Research Byte relevant to Product professionals or the Product market.

Differentiating the Core Product Roles for Better Hiring

Published by Profile picture of Florence Hunter from Talent Point. Florence Hunter on the 29th July, 2019

In the technology sector, the Product function serves as the intersect between the business, the technology, and the user. They determine the user stories – the functionalities a user or customer will need, defined by the action they will need to take – and acceptance criteria; help to facilitate the development team; decide on product strategy and roadmaps; and take a holistic view of product development.

However, there are multiple roles that fall under the umbrella of ‘Product’. In larger, more established companies, these roles may be clearly-defined and well-established. However, in smaller, younger companies, there tend to be blurred lines between certain functions that can cause confusion when hiring.

So, for an enterprising company looking to hire a Product professional, you must be certain about what you need: A Product Owner, or a Product Manager?

Product Owners

Typically, Product Owners are responsible for owning the vision of a product and act as the voice of the customer. A PO refines and prioritises the user stories that developers use to build functionality into the product.

These user stories are created from business and functional requirements (usually gathered by Business Analysts) and will be considered completed when they fulfil the acceptance criteria – the functionality that the product must be capable of in order to meet the need present in the user story. Product Owners are in charge of refining and prioritising these user stories into a product backlog, which determines the importance and necessity of each story. A Product Owner will also tend to be responsible for sprint planning.

For example, an e-commerce user story such as, “As a customer, I can select clothing by colour, so that I can find what I want more easily,” would be a lower priority than, “As a customer, I can select an article of clothing and add it to my checkout basket so that I can purchase it."

In smaller companies, POs might write user stories – in larger companies there might be a Business Analyst responsible for this. Typically, a BA will translate requirements into user stories and the PO will refine them and prioritise them into the product backlog. That being said, the team setup will be very dependent on the company and its management style, size, and product type.

Product Managers

Product Managers tend to lie closer to the business side of the Product function than Product Owners. They are often charged with setting the strategy and commercial decisions around the product, including managing the short- and long-term product roadmaps that outline the future direction the product will be expected to take – such as product-market fit, ROI, user segmentation, marketing direction, and go-to-market strategies.

Product Managers will be more likely to interact with senior, C-level stakeholders, and will be expected to take the business priorities and objectives and translate them into a functional plan for the product and development functions. Rather than creating user stories – the highly specific, small functionalities of the product – they will create Epics: the broader, more generic stories that will functionally be made up of numerous user stories.

These may sound like, “I want to be able to buy clothing online,” or, “I want to be able to find specific products using a drop-down menu and search terms.”

Insight into the Product Talent Pool

Product Owners are generally harder to source than Product Managers, offering a smaller talent pool on average.

In terms of salary, you can expect to offer more to Product Managers as they become increasingly senior. While both junior Product Owners and Product Managers (with one to two years of experience) command salaries of around £40-50k, this changes as they gain more expertise. Product Owners often command salaries of £60-65k. Product Managers, on the other hand, typically seek salaries of £60-75k.

To have the best chance of attracting the best applicants for your company, you must be able to offer appropriate compensation that matches the market and provides a solid career path that will support the applicant’s progression throughout their time with you.

Key Takeaways

Identify (and prioritise) your business’ needs.

While your organisation may require aspects covered by both Product Owners and Product Managers, it’s important to keep in mind that trying to hire a jack-of-all-trades could end up with you sinking time, money, and resources on an applicant who just doesn’t exist at the time!

Due to this, you need to determine your most pressing challenges, and then focus on finding the best PO or PM to address those – after mapping out how you’ll manage any remaining challenges as well. Think long-term, but never vaguely.

Offer transparency around the specifics of each role – including career progression and team expansion plans.

Though determining which role you’re hiring for is definitely a good start, the job description you design must leave no uncertainty about the responsibilities of the role or the structure of your company, and the ways your hire can progress upon joining. Applicants need to feel like they have a future at the place they apply to, which is impossible to accomplish with false (or no!) expectations.

Understand the current market and budget accordingly.

Naturally, even the same position will have different responsibilities and workloads across different businesses. However, if the requirements you list are rarer or more demanding than the market average, you will need to come to terms with having to adjust your offers to attract talent that will be able and willing to take that on.

If you can’t afford the market rates, then your best bet will be to keep scaling back the basic skill requirements for the new hire, until you are within budget. This may mean your hire will need some time to pick up additional skills; but this shouldn’t be an issue if you prioritise an ability to self-learn and develop skills as part of your hiring requirements.

And remember, attempting to pay below market rates is a sure-fire way to damage your employer brand. With online communities on Reddit and Stack Overflow – as well as sites like Glassdoor – one bad review is all it takes!

Be self-aware and fair, and your company will benefit.

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