Many times having a conversation, the question comes up; what is your profession? Mentioning the words "Product Management" many times has the follow up question; What is that? People are familiar with Project Management and so on. To give a quick layman summary of Product Management; We could say that "Product Management is the domain of owning the full life cycle of products. Spanning from conceiving the product, developing, supporting and retiring." Every product that is created has some form of a Product Manager (some companies use terms like Program Manager etc.) owning and driving the process. This could be a Jetliner or even a new toothbrush.
Product Managers tend to have a mix of Business and Technical skills. The technical skills are important to understand what problem the product solves and how. Business Skills helps to develop a big picture view especially to satisfy the corporate requirements for profit. Product Managers are also real Entrepreneurs always looking for opportunities to drive new business ideas. How does one become a Product Manager?
The typical default answer on becoming a Product Manager is to consider getting an MBA. This can be useful if available but certainly not required. It's better to focus on the skill sets that will make one an effective product manager. Here are some key skills to consider with some bias to the technology industry:
1. Leadership - Be visionary with influencing others (using data and not force!!)
2. Strategy - Understand the business reasons to build a product - Create business Cases and Roadmaps
3. Customer Focus - Have good relationships with customers to understand needs
4. Communications - Being able to communicate at various levels and context
5. Analytical Skills - Being able to analyze and solve problems
6. Technology - Being able to understand the architecture of technical solutions
7. Marketing - Converting the product features into a conversation around tangible benefits
Ultimately, your job is to conceive and champion products to success. How does one get training on Product Management? Before we get into recommended training programs, one shortcut is to find a good product manager and get mentoring from them.
Here are the training options:
1. MBA Degree - While this degree does not teach product management directly, it does provide good foundations on the various business topics. Not worth taking a $120K MBA degree just to be a Product Manager but there many cheaper options especially online (Examples such as WGU and some Indian accredited universities also offer MBAs online very affordable). One advantage is that in some companies and cultures, the MBA can help to move into executive management roles. Btw, in silicon valley, notable technology founders does not have MBAs and in many cases no degrees.
2. Individual Courses - Since we know the skills required to be a good Product Manager; taking individual courses especially online can help with this process. The advent of MOOC platforms will make this process much easier. Youtube has lots of free videos on business topics including product management.
3. Specialized Product Management Courses - There are several courses available nowadays that teaches Product Management within a few months. Examples would be General Assembly, Singularity University and 280 Group. There are several others which covers in-person or online delivery.
4. Books - Assuming one could get mentoring from a good Product Manager, there are some good books that could help fill gaps in skill sets and also depending on the individuals learning styles. A good example is Product Management for Dummies.
In summary, Product Management is a great profession which has been around for a long time but has been labeled with different names along the way. It's a very rewarding and exciting field, so make an assessment and see if it's the right fit for you. The ideal situation is to find a Product Management mentor or coach that can help to accelerate the process. In the mean time here is a great course on udemy.com to learn the ropes - Product Roadmap 101.
What do you think of product management? Share your thoughts.