There was a webinar today entitled “Is Doman Expertise Critical to be a successful Product Manager?” sponsored by Product Management View (part of Ryma Techonology’s community.) This was an interesting event, where both sides of the argument were presented, by credible product management professionals. And, if the twitter conversation was any indication, passion still exists when it comes to the discussion. (You can review the twitter feed using the #pmv hashtag.)
Several months ago I wrote a blog on this subject. In the blog, and still today, I advocate that for technology companies, having the right product management/marketing skills is more important than having the industry skills.
Why? Having the right skills lends to learning. A key, necessary and critical element of being a product management/marketing professional is an unending desire to learn. Professionals in these roles need to constantly be on a quest to solve the market problems – from how to identify the right feature to solve how a user interacts with a product to understanding how the buyer views their problem and why your product will solve it for them. The best product management/marketing are about learning, and listening.
Engineers and developers are about designing solutions. They have the skills to take the requirement that have been identified and go about solving those problems by creating a solution. Can they listen? Of course. (I would never say they can’t.) But, do they listen the same way? No. As a designer listens to a problem, they are already solving the problem. A product management/marketing professional is listening to uncover what the problem IS, not how to solve it. Then, once a solution is designed, they re-share it and watch the interactions. At this time they are listening for does it and how it solves the problems. If the product doesn’t work – the first round of listening was not done right.
So, what do you do? True, you can hire someone from a competitor how has domain and product management/marketing skills. But, unless this competitors is better and a market leader, why would this be a positive step? Too often hiring managers want the experience and direct their recruiters to go seek professionals from the competition. But, when the person starts, the mistakes they made with the competitors are simply transferred. And, why would you do this? Is it simply because hiring managers don’t want to invest in the training and time? Is time a reason, or simple an excuse?
Why hire from outside the domain? Simple – a new product professional to your company comes without industry bias. They can listen new, learn new, and share the learnings without the filter of x number of years before them. It doesn’t mean that the product person can walk into a market meeting cold – they have to understand the basics of the industry, the vernacular and processes. But, they don’t have to know it all before they start. There needs to be a foundation, but not a structure already built that you try to fit someone into.
Looking in from the outside, I would advocate that you hire for what works for your company. If you can find the right combination of skills and knowledge – kudos to you. You are in truly a unique place. But, if you have to choose, like most people are these days, go for the product management/marketing skills. There are enough other people in the business who do have domain knowledge and can help the product management/marketing professional learn the basics (if they don’t go out on their own, which true professionals will do) well enough to talk to the market. Successful products are built from developing and marketing to solve a problem – a need that is understood only by active listening and uncovering to the problems.
Uncovering problems without interjecting your own bias based on your domain knowledge is even harder. Finding solutions are easy – uncovering the real problems are hard.