Product management is an unique field in many different ways. It is one of those careers where you likely won’t see kids writing about in their “What do you want to be when you grow up” essays. It is not a concentration where you can declare a major in when you’re completing an university degree (well, at least it is not common at all). It is also not a career where studying courses alone would prepare someone well for it. There is some similarity to Management Consulting – a popular career choice in business: you typically cannot just go through schooling and become a Management Consultant. There are also some other similarities between these two careers – you have a huge variety of responsibilities, and would likely to get the opportunity to try your hands on many different things. Both Management Consulting and Product Management are focused on delivering values, but in different ways.
However, this is not to say that the two careers are all that similar. They are very different career paths. Product Management is more specialized in delivering value to business and customers through the management of products (and in most cases, technology products), which includes the execution and iteration of the products. Now, there are long discussions around how involved a product manager should be in the execution, but one thing for sure is: product managers play key roles in ensuring the right amount of value is delivered, no matter which part of the product lifecycle their product is in.
Product management requires a lot of expertise which are not always easy to be mastered through education:
- Product Sense & Product Thinking
- Discovery mindset
- Asking the right questions
- Tackling the right problem space
- Opportunity ideation & sizing
- …and the list goes on
But, it is definitely possible to find educational options that can help you build muscles around the above expertise.
However, there are now also an incredible amount of types of offerings when it comes to attaining Product Management related education:
- Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)
- Local universities and colleges
- Ivy League universities
- “GLocal” institutions, typically in bootcamp format
- Global certification bodies
- Global product framework bodies
- Membership based organizations
- Local organizations
- Associate Product Manager (APM) programs
- …and the list goes on!
To figure out what might be the best option for you as a product manager (or an aspiring product manager), let us try to think through this as a product manager. We would want to consider:
- Your persona
- Your jobs to be done
- The outcomes you are looking to achieve
- What do each of the options fulfill from an outcome perspective
Some of the popular personas and some of the outcomes they are looking to achieve may be:
- Folks who are not in product and trying to break into product
- They are looking to understand what product management is, understand the roles and responsibilities of product managers, and whether product management is the right career choice for them
- New product managers who are kickstarting their career
- They are looking to build up their soft skills and product management specific skills, to get equipped to delivering value in their new role
- New product managers who are switching over from other professions
- They are looking to build up their soft skills and product management specific skills (but likely a bigger emphasis on product management specific skills), to get equipped to delivering value in their new role
- Junior product managers who are looking to upskill in core product management competencies
- They already have some experience in product management, and would like to improve their overall product management competencies across the product management lifecycle, from Discovery to Strategy to Development to Launch
- Product managers who are looking to further sharpen their skills in specific domains and accelerate their careers
- They have a substantial amount of experience in product management, and would like to target specific domains to sharpen their skills in, e.g. product strategy
- Seasoned product managers who are looking to make a specific jump
- They are experienced product managers who are looking to:
- Specialize as a PM, such as becoming a Growth PM or becoming a Product Ops Manager
- Establish themselves as a thought leader or a subject matter expert in a certain area (e.g. Experimentation, Product Led Growth, Monetization)
- Make a career jump, such as becoming a people manager or to get promoted to an executive role
- They are experienced product managers who are looking to:
And the puck does not stop there. There are so many more use cases. Now, we could deep dive into each of the categories of education options above, but that is probably another article (or perhaps an essay) in itself! For today, let us start with some questions you might want to ask, to see if the education option you are considering fulfills these common selection criteria:
- Does the course give you practical, hands-on experience?
- Whether you are a new product manager or a seasoned product manager, you will need to learn more than just theories. You will want to be able to try your hands on how to build a product strategy, how to design an A/B test, how to practice design thinking etc.
- What is the delivery format of the course?
- For an effective education in product management, is is important to consider whether the course is delivered live (or prerecorded), because that affects the amount of interactivity. To learn product management skills effectively, it is crucial to have a two way dialogue. You would also want feedback for any work you do in the course (assignments, assessments, cases, projects etc.).
- Does the course give you a chance to learn from experienced product leaders?
- If you are looking to excel as an associate or junior PM, you would want to learn from people who have “been there, done that”. If you are looking to become a people manager, you would want to hear from a leader who has transitioned into people management roles. If you are looking to specialize as a Growth PM, you would likely want to hear stories on product growth form a product growth leader.
- Does the course help you with career and job readiness?
- Whether you are new to the field or you are looking to become an executive, things like networking opportunities, mentorship, product management specific resume help, and interview preparations, could be highly valuable components of an education program. In other cases, other types of job readiness support is more important – such as for folks who are not looking to switch roles, but trying to specialize as a Monetization specialist. Artifacts and templates may be highly valuable. Does the course you are evaluating offer those?
- Does the course help you build core product management expertise (e.g. product sense)?
- It is important to consider whether the course you are evaluating gives you the experience of a simulated product management experience, through projects of hypothetical products or highly interactive cases. They can help you think through the process, and allow you to translate that experience to scenarios you can walk your interviewers through, or apply those shifts in mindsets at work the next day.
In summary, there is a large amount of offerings when it comes to product management education. Most of them require a substantial amount of investment of money, time and effort. Hence, it is important to consider as many options as possible, and try to gain an understanding on which of them align with the outcomes you are looking to achieve. Take your time in your assessment, and if possible, talk to alumni of the institutions offering the courses to see what their experiences with the courses were like. In closing, as an alumnus of the University of British Columbia, I would like to share with you a brand new, live online course I will be teaching, that may be relevant for folks who are looking to break into product, for new product managers who are kickstarting their career, for new product managers who are switching over from other professions, and for junior product managers who are looking to upskill in core product management competencies. Or, if you are a seasoned product manager looking to do a refresher course on product management fundamentals, this might also be an interesting option to consider. Please check it out here.