Product Management Unpacked
“Software eating the world” creates a growing need to educate product managers.
Digital transformation impacts almost everything, so the demand for product management continues to increase – every day.
When I started in product management in the mid-1980s, most product managers were hired to work in traditional B2C businesses, which is where the idea of product management originated. Modern product management started in 1931 with a memo written by Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble. What began as his justification for hiring more people ultimately became a cornerstone in new thinking about brand management – today’s product management.
Product management was listed as one of the “nine best jobs in America” by CBS/Moneywatch in 2018.
- The role of product manager is one of the top four most important jobs in a growth business, yet it’s one of the 10 hardest-to-fill jobs across the entire information technology sector.
- According to McKinsey, product managers are cited as top talent priorities for CEOs. (2019)
Demand for product managers will not stop in the foreseeable future. Product managers were difficult to hire even when the need for talent was coming more specifically from enterprise and B2C software and technology companies. Today, there are more digital companies than ever before – driving even greater demand for product management professionals across growing industries.
Just eight years ago, Marc Andreessen, co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser, and co-founder of Netscape, popularized the adage “software is eating the world” in an essay in The Wall Street Journal.
Regardless of their traditional businesses, companies now often view themselves as software or data companies. We see businesses in retail/direct-to-consumer, automotive, manufacturing, chemicals, mining and metals, oil and gas, insurance, aviation, hospitality, professional services, telecom, financial services and healthcare creating enormous demand for product managers.
Product managers today do more than build products. Because of “software eating the world”, product managers have taken on a fundamentally transformative role for businesses. In fact, the need for product managers has expanded so rapidly that the supply does not meet the demand.
So, what are employers doing to attract and retain product managers?
Unfortunately, little has changed in the world of product management education, training or preparation to meet today’s high demand.
The predominant way product managers are trained today is via on-the-job training. Employers look internally to identify potential product managers and, like a cobbler or blacksmith in the good old days, apprentice them with the hope that they turn out to be superstars – in this case, the company’s product and business leaders. Additionally, there are many certification providers and non-academic programs available to pursue an education in product management.
While these existing pathways to product management have created professionals able to address business needs, the current education system is far from optimal. Despite the central role that a product manager plays, the talent management practices associated with this function are surprisingly underdeveloped. As a reminder, here’s what the job of a product manager entails: “product managers are the glue that binds the many functions that touch a product – engineering, design, customer success, sales, marketing, operations, finance, legal, and more. They not only own the decisions about what gets built but also influence every aspect of how it gets built and when it gets launched. Unlike product managers of the past who were primarily focused on execution and were measured by the on-time delivery of engineering projects, the product manager of today is increasingly the “mini-CEO of the product.” (McKinsey)
In summary, you certainly are not alone if your company needs product managers. Growing professionals internally is an option that may or may not work. Hiring them from the market could satisfy your company’s needs for a while. However, as digitally established and transformed businesses continue to grow, product managers take on increasingly pivotal and encompassing company roles. Preparing product managers who meet the profession’s evolving demands requires education that goes much further than on-the-job training, certification and non-academic programs. Carnegie Mellon University has responded to this new reality of business with a first-of-its-kind Master’s in Product Management degree program. A year-long program immerses professionals in the world of product management, teaching skills and developing insights to tackle today’s market demands thoroughly and professionally.