come a product manager, people take a
variety of approaches. A few of the most
common approaches are:
˲ Going to engineering school and
then entering straight into a product-management role and learning on
˲Going to engineering or design
school, starting in that discipline, and
then transitioning into product management as needed on the team (much
the way product management was
originally created during work on Mac
˲ Working in an adjacent nontechnical role such as marketing, account
management, or customer service.
Nontechnical employees sometimes
transition into product management as
a way of getting closer to the product.
˲ Going to an MBA program.
fact, as product management becomes
a more desired career for MBAs, MBA
programs are creating new classes.
One of the best is Tom Eisenmann’s
PM101 class at Harvard Business
School, which focuses on relevant content for both consumer goods and software product management (http://bit.
Recently, programs such as Startup
Institute and General Assembly are offering a more targeted education
for people trying to move into product management. Startup Institute
is a full-time eight-week program
to retrain people to be good early-stage startup employees. One of its
four tracks focuses on product and
design ( http://www.startupinstitute.
com/programs/curriculum/product-and-design), teaching a combination of
classic design skills (typography), modern design skills (responsive design),
and front-end engineering. It touches
on product management.
This is a valid way of teaching product management since it involves many
disciplines and helps an individual understand all of the pieces. Yet, attempting to learn to design, write software,
and understand product management
in eight weeks is a daunting endeavor.
General Assembly (https://general-
assemb.ly/education/product-manage-ment) is another emerging program
for product-management education. Its business fundamentals curriculum includes a 10-week, four-hour-per-week product-management
the customer advocate.
Regardless of whether the role comes
out of the realm of brand management
or engineering, product managers end
up with similar roles. They are responsible for figuring out a plan, and making
sure that plan is implemented.
Current State of
Product management as a job has
evolved organically. Universities still
lack accredited product-management
programs (some graduate programs
exist for brand and product management, though they typically focus on
the consumer-goods industry, not the
computing industry). Since there is no
shared training for product managers,
many companies have evolved their
One favored resource is Ben Horow-
itz’s document, “Good Product Man-
ager/Bad Product Manager,”
for his work at Netscape. It echoes
McElroy’s memo when it states, “Good
product managers take full responsi-
bility and measure themselves in terms
of the success of the product.”
Similarly, Paula Gray, anthropol-
ogist-in-residence at the Association
of International Product Marketing
and Management, states that product
managers “must be able to envisage
the product from start to finish and to
have the ability to ensure that this vi-
sion and strategy of the organization
The role differs, however, in the way
it sits within the organization. Horow-
itz emphasizes the product manager
as part of the engineering team, as is
common in software companies. “En-
gineering teams don’t consider good
product managers a ‘marketing re-
source.’ Good product managers are
the marketing counterparts of the en-
That is the key distinction between
the origin of product management
and its role in the software industry.
In software it is not just about execut-
ing the advertising strategy. Because
the products change so quickly, it is
also about deciding what to build,
and executing that.
Other respected pieces on how the
discipline has been implemented in-
clude: Microsoft’s JobsBlog article on
the Zen of PM;
9 First Round Capital’s
articles on Google’s product strategy4
and an explanation of good product
management at Facebook;
5 and Julie
Zhuo’s essay on how to work with prod-
While it varies by company, the role
of product manager generally encompasses three areas:
˲ Experience (design). This is the
user-facing aspect of the product. It
means deciding which features to
build for the users—not necessarily
which features will make money but
which ones make for a better product.
˲ Technology (engineering, project
management). This involves understanding the implementation of the
product. At the least, it means managing the schedule and checking in on
accomplishments. In a more technical product-manager role it might
involve working directly with developers to create an API specification.
˲ Strategy (business). This is the
piece most aligned with brand management. Strategy means deciding which
business areas the product needs to
grow in and why. It also means running
A/B tests and other experiments to help
optimize the performance and revenue
of the product.
Types of product managers. Since
the role varies by company and has
three distinct parts, not every product
manager job is the same. Most product managers are stronger in one or
two areas. Their areas of strength are
often influenced by their fields of
study and experience before entering
Christina Wodtke has proposed
a framework in which product managers are identified by their areas of
14 She suggests that because
product managers enter from another
discipline, they take on the flavor of
that discipline—be it design, engineering, or business.
A highly technical company may
want product managers with more of
an engineering focus. A company that
sells to enterprise clients might prefer
product managers who have more of a
business focus. A company striving to
find market fit might want more experi-ence-focused product managers.
Current Education for
Since there is no standard way to be-