matter the variables: to find ways in which to improve the product. The difference simply lies in the path taken. Before a lively Q&A session, Kurt wrapped up his presentation by sharing how product managers can provide an impact in any environment.
“A lot of value can come from being a change agent, especially in a large, more analog company. Meaning they’ve identified that they need to move into a digital direction and are in need of a product team to execute that vision. In this situation, product managers have to think in a product-oriented way, but within the status quo. Here is where you’ll find that communication and collaboration are incredibly important.”
“Scrappiness and speed as a product manager might be the most valuable assets to a small, digital company. Next, being flexible and the ability to conduct user research is highly important.”
“A product manager in a large digital company shows strong fundamentals and knows that the user is king. And having an understanding of the intersection of business mechanics and product is of high importance in this environment.”
About the speaker
Kurt Williams oversees customer-facing products at Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, transforming the way the company's retail customers interact and transact with it globally. He's worked at small, digitally-native companies in the B2C space and larger, more traditional companies. Kurt is a graduate of Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, NY.