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“Everyone is blissfully happy and nothing could be better.”

That’s how Patrick Collison, co-founder of new Start-up, Stripe, describes their work environment. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

I stumbled across an interesting article on Forbes today. The article is exact copy of Patrick Collison’s response to a question posted on Quora about Stripe, the startup which he co-founded. So what makes Stripe different from most other start-ups? Well for one, they don’t have any product managers, and according to Collision they intend on keeping it that way. Collison believes that product managers can be “very effective in many companies,” but makes it very clear that “it’s not what Stripe wants right now.” As Collison puts it, product managers “can slow the iteration that’s at the heart of creating great products”. Collison explains that because product managers are the ones who are responsible for both designing and implementing products, the feedback cycle “takes place within that person’s head” and sharing is limited. In addition, even if product managers have good ideas on how the product should work, they may not always have an avenue to share that information effectively, with the right people, both inside and outside the organization.

At Stripe, product managers are non-existent, and it’s the engineers that manage the products themselves. Collision explains that there are many good reasons for this:

1. Engineers at Stripe are not only knowledgeable about building products and about implementation but they also have ideas to share around what the product should do and how it should work.

2. Co-creation is fully embodied and embraced at Stripe. Many of the individuals involved in the development process are actual users and are encouraged to share their input on product improvements, etc. This really drives the point that no one knows products better than the people who actually use them.

3. The founders or (head honchos) of Stripe, all have extensive experience managing products; and as Collison explains “enjoy the process of figuring out how they should work and what they should do.”

4. The engineers in the company are self-sufficient. They proactively suggest new product features or ideas. Collison explains that if an engineer wants to share or put forth a suggestion or idea for a new product release they don’t have to go through multiple levels, or hierarchies to do so.

As an avid writer in the area of product innovation and social collaboration, I can recognize that there are some really great things happening over at Stripe. Realistically, not having dedicated product managers at Stripe, seems to eliminate the silos or bottleneck issues that negatively impact product development and hinders collaboration between stakeholders.

In my opinion, Stripe’s current organizational structure is a great example that highlights the need to redefine the roles of engineers and product managers. Perhaps, instead of eliminating product managers, we could simplify and strengthen the communication between engineers and product managers by providing them with the necessary tools to work smarter. In other words, the right tools to promote the sharing of ideas, create transparency, and encourage discussion and feedback from diverse sources— employees, business partners, customers, and even executive level management.

Share your thoughts on this: Do we need less product managers or better tools?

3 Comments

  1. Alan Klement

    1. Stripe is a very small startup.
    2. Stripe is just getting started.
    2. Stripe’s product is just an API for developers to use. There’s actually no GUI – at all.

    Let’s come back to Stripe when they have 10,000+ customers, any kind of GUI and is at least 1 year old.

  2. Catherine Constantinides

    Great point, Alan. Still, it will be interesting to see how long they will be able to sustain this.

    Thanks for your insights!

    Catherine

  3. Dan

    I agree with Alan, but with more footnotes.

    I think the point the article/stripe are missing, is that the need for dedicated Product Management is dependent upon manner factors, not least number of engineers, number of customers and skill set of current employees.

    As I’ve heard many product managers say – ‘Whether or not you have Product Managers, someone’s doing Product Management’. As the article says “The founders or (head honchos) of Stripe, all have extensive experience managing products”. So, in this case, despite not having the title, it would seem that the founders are somewhat filling this role.

    To answer the articles title, ‘do we need product managers?’ The answer is yes. The question you have to ask your company is do you need them as a dedicated function.

    I do believe that some product managers can be blind to the capabilities of other people in their company. Depending on the skills of the people on the team, it is more than possible to be successful without a dedicated position. You don’t need a dedicated person to ‘listen to the market’, but you do need domain experts of that market on your team.

    There can be benefits that dedicated positions can bring. Once you team starts getting too big, it gets harder to have a coordinated strategy if everyone gets to innovate how they see best. Yes, people such as Founders can help with that, but at a certain point the people running the business need to ‘work on the business, not in the business’. At this point, they will need to delegate the responsibility of resolving divergent opinions and coordinating product direction. Hmm, that sounds like a familiar position…

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