In recent years, we’ve seen new definitions for old titles and many new titles being created. We’ve got product managers, product marketing managers, product owners, business analysts, product strategists, product line managers, and portfolio managers. Let’s keep it simple. There are four types of skills needed to define and deliver products to market. Product leaders (by whatever title) attempt to support the team with all four types of knowledge but it’s rare to find all of these capabilities in a single person.
Technology expertise is about how the product works. From their daily interactions, product managers pick up a deep understanding of product and technical capabilities; they achieve this by playing with the product, by discussing it with customers and developers, by reading and reading and reading. For a technology expert, the product almost becomes their personal hobby. They think of themselves as product experts.
Typical titles: product manager, product owner, technical product manager, business analyst
Market expertise is a focus on geographic or vertical markets, either by country or by industry. They know how business is done in that market. They know the major players, and the jargon or colloquialisms of the market. Market experts define themselves by the market they serve: “I’m a banker” or “I support BRIC.”
Typical titles: industry manager, product marketing manager, field marketing manager
Domain expertise is about the discipline your product supports, such as security, fraud detection, or education. Domain experts know (and often define) the standards for the discipline and can explain the latest thinking in that area. They understand the problems that your product endeavors to solve, regardless of the market or industry. And for a domain expert, your product is merely one way of addressing the problems of their specialty. Domain experts define themselves not by the product but by their topic area.
Typical titles: product scientist, principal product manager
Business expertise is where your traditional business leader or MBA graduate brings strength. These experts know the mechanics of business and can apply that knowledge to your product. A business-oriented expert knows how to use research to determine product feasibility, can determine how the product generates profit with lots of financial analysis to back it up. Ideally these business skills need to be combined with one of the other skills or provided as a support role for the other areas of expertise.
Typical titles: product strategist, product leader, portfolio manager
You can see why product leaders struggle in some areas and breeze through others. Most of us understand these four product management skill sets inherently and we also realize that it’s difficult to find one person with all four skills.
And it explains the difficulty you and your colleagues sometimes have when connecting with customers. The sales people who don’t know the industry jargon or the marketers who seem insensitive to the customs of different countries or the developers who don’t understand why a capability is critical to customers.
Think about the skills you have and the skills you need for your organization. Consider the requests you’re getting from development, marketing, sales, customer support, partners, and so on. Determine which expertise is needed to accurately support these requests.
Steve – Thanks for another great write-up! I could relate to your point of view. I think categorizing skills in bucket is going to help me bolster the skills that really matter for me short term (in my current job) vs. long term. I also do a lot of content creation for my product line – end client deliverables, brochures, FAQ etc. Would you agree this fits into the “Market Expert” category?
Yes, in general go-to-market materials rely on market expertise. You need to know the market to convey your product strengths in the language of that market. You’ll also likely pull info from technical and domain experts on your team.
[…] Four types of product management skills […]
Good categorization Steve. I think you could add communications to go with business acumen as “horizontal” skill sets that are portable company to company / industry to industry while the other “vertical” skill sets (technology, market, domain) are less portable (but make you much more valuable to where you are at). There are jobs to be had for generalist with many of the skill sets here, as well as for specialist with on some of these skill sets. But I would rank communication skills as something every PM should push themselves to improve it. It can really make you stand out.