Skip to main content

Domain Experience

A lot of job postings for product managers mention experience in a particular industry as a qualification for the position. I believe that the best product managers are the ones who don't need any experience in an industry to perform their jobs effectively.

Let's imagine a product manager who has extensive industry experience and knowledge. As with any product manager, her job is to continually understand an ever-changing market. She will be unable to perform her job effectively if she lacks the skills to interview prospective customers and quickly and thoroughly learn their situation and problems. Yet if she has these skills, then her pre-existing industry experience and knowledge are superfluous, since she should quickly be able to gain the knowledge.

It is also a product manager's role to communicate her understanding of the market to the sales, marcom, and development teams. Our experienced and knowledgeable product manager, therefore, should impart her knowledge to these teams. Once she has done so, she has effectively made herself obsolete unless she is uniquely qualified to learn more about the market. Again, the ability to extract and impart new information, not reliance on experience and knowledge, are the key qualifications.

Instead of requiring "ten years of experience in the industry", hiring managers should focus on the facilitation and analytical skills necessary to be an effective product manager. Experience in a particular industry is little more than a crutch.

Comments

Adam said…
Great post, Roger. I 100% agree with your points here.

My feeling has always been that a Product Manager needs to be good at the fundamentals of being a Product Manager, not a PM tied to an individual product or market.
TxnByBrth said…
Could the same be said for a recruiter? With the exception of having a "Rolodex" (I know...I'm dating myself) of talents, shouldn't hiring managers who go outside to recruiters look more at the recruiter's understanding of the processes necessary to find then attract the winning candidate rather than the "Rolodex"?
Roger L. Cauvin said…
TxnByBrth, I do think there are some similarities to the skills needed by recruiters. I'm glad you raised the "Rolodex" factor, as it's important in both realms.

Much of a product manager's value comes from access to prospective and existing customers. A product manager obtains much of her knowledge of the market from these people. If no one else at the company has the contacts and is able to facilitate access to them, a product manager's prior connections to them could be of great value.

This factor may be even more important in recruiting. Typically, a hiring manager doesn't have access to a lot of prospective employees. A recruiter's prior connections may be quite valuable.

However, as you wrote, the understanding of, and ability to carry out, the processes necessary to achieve the goals is what's most important for product managers - and, I suspect, for recruiters.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Use Case as a Black Box

Consider the following use case: Purchase Items Actor: Purchaser Precondition: Purchaser types at least thirty words per minute and has a web navigation efficiency rating of at least 40. Postcondition: For the average Purchaser acting at full efficiency, the number of seconds elapsed is no more than 30 + 20 * n, where n is the number of items purchased. The name of the use case represents a functional requirement. What does the product do, or enable the user to do? Purchase items. What are we to make of the preconditions and postconditions? What relationship do they have to the requirements for the product? Answer: the preconditions and postconditions are the nonfunctional requirements attached to the functional requirement . Another way of expressing the nonfunctional requirement would be as an attribute and associated constraint: Usability: For a Purchaser who types at least thirty words per minute and has a web navigation efficiency rating of at least 40, it shall take no

Henry Ford's "Faster Horse" Quote

You may have heard the ( apocryphal ) Henry Ford quote: If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse". Over at the On Product Management blog , Saeed gives his take on this infamous quote. He "hates" it, and gives some compelling reasons. Saeed is spot on in his explanations. Personally, I think the quote is great, but it's a matter of interpretation. The valid point of the quote is not that it's a bad idea to facilitate a conversation with your market to better understand it. The valid points are: You must ask the right questions to get valuable answers. You must interpret the answers thoughtfully - often outside their direct meaning - to glean reliable information. Asking questions is not always the best way to "listen" to your market. (E.g., sometimes pure observational studies are more reliable.) Nonetheless, I find the quote is helpful to combat "armchair product management" in the