Member Spotlight: Johan Risselborn
By Justin Epstein on Feb 14, 2018
One Club Member opens our eyes to the world of product management.
Work & Co, one of The One Club for Creativity's many corporate members, is a Brooklyn-headquartered agency that partners with clients including Disney, YouTube, and Nike to create the digital products and services that people use every day.
Johan Risselborn is a Product Manager at Work & Co. He leads, shapes, and ships digital products for clients including Facebook, Apple, and Mastercard. Born in Sweden, Johan has worked and lived in Hong Kong and Sydney, and now resides in Brooklyn. We had an opportunity to chat with him to learn more about his distinctive role at Work & Co.
What do you do and why do you love it?
I am a product manager, which means that I collaborate directly with designers, developers and client teams to create digital experiences that provide people with day-to-day utility, like websites, apps, e-commerce platforms and kiosks. That’s what we mean we say “digital products” — experiences that create lasting and positive relationships between people and brands.
In the one and a half years I’ve been here, I’ve worked on four major products that have gone live to hundreds of millions of global users. Once, my mom used a product that I helped launch — without even knowing I worked on it. That’s cool.
Coming from an advertising background, what are the biggest differences in what you do?
I always felt that if I had the chance to improve the actual product itself, that could have a huge impact on the work we did in advertising — people would be more likely to use it or love the brand. That’s why I made the switch towards digital products.
The biggest difference is that digital products are iterative by nature. They’re never done. Campaigns have a start and a finish. You don’t get the chance to iterate — you’ve got one shot at getting it right. With a digital product, we get to prototype, test, learn, and keep iterating, until launch and long after.
What skills have you found to be most valuable as a product manager?
The product manager has to be the cheerleader for the team and ensure strong morale while moving things in the right direction. You have to keep your cool, often under extreme pressure.
You also need to be able to speak the language of the various groups you’re working with — the client, engineers, designers, and users. While I’m not actively pushing code, I’m running daily scrums and sprint planning. I run user testing sessions and write functional annotations. It’s an incredibly hands-on role, and that’s necessary in order to inform the overall product strategy as well as collaborating with the team.
"The product manager has to be the cheerleader for the team and ensure strong morale while moving things in the right direction."
What’s the hardest thing about being a product manager?
We’re on the hook for delivering tangible results as well as creating something people will enjoy using. The PM has to be the champion for the product and ensure that we are holistically solving for both user experience and business needs, even as requirements shift.
I had to get used to the fact that you might start your day with a list of things to do, only to have it change completely. That’s part of the job — you’re in the weeds but you also have to pay attention to the bigger picture.
One piece of advice for someone starting out?
You will always be learning — whether that’s tools and techniques or how to manage different personalities and teams. The product management group at Work & Co is always sharing new learnings and insights with each other. There’s something special about being part of a company that is always iterating and improving as well as giving back to each other.
This notion of giving back is how I first got into the industry. When I was starting out, I actually didn’t see a role for myself in the digital world because I wasn’t a designer or a developer. It took a producer who was willing to introduce me to the role to figure out where I could fit. So, keep having those conversations and learn about what’s out there before ruling anything out.
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