Featured Product Management Consultant: Ryan Cantwell
On this month’s featured interview from our Consultant Interviews Series, we have Ryan Cantwell candidly talking about the path that lead him to start a Product Management career and the importance of including role clarity in Product organizations.
How and why did you break into Product Management?
I found a career in product management by complete chance! The happy accident occurred a couple of years out of business school as I was working my way up to a field sales role within a B2B packaging company named Automated Packaging Systems. About this time, I realized field sales wasn’t the career path for me. I was lucky that this realization came at a time when the organization wanted to grow its product team, and I began to learn what being a Product Manager meant. Shortly thereafter the stars aligned, and I was hired as an associate Product Manager. Since then, I haven’t looked back!
As I was considering a career in Product Management, I saw an opportunity to put myself in a highly visible position with the potential to have a big impact on the business. So far, my experience hasn’t disappointed. I love the discipline of Product Management; it is such a diverse role that can be incredibly rewarding. What other job gives you the opportunity to solve customer problems, talk shop with the tech team, and grow the business with the commercial team? Being a Product Manager is the best of everything – including a lot of fun!
What are some experiences you can share working with notable products and companies?
Many of the products I have managed fall into the category of “no one has heard of, but everyone has used.” Early in my career, I was with a packaging company called Automated Packaging Systems, Inc. (now a division of the Sealed Air Corporation). During my time with them, I managed products that ranged from the little air pillows you find in shipping boxes, to sophisticated fully automated packaging machines. I’ll never forget a project to develop and commercialize a new style of bubble wrapping material that was more durable and environmentally friendly than traditional bubble wrap. In the end, the project was successful — especially the increased durability. In fact, the product worked so well that I will never forget customers getting upset because I took all the fun out of bubble wrap. You couldn’t pop it!
I also have experience in the industrial health and safety space, with a company called Industrial Scientific, managing a portfolio of hazardous atmosphere detection equipment. The product we offered literally protected the lives of countless individuals around the world. It was fascinating to see how technology can be used in a positive way to improve safety outcomes. For example, we added IoT capabilities to our gas detectors, enabling remote monitoring, to protect lone workers who may be many miles from their nearest coworker. If they were to get injured on the job, their IoT detector automatically calls for help, pinpoints their location, and provides the rescuer with relevant info on the safety of the surrounding environment, preventing them from running into danger, as well.
What is something that a Product Manager can start doing today to be more strategic?
To become more strategic, a Product Manager needs to be good at prioritizing their work. This enables them to say “no” and focus their efforts on the strategic goals.
Early in my career as a Product Manager I was too often included in projects that did not directly contribute to achieving strategic objectives. These projects were a distraction, as they occupied my time with tactical tasks and firefighting. The result was frustration and stress since I was working hard without making meaningful forward progress.
To avoid this situation, I recommend every Product Manager meet regularly with their manager to align on the top three priorities (any more and nothing will get done!). Regularly level setting of expectations will ensure a shared understanding of what’s important, providing the Product Manager a foundation for saying no. The benefits of this exercise are twofold:
- The Product Manager will begin to have a greater positive impact on the organization.
- Management will have an improved line of sight into the challenges their team faces. They will be able to address obstacles early and increase the speed with which their team can work.
What can a Product leader start doing now to up-level their team?
The best advice I have for Product leaders is to encourage their teams to experiment often and celebrate failure. The Product Managers on your team need to be calculated risk takers. They are collecting customer feedback, analyzing data, and synthesizing it all to find the next big thing for your business. This process generates a lot of ideas, of which only a few may be worthy of pursuing. By experimenting early in the process, you will develop the ability to find the losers quickly and for very little investment. The learning potential this early-stage experimentation brings is tremendous. As ideas are dropped, they should be celebrated. Rewarding failed ideas provides your team with a safe environment to adopt the experimentation mindset and have a big impact on the organization.
What’s your best advice for a Product Management organization?
Role clarity is so critical for any Product organization. I have observed organizations of all different sizes fall into the trap of making the Product Manager the one-stop-shop for everything. I have played the part of the “utility Product Manager,” where I was the Product Manager, the Product Owner, and Product Marketer all rolled into one! By defining the various roles of the Product organization, and clearly communicating expectations, each role will have a greater impact on the business. The 280 Group courses do a great job of helping to define roles within an organization, allowing you to pick the structure that best meets your needs.
The role of the Product Manager encompasses a broad range of responsibilities and requires at least 15 hard and soft skills. That is no easy feat! Establishing clear roles and responsibilities, having a consistent product lifecycle process, and providing skills training helps Product Managers be more effective in executing the wide variety of activities required to build successful products. If you want your Product Management team to have a greater impact on your business outcomes, that’s where 280 Group comes in. 280 Group’s Product Management consulting team has helped hundreds of companies transform their Product Management organizations to achieve the next level of excellence. Let’s start the conversation about yours.