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The Product Manager's Dilemma

‘The ambiguity of the product manager’s role is the nearest to its essence.’ – Dan Schmidt.

For six of the twelve years, I have spent as a Product Manager, I have known that product management is the least trained and least certified discipline. A quick check on the sites of Harvard, Yale, Massachusetts, and Indian Institutes of Technology will tell you the same story. However, a quick search for ‘masters in entrepreneurship’ will lead you to at least eighty formal courses offered by universities from around the world.

Does this mean Product Management is a fading discipline? To answer that, read any story about a start-up failure, and of the five top reasons cited, you’ll see ‘not serving market needs’ or ‘underestimating the competition’ on the list. A basic understanding of the discipline will tell you that the reasons for start-up failure are rooted in product management. These start-ups have not applied the most fundamental product management processes. The same reasoning can be applied for any new product development project in large organizations.

So how can one be trained in product management? Fortunately, some Universities do recognize this discipline. Carnegie Mellon offers a Master in Sciences for Product Management. It is certainly science and I am glad Carnegie Mellon recognizes it! The University of Oulu in Finland offers a Masters in Product Management. In addition to traditional universities, there are several online training courses. The Association of International Product Marketing & Management offers the most credible online course and certification. The course costs the US $ 1,995. If you are not concerned about certification but do want to go from a general overview to the very details of product management is offering a course titled ‘Become a Product Manager, learn the skills, get the job’ for ZAR 100 which is about the US $ 7.7.

My articles however are not going to be about the taught principles of Product Management. You can learn about the principles of the job or in the courses. You will find my articles useful once you are immersed in your role as a product manager, product developer, or innovator.

The five articles I will post explore lesser-appreciated principles of product management, where I present several tricks of the trade which can be used to become successful in a very short timeframe. Each article will cover these principles in detail. For now, read a high-level summary below.

• A detailed business case can replace a requirement specification: you can cut your design time by 30% and your product's ROI can increase by 100%.

• Only the product manager is the ultimate custodian of the User Experience of a product. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise.

• If you are not reporting on the performance of your product regularly and informatively, you are building a business case for its demise.

• If your product management structure, which defines its roles and responsibilities in support of the rest of the organization, is not being reviewed at least once in two years, chances are you are not practicing Product Management in your team, but some convoluted version of it. While the other teams may not complain about it or realize it, it is hurting your business.

The above are tried and tested methods that have worked for me in a large telecommunications service provider and in a medium sized Independent Software Vendor. The articles will lead up to a description of the most challenging issue in a Product Manager’s life. Let us call it the ‘Product Manager’s Dilemma’.


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