Product People – Victoria Butt

Product People in the News with Victoria Butt, Founder & Executive Search Consultant at Parity Consulting.

Thirteen years ago, Victoria Butt read a job spec and didn't believe that a person existed who could do everything it called for. Her curiosity led her to go out and find these multi-faceted, multi-skilled unicorns we call product managers.

She found that when she met these product people, they left her feeling energised as well – she was fascinated by them, and she was struck by how unique every product role and every product person was. She was learning more and more from her own interactions with these product people, and solving her clients' problems by bringing them the right unicorn.

Thirteen years later, the same thing still drives her every single day.

Victoria sat down with APP Membership Director Donna South to talk about unicorns, product salaries, and what the future holds for product management.

Tell me about your journey into recruiting for product?

I started recruiting into product because I read a job spec thirteen years ago, and didn't believe that a person would exist that could do everything in this job spec. I'm a naturally curious person, so I went on a bit of a hunt to find these unicorns that were product managers at the time.

And realised when I met them, that they were unicorns and that I just learned so much from each of the interviews. The product people that I met made me better and I loved meeting them – they gave me energy, and they just fascinated me. I loved that every product role and every product product person was beautifully unique. And for me, it was about how I could solve my clients problems by bringing them a unicorn that was the right unicorn. And that's what keeps me driven thirteen years later as well.

I totally agree – I've been referring to product as being a bit of a melting pot of people – everyone brings different life experience, different work experience, everyone comes to product via their own zig-zag path. And I think that creates this really beautiful mesh of people. Is there anything aside from that that you think makes product so special?

I think product requires a whole brain thinker, but it also requires people to have a slant in different areas on the product continuum. There's so many different attributes of a product manager that requires specific skill sets, and the reality is very few people can do every single thing. But the fact that you can have product managers who are still whole brain thinkers, but that can slot in different areas of the product lifecycle and that that that feel more comfortable at the beginning, the middle the end, owning the platform or developing a new product is pretty unique as well. I just find the whole industry so incredibly fascinating. I'm never going to master it and that is the interesting part of it. I always learn something new.

So what do you think is the greatest challenge facing the product profession today?

I think the sheer disparity of what different product roles do in one company to another, versus the salary that they're paid as well. We’ve done an annual salary survey for the last eight years, and some of the ranges we see are up to sixty or seventy thousand dollars per year difference between one industry and another industry. And that doesn't necessarily reflect the work that they're doing either. There is so much uncertainty around what a product manager does at ABC company versus XYZ company, and what they should be paid. The market has moved about 17% this financial year alone.

So talking about that disparity in roles in particular – what do you think is the long term impact of that if that's not addressed or corrected?

I think we probably need to embrace the differences between industries, and I think it's going to be okay to have discretion. I think if we get too regimented, that actually stops innovation. And so we definitely want some differences.

But I think if there isn't some normalisation then we will continue to have a problem with escalating salaries, and that's not sustainable. Companies can't afford the increase of 17% over one year, and we're not seeing it slow down. So I think that needs to be normalised.

At the same time, with the help of the Association of Product Professionals, we need to get the skills matrix in place so we really understand where each product manager is on their lifecycle of learning. It's not about saying one's good and one's bad. It's just saying right, you're a product manager and you're doing seven out of the thirty tasks a product person would inherently do. What I love about the association is that it actually brings the consistency that the industry desperately needs, while maintaining freedom within boundaries.

What do you think the future of product looks like?

I think it's going to continue to fracture. I think we’ll get some amazing innovation occurring and best practice product in tech, and that the traditional industries – who are way behind tech – will have to catch up. They’ll have to break and then sort of make themselves again. I think that much of the product management world will become project managers, compliance managers, risk managers, ops managers. It's going to go back to the true bones of product – the innovation, the launch, the driving of the product and the closing down of the product.

On that basis, do you think there's a lot of opportunity still in product?

Absolutely, one hundred percent. To the point I made about it being one of the fastest growing functions – that won't slow down. Because we're not slowing down as a human race. We're requiring more. We need more tech. We want more tech. We want our lives to be easier. So if humans stop evolving products will stop. If people continue to evolve, which of course they will, then product will continue to evolve.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into product, who wasn't already in a product role? What's the pathway, what resources are available?

Loads. And I know some people don't know where to look for it, but you really don't have to go far. There’s the Association of Product Professionals, for a start. And meetup groups, networking, conferences – they’re all available online now, you just have to look for them.

The other thing is if you are already in a business, you can proactively have a conversation with the Head of Product, and see if you can get a secondment into product. It's not hard to get a secondment in product – it's hard to stay there. Everyone wants to try someone new out because they're desperate for the new big idea. But the reality is that to stay in product you need to be resilient. You need to be super smart and be the whole brain thinker. And there actually isn’t a huge pool of people that can do that.

You could also take a role that potentially isn't product, maybe project coordinator in a big company. Project roles, business analysts, often that's where the product owners come from. They get into the delivery side of things and then branch out and become more strategic. There's a pathway there if you get yourself into a good reputable company.

Last but certainly not least, why has Parity chosen to partner with the Association of Product Professionals?

First and foremost, it's a purpose decision versus a commercial or emotional decision. It's a no brainer from our side. We are so delighted that an association has been developed to help the industry that we've worked in for many years and that we love, to get better and connect better. Secondary to that is that we believe in the founders of APP especially, and we want to support what we think is a very exciting future for the industry.

As you know, we've purchased some memberships so that we can gift them to some of our clients. I think anything that can standardise even slightly, and puts some rigour and frameworks around skills for product managers is a massive win for all of us.

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