Why We Prefer "Full-Stack Product People" in Our Team

At Runn, we don't play by the book. We are constantly improvising and experimenting. In this type of environment, generalists thrive.
Felipe Skroski

There has been a lot of discussion and books (even in biology) on the topic of generalists vs specialists.

Here at Runn and so many other startups, delivering innovation and value at speed is a big challenge. We're solving problems in different ways, trying to find unique opportunities and learning as we go. There's no playbook or business as usual, we are constantly improvising and experimenting. Some even compare it to building the airplane while you fly it.

In this type of environment generalists thrive, as technology is enabling us to achieve outcomes much closer to mastery than before. Think about how many people you would need to start a TV channel 40 years ago, today you can start multiple channels by yourself with your high quality pocket camera. This trend affected many other industries but more so those that can be fully digital like software, film, games, music, and so on.

It's easier than ever to research, produce high definition designs, run user tests, release and distribute. Nowadays, it has become possible for a small team or even a single person to do it all and get good quality results.

We also benefit from the easy access to knowledge and education, to learn new skills in a fraction of the time at a low cost (even free in some cases) and gaining new skills.

This is making "generalist specialists" (also known as them  "unicorns" or "t-shaped skills" pros) more common, they are competent in many skills and masters of one or more.

Generalists can better empathize with customers and stakeholders, because they understand the problem from a variety of angles and can reason about problems from multiple perspectives. Also, unlike specialists – they can help with the entire product development process.

The key advantage of having a team of "generalist specialists" is strong collaboration throughout the entire product lifecycle even in a small team. We have people in business and engineering that are great at product thinking and design, so it always feels like we have a much larger team than we would if we were all specialists.

At Runn most of us play more than one role and we like it! Although we have defined "departments" we overlap a lot and don't like putting people in boxes. Our structure is pretty flat and we give lots ownership and trust to our people.

As a startup, we know that we can't expect everything to be perfect from day one and that we will need to switch gears and pivot quickly as the business grows and our needs change. To continue delivering at speed, we need people who can handle the pace of change and uncertainty with us, adapting quickly as needed.

Product management is a very broad discipline and there is no definitive set of skills required for a great product manager.

However, I believe that good product managers need to excel at two main areas:

  1. ability to understand the problem deeply and develop empathy with the customer;
  2. ability to focus the teams energy where most impact and value can be created;
  3. work effectively with team members come up with innovative solutions and turn those ideas into reality.

In the product team, we name our generalist role a Full-Stack Product Designer - someone who wears many hats, but never loses sight of the product vision. In summary, it is a blend of product manager, designer, and researcher with other nice-to-have skills such as copywriting, applied psychology, code, illustration, animation, and more. The core objective is to take opportunities and features from inception to release in a very "hands-on" way.

If that sounds like you, get in touch. We're hiring!

Finally, a big shoutout to Joyous whose ideas in "Joyfully - The joyous way of working" heavily inspired our take on Full Stack Product.

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