Product management is one of the quintessential “accidental professions” of the 21st Century that most people “fall into” rather than choose. Because each business manages their products differently, we often see very little commonality among our clients on how products go from ideation to profitability — even within the same organization!
Because of this divergence, a common pattern we see is that no one really takes ownership of developing the core competencies of the various product managers within an enterprise. As a result, aspiring product managers are frequently left to fend for themselves, relying on personal experience, self-education, on-the-job training and ad hoc mentoring to execute their core job responsibilities.
What is Wrong With Today’s Approach?
While trial-by-fire may appeal to some, it causes variance in product management practices and experiences. Additionally, this lack of structured professional development has serious limitations for global enterprises who recognize the importance of developing product management as a core competence for future growth.
- Does not scale: we find that giving people time to “figure it out on their own” is a two to three year journey and at the end of that journey we still find significant gaps in a product manager’s skill set. However, our clients need dozens of product managers now. Waiting two to three years for incomplete skills is not an option in today’s fast-moving markets.
- Missed opportunities: in our experience, many untrained product managers spend their time focused on the wrong things. Either they are using the wrong tools and frameworks or they remain mired in tactical decision-making. As a result, untrained novices spend months focused on tactics and frequently overlook strategic market opportunities. Cumulatively, this behavior negatively impacts the organization’s growth and future profitability.
- Waste of use of human resources: product management requires strong skills in the areas of leadership, problem-solving, market analysis, stakeholder management and communication. It is unfair to ask beginners to take on the responsibilities of a product manager without specialized training in these areas. If someone does not have the competency or aptitude to be a product manager, they are better off making a contribution in another part of the organization more suited to their skills and interests.
Product Management Certification Options Available Today
Over and over again, we hear that business leaders need a fast way to retrain and upskill employees with a common approach and philosophy to product management appropriate to their products and business domain. In our research, we have learned that businesses and individuals looking to improve their product management skills and competencies have had four avenues to address this challenge.
- On-the-job mentoring: this approach to professional education is one of the most powerful ways to upskill and retrain staff… when it works. Effective mentoring involves senior product manager(s) working one-on-one, or with small cohort(s), to teach aspiring product managers the required product management skills and frameworks to be effective. This format of education offers a triple win of providing valuable experience for the trainee, enhanced retention of new skills and maximum business impact for the enterprise. Professional, on-the-job mentoring looks great on paper, but frequently falls short on execution.
- Pros: cheap, customizable, direct application to the business, common approach to product management
- Cons: decrease in the mentor’s productivity, the quality of the experience is defined by the mentor’s availability and ability to teach others, no certification, does not scale
- Education program from an accredited university: most major universities, colleges and community colleges, now offer product management certification programs or offer product management courses. It is good that accredited institutions have recognized this need, but every institution implements their program differently from the others. Some programs take place on campus and others are offered online. Duration may be as short as ten weeks or last up to a year. Start dates may be linked to an academic calendar or learners participate in an on-demand program. Finally, while there is some similarity in the topics that are offered by the academic institutions, the depth in which those topics are covered appears to vary depending on the length of the program.
- Pros: certificate from a well-known and trusted brand, educators with academic credentials and qualifications, quality content
- Cons: the more prestigious the institution, the more expensive the offering, not customizable for the enterprise, no private cohorts, no continuing education after the certification, course assignments are based on academic case studies, certification is portable
- Certification offered by an industry-provider: in addition to academic institutions, there are a number of well-known industry providers offering some sort of product management certification. Consumers can purchase training based on predefined standards and learning objectives by a certifying body or engage in custom education programs defined by thought-leaders, and other authors, who have published on the topic of product management. Most of the providers that lie in this category have traditionally offered in-person classroom experiences from two to three days. Due to COVID-19, many of these providers now offer virtual classrooms and some are providing on-demand learning.
