The biggest difference between product and consulting work

Comparing Product and Consulting Work

For those of you who have been following my writing for quite some time now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise: I don’t believe much longer in the differentiation of domain product managers.
Instead, I believe in the power of deploying (product) skills in whichever domain is necessary and staying close to some core values (e.g., relentless customer focus).

But there is a particular distinction I want to point out to pay attention to when deciding whether you want to move in or out of working in an agency context: End-to-end responsibility for product outcome.

This all comes down to individual motivators you or team members of you are driven by, and it’s something I urge every people manager to pay close attention to when hiring.
A common motivator I heard about when talking to people which wanted to move into a consultancy/agency domain was the need for more variety of the product challenges they (which was also one of the motivators for me to give consulting a try).

While this is often the desired primary goal, a second one comes into play when it comes to shaping and shipping products for clients: You (can) give up end-to-end responsibility for your decisions.
As a product manager in a consultancy context, you may be responsible for the inner processes to build the product, but you’re not enabled to take full ownership for wrong decisions, mistakes, and potentially fame.

You might be able to push for decisions and initiatives but will always have to rely on the faith, trust, and patient of your client to see things through. While this may sometimes feel frustrating, it can be somewhat convenient for certain types of (product) people. It lets you focus on the upper part of the product funnel. Like the development and discovery of ideas instead of having to deal with hard facts down the road (e.g., ongoing backlog refinements, resolving delivery dependencies and organizing go to market).

When you work in a product company on a product you can (hopefully) entirely own, nobody and nothing will rescue you from dealing with those hard things. It’s part of the overall deal of working on your product with full responsibility.

So, when you’re currently working in an agency/consultancy context and are looking for the next step out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to join a product company and try owning the end-to-end responsibility of a product without the comfy possibility to put mistakes on irresponsible client decisions.
On the other side, when you’re currently part of a product company and consider switching into a consulting role, I’d like to challenge your critical drivers for this switch.

In the end, the lack of the overall responsibility was one of the critical factors for me to go back into product.