Setting up a Product Management Institute?

The concept of developing a Product Management Institute was initiated over a Brainmates Christmas lunch at the Ivy a couple of years ago. Brainmates product management consultants expressed how there was a gap in the market for their client organisations to be supported by a peak body to drive consistent standards of product management processes and terminology.

Adrienne Tan and Natalie Yan-Chatonsky subsequently met with Moses Samaha, GM of Veda Commercial Risk, another product leader who had also come to a similar conclusion on his own that Australia needs a professional association for product management. They proceeded to go ahead with testing their product concept with the Australian market to confirm their hypothesis. To ensure there would be no bias, they solicited the help of 6 bright MBA students from the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) to carry out the market research.

Roving reporter at the students’ presentation in December 2012, Nick Geoghegan summarises his take from the students findings. Nick knows firsthand the diversity of product management approaches required during six years as a Product Manager in some of the world’s biggest communications companies.

What Do People Do All Day?

If you have young kids or were born in the last 40 years, you may have read that classic kids’ book; “What Do People Do All Day” by Richard Scarry. The book wonderfully depicts the daily routines of classic jobs such as the grocer, banker and banana thief. It’s a lot of fun but if you’ve read it a few times you might get that inevitable question “Dad (or Mum), what do Product Managers do all day?”.

It can be a tough one just before lights-out and how you answer it will probably depend on what industry you are in, what day of the week it is, which product(s) you were working on that day, who your manager is and probably, how quickly you want to get the kids to sleep!

I’d like to modify that question slightly to “What do Great Product Managers do all day?” and suggest that this seemingly straightforward question is at the heart of the question of whether or not we need a Product Management Institute in Australia.
I recently visited the city campus of the AGSM to hear the results of research a team of six of their MBA students recently conducted on this topic.

Setting Up A Product Management Institute

Commissioned by Moses, Natalie and Adrienne, the researchers set out to find answers to the questions; Do we need a Product Management Institute? Why might we need one? and What should shape should it take? They talked to over 50 Product Managers and 30 Heads of Product in their research. The AGSM students provided a compelling presentation of the results.

The overwhelming answer was both groups would support the establishment of a Product Management Institute, and 70% of Product Managers said they would join the Institute. The interest was driven by three key areas:

  1. Recruitment; making it easier to know that a Product Manager has a common set of skills and language.
  2. Networking; understanding how other companies and industries are responding to product management challenges.
  3. Training; the need for formal product management training that emphasises both soft skills and hard skills.

Product Managers were also interested in certification and adoption of best practices and standards. Head Ofs were interested in up-skilling their PM’s in strategy to help them move out of the operational tasks and to focus on the bigger picture.

Based on this research the team proposed a Product Management Institute (Abbreviated to “ProMI” which sounds a bit like a Yeast Spread!).

The vision of the Institute is “To set standards, educate and promote the value of Product Management in Australia”. The four pillars of the Institute are: Standards, Careers, Community and Knowledge.

The proposed implementation was modeled on the establishment of the Change Management Institute and included a two-stage rollout: an initial stage focussing on events, communications and networking; and a second stage with greater depth, focusing on training, accreditation and ‘best practice’ research.

One of the earliest tasks on the Roadmap is defining the skills that make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful product manager. Based on the discussions at the forum, this is going to be one of the toughest tasks to complete. Various opinions were shared by the industry gurus in the room as to how tightly this skill-set should be defined. Everyone agreed that there is a very broad spectrum of roles and activities that are grouped under “Product Management” but there was broad disagreement on the scope of what should be included at first. This grey area is of course one of the reasons cited for why we need an Institute so you can imagine how much discussion went on.

Another object of discussion was the sustainability of the Institute business model; whether the 1,500 (or 20,000 according to one present) product managers in Australia and their respective employers and training providers could sustain this not-for-profit institute. It did seem that there was some more work to be done on this, but the good news is that we are Product Managers; the customers (us!) say there’s a need and are willing to pay; we just have to find a way to make the product viable. Since this is what we Product Managers do all day (Or some of us, some days…), I am convinced we can find an answer to this.

Another question at the forum was “if an Institute is so important, why hasn’t it happened before? ” The answer was that it has been considered for many years, but never had enough momentum. Recently the increased interest in product (driven by the technology industry, Steve Jobs RIP) has meant a lot of new people entering or becoming interested in this job that we do. At the same time, the expectations of what product managers should know and be able to do may have moved faster than the training that the average product manager is receiving today. These forces are driving an increased need for a more professional structure that can also handle the rapid changes in the various industries we are in.

The discussion could have gone on all night but people had to put kids to bed and read them Richard Scarry stories. Many thanks to the AGSM team of Nicolas Bustamante, Marc Thiebaut, Mela Altarejos, Margot Huber, Rumana Dewan and Harsh Mehrotra for their hard work on the research, great presentations and hospitality on Tuesday evening.

My personal view is that the time is right for an Institute and this research is a big step forward. There is plenty of work for some lucky volunteers to do to set it up if we are to hit a planned launch date in the middle of next year.

Nick Geoghegan

The Product Management Institute founding committee is looking for industry support to gain enough traction to deliver our 2013 plans to initiate a not-for-profit industry peak body that will set the professional standards and raise the profile of product management. If you or your organisation would be interested in contributing to the creation of the Institute, financially or by volunteering your time and effort, please contact Natalie Yan-Chatonsky.

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