- Developers need to understand the domain and not merely code to specs.
- Product managers need to understand technology
How important is it that a product manager have prior knowledge and experience in the domain?I have written on this topic in the past. In fact, it was one of the first entries in this blog. Below are some more thoughts.
Should a company hire a product manager with years of experience in, and knowledge of, the industry? How about a capable and experienced product manager with little or no prior domain knowledge?
The key to understanding the importance of domain knowledge lies in recognizing a product manager's most important skill: learning about the market.
Thoroughly understanding a market necessarily entails being intimately familiar with the user and buyer experience, and therefore requires grasping the domain in which they operate. So yes, domain knowledge is fundamentally important.
But "learning" means acquiring knowledge, not having it already. A product manager who is knowledgeable about an industry solely as a result of lengthy prior experience is much less capable - and much less valuable - than a product manager who can quickly master a market and domain.
After all, markets change. New competitors enter the landscape, and user and buyer psychographics evolve. Don't you want a product manager who knows how to keep abreast of, or anticipate, these changes rather than relying on the way things used to be?
Thus we see that prior domain experience, while helpful, can be a crutch. An insistence on prior industry knowledge amounts to a concession that product managers are not capable of performing their primary learning function.
If you're an executive looking to hire a product manager, I recommend de-emphasizing domain experience and focusing on the skills that enable market mastery:
- Interviewing prospective and existing customers.
- Identifying and quantifying the problems that customers face.
- Analyzing the competition and their positioning.
- Framing survey questions and interpreting survey results.
- Observing customers in their native environments.