Less than a year ago, thinking about digital products was like peering into a murky pond — it was mysterious and unclear and even a bit scary (what is that down there?!).
As a senior digital producer at CBC Kids, I considered myself savvy and data-minded but my work was centered around content and content strategy. I had only a tenuous understanding of what a product manager did, and a basic understanding of things like “Agile” and “iteration” and “pains and gains.” I knew the wonderful product team — the team that I’m now a part of — built incredible things quickly and smartly, but how they worked was all a mystery to me.
When the departing product manager of CBC Kids encouraged me to apply for her role, I assumed it was a non-starter.
“But I don’t have enough technical knowledge,” I said.
“But I’ve never worked in Agile,” I said.
“But it’s not creative enough,” I said.
She dismantled all of my protests one by one. And she wasn’t the only one who told me that product management is what you make it — the person shapes the role, and not the other way around.
Within a few weeks, I went from never having considered a role in product to feeling excited and energized by the possibility. The more that I learned about the role and what it means to work in Digital Products, the more I realized I had a lot of misconceptions about the department and the work itself — misconceptions I’m still taking apart, three months in.
In the spirit of pulling back the curtain a bit, here are three of the misconceptions that came apart first:
Misconception 1: Between content and product, someone is “in charge”.
“Who’s in charge?!” I wanted to know. But the answer to that question is irrelevant within the context of the relationship between content and product. It’s a collaborative partnership.
No one is “in charge.” Everyone is “in charge.”
Imagine a world where we’re not making digital experiences but instead delivering baskets of fruit. The content teams are responsible for the fruit — they cultivate it, they pick it, they have expertise on what kind of fruit makes the most sense at which times of the year. And the product teams? We’re responsible for the baskets. We research materials, understand who will be carrying fruit home and how much they like to get.
Just as the basket people can’t decide to put holes in the baskets if the fruit people want to deliver blueberries, fruit people can’t decide they want to sell watermelons if all the basket people have is tiny paper bags. We work together to deliver what people want.
If anyone is really in charge, it’s ultimately the person showing up at the farm, looking to take home a basket of fresh fruit.
Misconception 2: Product management isn’t creative work.
Having spent my entire career involved in creative work, I was worried a move to digital product work wouldn’t be creatively satisfying.
I won’t pretend prioritizing the Jira backlog is like painting a picture, but if there is anything I know about this job so far, it’s that digital product involves both science and art, just as producing digital content does.
If you define creativity as using your imagination or developing original ideas, then product work is full of that. There is innovation happening every single day. While it’s never going to be the same as making art or writing stories, the work I do in product feels just as creative as anything I’ve done in my career as a producer, an editor and a writer. And I went to art school. SO.
Misconception 3: Agile is just a way to organize tasks.
Agile is more than a working methodology — it’s a people methodology. It was one of those things that seemed very muddy when I was looking from the outside in. It seemed process-heavy and unnecessarily rigid.
Listen, I recognize I’ve only been working this way for a few months, and I won’t pretend to be some kind of expert on Agile, but here’s what I do know: It makes sense to allocate work based on the capacity of the team. It makes sense to prioritize the audience’s needs. It makes sense to iterate and keep the cost of change low. It makes sense to prioritize agility in a constantly evolving industry.
Is it the be-all and end-all of working frameworks? I have no idea. However, the adoption of Agile at the very least signals that an organization values their audience, wants to prioritize efficiency, and maintains a deep level of respect for the people who do the work, and that is something I can get behind.
I loved working in digital content for over a decade (and analog content before that), but right now, digital product feels exactly right.
And in this world of fruit and baskets, it’s been incredibly helpful to recognize that the fruit people and the basket people will always have wisdom to share with one another. To deliver the best experience for an audience, the expectation should always be that everyone knows a little bit about both, shares ideas when it makes sense, and supports the decisions made along the whole supply chain.