Product Management’s Invisible Wall: Domain Experience (Versus Skill)
If you speak to enough seasoned product managers a pattern begins to emerge and an invisible wall starts to reveal itself.
The wall I am referring to is domain experience. Most product managers run into this wall at some point in their career. Typically, when they have run their course in whatever industry they initially started in.
Almost every product manager starts in another function. Most start in engineering, sales, or marketing and make their way into product management. This domain becomes a home of sorts. If the product manager is fortunate enough to have started in a broad domain it is possible to spend your entire career safely cocooned inside.
However, many domains are transient or too narrowly defined to spend your entire professional career within. This is typically when product managers start to realize that there is an invisible wall that they had been largely unaware of until they tried to pass through it. Many successful product managers assume that their skills are readily transferable from one domain to the next. A large percentage of these product managers hit this invisible wall and, like mimes, feel their way around it.
Why does this happen? It’s because organizations, when faced with uncertainty, find comfort in the known. In my experience, working with organizations across a wide range of industries doing consulting and product management training, companies are rich with domain knowledge. That is not something businesses lack. What they do lack is product management expertise. That is a much scarcer resource.
So why don’t organization’s compensate and hire for product management skills? It’s because as a profession we have done a poor job of defining our boundaries. If you compare product management to project management you will find that the skill sets required to be a successful project manager are well known. A hiring manger’s knowledge about what to look for when hiring a project manager enables project managers to nimbly jump domains. The same can be said for professions like finance and human resources. This cannot be said for product management and most importantly product managers.
Until this paradigm shifts and we have industry consensus or the next closest thing, a large number of product managers will continuously encounter the invisible wall. For my part, I think it is time to work together at the professional level to shatter this glass wall and empower product managers to freely move from one domain to the next.
Care to join me?
Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to some of the world’s most well-known organizations. Greg is also the author of the global best seller Take Charge Product Management. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management.