- Pros: industry-recognized certification, the most recent product management practice and tools, educational experience completed with two to five days, private cohorts available, pricing is competitive
- Cons: no continuing education after the certification, generally not customizable for the enterprise, course assignments are based on industry case studies, certification is portable
- Targeted, one-time educational experience: this last category describes all forms of “microlearning” or “microcredentialing”, which is a HUGE trend in continuing education for adults. In the area of product management, we have found that individuals attracted to microlearning are those seeking knowledge or skill acquisition in a specific area, such as data analytics or roadmapping. Others are using microlearning as a way to gain basic knowledge and familiarity with product management concepts related to job retraining.
- Pros: cheap, targeted on specific topic(s), short duration
- Cons: quality of education and experience is highly variable, not customizable for the enterprise, no certification, course assignments not linked to learner’s day-to-day job responsibilities, very little advanced content
The Applied Frameworks Solution
While each of the options above have their strengths, none of them completely support the enterprise seeking to develop a comprehensive and common approach and philosophy to product management within their business. Based on our years of developing and supporting advanced Scrum education, we feel our Product Management Accelerator – a four month, online, on-demand continuing education program for product managers of any level – best meets the needs of the enterprise buyer.
Leveraging our deep experience in Scrum, Agile and modern product management practices, we have created a complete program of progressive education that guides product managers – from novice to expert – through those crucial learning experiences necessary to build careers, enabling businesses to realize a fast return-on-investment and to maximize the most from each staff member. Each cohort is guided by an experienced product manager which ensures learners hear a consistent message, learn the same set of tools and frameworks and stay current with the latest product management practices and trends. Most importantly, all learners finish within their product management certification four months of starting the program.
Our product management certification program has four unique advantages:
- Customizable for the enterprise: no two enterprises have the same needs with respect to product management or professional development. Yet, all of the traditional options – microlearning, an accredited university or an industry-provider – force a “one size fits all” approach for continuing education. As an online program, our Product Management Accelerator allows businesses to create customized private cohorts of learners anywhere in the world. Private cohorts allow businesses to share best practices and customer insights without concern they will be distributed with competitors. Businesses can customize the topics and duration of the program to suit specific needs. Moreover, if you discover a gap in our catalogue of online courses, we will work with you to create and publish custom content just for your organization.
- Instructor interaction: most certifications offered by universities, or industry-providers, are a one-time financial transaction. A student pays some amount of money, receives a certification and then the relationship is over. In our program, we build a relationship with our students and their organizations over a period of four months through a series of eight one-hour virtual classroom sessions, along with synchronous and asynchronous interaction through a modern, responsive learning management system. Each program participant can expect about four hours of direct, one-on-one feedback with their educator who is an expert in product management and Agile practices.
- Progressive education: our program is not a random collection of videos, games and online quizzes, but a designed learning experience which involves multiple online, on-demand courses within a single program. We begin the product management learning journey by providing participants entry level skills, such as backlog creation and stakeholder management, and culminate with advanced product management practices, such as product launch and Design Sprints. Each level of our Product Management Accelerator program – certified, advanced and expert – builds upon previous competencies to deepen a product manager’s skills, understanding and impact.
- Learning immediately applied at work: most online education is boring, too theoretical or prone to distraction. With our proven C6 approach to adult education, we have created a system of education that is engaging, pragmatic and integrated into the typical job responsibilities of a product manager. Each course provides discrete chunks of new information along with specific exercises and activities so that the learner can put new ideas into practice immediately. Successful completion of our Product Management Accelerator program requires participants to take what they learn online and apply it to their current products and services. In fact, most participants immediately apply what they learn within the same day. For adults, there is no better way to learn, and for enterprises, they swiftly reap the benefits of upskilling their staff. In other words, we give product managers the skills and tools to “do the job” well and “get stuff done.”
At Applied Frameworks, we are sincerely passionate about educating the next generation of product managers by offering relevant blogs and webinars, valuable frameworks, in addition to our online, on-demand Product Management Accelerator certification programs. If you want to learn more about how to level up your product managers and advance the product management competency in your organization, or have questions about our programs, contact us today!