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Product Management Career Resilience "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 22 March 2016 True Career, Complexity, Enterprise, Legacy, Resiliency, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 613 Randy Silver at Producttank Product Management 2.452
· 3 minute read

Product Management Career Resilience

The top 3 (work-related) things that make me feel jealous:

  • Friends talking about the cloud/remote/open-source tools that they use
  • Co-located teams
  • Launching new features in 2 – 3 months rather than 2 – 3 quarters… or years

That’s because I’m a Product Manager at an enterprise, and things are different here.  Not bad – there are some amazing opportunities that come with scale – but definitely very different than working in a startup or mid-size environment.  If you’re considering going to work with a global megacorp, there are definitely some things you should know. Following on from a ProductTank presentation I gave at the start of the year, here are some notes on how to survive in the Enterprise environment.

The Enterprise Survival Guide

 1. Be Patient. Really, Really Patient

Things operate on a different scale here.  At smaller firms, I felt like a failure if I couldn’t show results in 2 or 3 months.  At an enterprise, a global change can take 2 or 3 years. Add a few more months if you’re in a regulated environment, trying to deal with things like cross-border data transfer, bringing on a new vendor, or even asking for feedback from staff in countries like Germany.  That’s because…

2. Things are Really Complex

And not just the legacy systems. Processes can be absolutely Byzantine, and the organisational dynamics even more so.  Companies of this size often grow by merger and acquisition, and often there are differing systems and processes between business units or geographies. There’s also the (often) undocumented checkpoints that you’ll need to go through to get any change to existing systems or processes changed, above and beyond the known structures.

3. Learn the Culture – and Appreciate It

Some people can experience an entire career – with many different job experiences – within one large firm.  That creates a unique corporate culture which can be hugely resistant to change – but it may also be responsible for why the company originally succeeded and hasn’t yet been disrupted.  That can be simultaneously a huge frustration and a massive opportunity – and even if you never learn to love the culture, you’ll need to develop an appreciation for it. Without that, you’ll never be able to engage the lifers.

4. Get A Native Guide

There’s a stereotype that the lifers are an insular, uncurious bunch. But you’ll be surprised to also find a community of dynamic people who are really interested in learning new techniques and methodologies – and who excel at adapting them to the unique requirements of their organisation.  These people are invaluable, and you’re not going to get anything done without them.  They’re the ones who can help you finesse the bureaucracy and the budget cycles, who know where the blockers are and how to avoid them.

5. And Sponsorship

Even the guides won’t be much help unless your programmes have the right backing – be it an executive sponsor or committed budget/resources. (Most of the time, the latter doesn’t come without the former.)  The one exception is that you can pull off a skunkworks win with minimal resources, which may be enough to secure the sponsorship to make it a production-ready programme. (This isn’t that different from the MVP process.)

6. …And then be Patient Again

Did I mention this earlier? It’s essential.

So why do it? The opportunity to work globally, with teams across countries and cultures, can be amazing.  Access to vendors and resources can be extensive. Opportunities to learn from managing complexity and large numbers of people are invaluable. When something does launch, it can be really transformational and special.

And afterwards, nothing you do at a smaller firm will ever make you break a sweat.

Comments 4

Patience is nice, but you need to be able to move things much more than in a start-up. The start-up moves by itself, but the enterprise requires more initiative. (That should be taken for granted for a product manager, anyway). I agree with Lisa in that regard.

Most articles focus on start-up topics, so I like this one for enterprise PMs. In my blog http://inspiredproductmanager.wordpress.com , I recently wrote about an article for enterprise-software PMs, since enterprise software is somewhat different than consumer software.

I’d also suggest trying to understand the big picture within the organization. Sponsorship is great, but if you can’t show how your direction not only steers towards the bigger picture, but enhances a business position across the organization, it’s hard to gain traction. Unlike small companies which are driven by a single product, larger corporations often need to consider the impact in a market across a collection of interrelated products.

Completely agree. In some very complex organizations you’ll find that people on the ground don’t know what the bigger vision is (if it exists). In that case, starting the conversation can be a great way for one product manager or team to influence multiple teams to align local decisions to enterprise goals.

To Randy’s point about patience, I’d add be impatient in the short term and patient in the long term. Push for the biggest change you can make every day, but don’t be surprised if you end up waiting years to see your impact scale.

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