Unpacking the different types of product development professionals

Do you prefer to work in a big organisation or on a small scale? Do you like a startup’s energy and unpredictability, or do you choose to know what’s coming?

I have encountered hundreds of product creators in my life. They could have a background in tech or sales, managing large teams or starting their business.

There is something unique about them, and I learnt from all of them.

Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash

One of the foundations of my book is that every product is unique. Unique like their creator. The product is a reflection of what the creator is. The person who creates the product shapes it with their ideas and hard work.

If we compare Google and Airbnb at their debut, we would see those differences — the differences between engineers and designers.

I love to compare Product creators to heroes in myths or video games. It’s one of the ways I gamify my role. In video games, especially role-playing ones, our character holds a special place in the game’s world.

When I started as a creator, I believed my job was essential. I could make a significant difference and achieve amazing things.

At university, we were told we would be managers, directors, or project managers once we graduated. Reality had a different plan.

No one awaited our arrival, and nobody had any expectations of us.

After my first job, I found a quote that stuck with me: “There are three types of education: one from our parents, one from school, and one from the world. The last one contradicts the first two.” This quote comes from a French Philosopher named Baron Charles de Montesquieu.

As I grew, I discovered we naturally tend to be drawn and bloom to specific roles. The role we adopt in Product Creation is based on who we are.

It came with a personal interest in psychology, self-growth, and philosophy as we age.

It is something I covered in the last two newsletters here.

This understanding of where we fit in can be explained through archetypes.

The idea of archetypes comes from a theory by the psychologist Carl Jung. It’s about people’s roles in their lives or jobs. These roles come from a person’s past, experiences, influences, and natural tendencies.

Think of video games for a moment. In many role-playing games, one of the first things we do is pick the character’s class, group, and race.

In massive online games like World of Warcraft, there are many classes. But we can sort them into major roles: Tank, DPS, Healer, Buffer, Debuffer, and Crowd Controller. The choice is vital as it sets how we play the game solo and on a team.

We can play what we want. Yet, conquering a dungeon will need a set of roles.

Every person plays a role in helping the group win.

I transposed the same idea in our field. To make a successful product, we need people in different roles. Some people are better for specific functions depending on the company or product maturity.

For example, a product manager’s role can change depending on whether the company is pre or post-market fit. A company scaling its product might need a different type of product manager than one trying to reach the growth stage.

Businesses understand personality differences. Companies in different stages face crises that require a change in leadership. But in product management, people often try to fit everyone in the same box, whether they work for a big tech company, a startup, or a Series A company.

From a personal growth viewpoint, understanding ourselves and the different archetypes can help us use our strengths and grow effectively in our roles.

From a business viewpoint, it can help us determine what kind of person we need based on our problem.

To illustrate this, I have identified seven archetypes necessary at different stages of a product’s lifecycle: the Builder, the Innovator, the Grower, the Protector, the Explorer, the Hacker, and the Scientist.

The Builder

A Builder loves to create and develop products from the ground up. They are great at taking ideas and making them into real, working products. Builders have a strong understanding of product development, design, and engineering, which helps them create solutions. They’re good at working with others and getting everyone to share their vision. They usually come in at the company’s start when everything still needs to be done. They also come in when something needs to be reworked or changed into something completely new.

Let’s look at Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square. He’s shown over and over that he has a builder’s mindset. He started with an interest in maps and logistics, then used that to build Twitter to keep up with worldwide events. When he saw the problems small businesses were having with expensive credit card processing systems, he came up with a solution, and that’s how Square was born. Dorsey stays involved and actively takes part in the product development process.

The Grower

A Grower is someone who focuses on expanding and growing the product. This could mean adding more users, adding new features, or both. They often think like entrepreneurs. They have the skills to spot new chances and markets, make plans for reaching those markets, and use data to increase product use and keep customers. Growers are good at improving the user experience to ensure customers are happy. They refine the product based on what users say and build a strong community around it.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, is an excellent example of a Grower. She was vital in finding new ways for the company to make money, primarily through targeted ads. Her focus on growth can be seen in the way she builds teams. Facebook became one of the biggest tech companies in the world with her involvement.

The Protector

The Protector is someone who works to keep the product’s value high and make sure it continues to get better. They could be looking after the product’s safety, security, stability, or ability to grow larger. Protectors are in charge of shielding the product from threats, keeping user data safe, ensuring rules are followed, and solving performance issues. Protectors are good at noticing small details and have the skills to find weak spots, put safety measures in place, and work closely with teams of engineers to handle possible risks.

An excellent example of a Protector is Alex Stamos. He was the Chief Security Officer at Facebook. Alex worked hard to protect user data and keep the platform safe. He was always looking for possible risks and ways to make Facebook more secure. His careful attention to security details shows how a Protector works.

The Innovator

The Innovator develops new ideas and pushes the limits of what a company and product can do. They have deep knowledge of the market, different industries, and the latest trends and technologies. They also understand where the market is headed. Innovators are like builders and explorers. They are great at creating new features that make their products different from others. Plus, they inspire and motivate their teams to think creatively and uniquely.

Steve Jobs, who led Apple, is an excellent example of an Innovator. He was known for seeing what people would want before they knew it themselves. This led to groundbreaking products like the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Jobs was fearless in pushing technology to its limits. His dedication to design and user experience changed industries like personal computing, music, and mobile communication.

The Explorer

Explorers venture into uncharted territories. They look for new ways to improve or create new products. They are curious and fearless, ready to explore new technologies, markets, or unique user needs. Explorers excel at researching, analysing data, and using insights to make decisions. They thrive where learning, experimentation, and polishing ideas are encouraged. They differ from Innovators as they find joy in discovering new paths, not necessarily unique ones.

An example of an Explorer is Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix. Hastings explored new methods to bring entertainment to people. He began with a DVD-by-mail service, pioneered streaming platforms, and invested in original content. Hastings has constantly explored the unknown in the entertainment industry, which is the trait of an Explorer.

The Hacker

Hackers are good at using what they have, adapting, and reacting to new situations. They are great at finding ways to solve challenging problems. They use their tech knowledge and creativity to make processes better, get past roadblocks, and improve how a product works. Hackers can study systems, spot their weak points, and use this information to exploit or enhance products. They do well in high-pressure situations and seek opportunities to learn, grow, and improve their skills.

Elon Musk is an example of a Hacker in product management and innovation. He constantly challenges what people usually think and comes up with new solutions in areas like space travel (SpaceX), electric cars (Tesla), and infrastructure development (The Boring Company).

The Scientist

The Scientist is all about engineering and data. Scientists apply the scientific method to product management. These product managers understand metrics well, are great at running experiments, and use data to find insights. They often have a background in data analysis or research. They develop theories and experiments. Then, they analyse results to make product decisions. Their choices are based on data, and they try to keep bias to a minimum. Scientists also strive to deeply understand user behaviour and improve the product based on solid evidence.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is famous for making data-based decisions. He has implemented data from the early days and made decisions based on it. Bezos uses a systematic approach, similar to the scientific method when making decisions and solving problems at Amazon. This shows he is a perfect example of the Scientist archetype.

Here is a recap of the roles:

By understanding these archetypes, we can understand ourselves better and contribute more efficiently to our teams and organisations.

Product creation is a complex process involving a range of roles. Understanding these roles and the archetypes that fulfil them is crucial for personal growth, effective team building, and organisational efficiency. And it all starts with knowing where we stand.

Which one are you?


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