What exactly is a “Freelance Head of Product”? (Interview for Working Products conference)

What exactly is a “Freelance Head of Product”? (Interview for Working Products conference)

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Here are my answers to three questions I was asked recently during an interview for the forthcoming Working Products 2019 conference in Hamburg. I’ll be speaking and running a workshop there in June.

Do get in touch if you’d like me speak at your event.

  1. What exactly is a “Freelance Head of Product”?
  2. What is a great product?
  3. What are the key criteria for a great team?

Read on for my replies.

1: What exactly is a “Freelance Head of Product”? #

I typically work with organisations for short periods of time (1-6 months) as their head of product, product director or chief product officer.

While I’m there, I do all the things that you’d expect from that role, such as setting up or improving the product function, looking after the product team, and helping the organisation to define their product strategy. As a freelancer, I also search for a suitable recruit to replace myself with a permanent head of product, then hand over the reins to them.

With such a short time to work with an organisation, one of the most useful skills for a freelancer is the ability to get up to speed with a new product / market / company in days rather than weeks. The main difference between being a freelancer and being is employed that you don’t always have the luxury of time.

2: What is a great product? #

There a many ways to define a great product, but for me a great product has to do an excellent job of meeting a fundamental user need. It does this as a result of great user research, design and coding.

Some of the other hallmarks of a great product are that:

  • it enables its users to do something much more easily (or at all) than they could without the product;
  • it “sells itself”, or in different words, the product’s benefits are self-evident;
  • it delights its users – people enjoy using it.

At the same time, the product also needs to meet the needs of the organisation putting the product out into the market, usually to perform well financially or perhaps meet some other business goal.

3: What are the key criteria for a great team? #

The ideal team needs to be multidisciplinary, autonomous, and to keep the key roles separate.

Being multidisciplinary means that the team is made up of the right people with the right skills, when they’re needed; autonomy means that the product manager and team are empowered to take decisions about their product and to work in the way the team needs to as they create it; and separation of roles means that the same person is not performing multiple roles on the team, for example being both the product manager and user researcher.

Just because someone on the team can do lots of things doesn’t mean they should be the one person doing them all! Instead, it’s far better to have specialists on the team who are devoted to their particular area of expertise, all collaborating with a product manager, who is by definition a generalist.

A team also needs psychological safety. This is when you feel safe to make mistakes, take risks and speak your mind, and to be creative, curious and sometimes even vulnerable in front of your team.


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Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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