Mobile nav

Product Management Training – An Overview and Is It Worth It?

Training in essence is the transfer of accumulated knowledge and experience by some to others. It is a long-established way to share information with people in a manner that when done properly promotes an understanding of the subject matter and develops practical skills.

Product management professionals must be ready to address the very different work challenges they constantly encounter. They must possess highly diverse and uncommon skill sets in order to perform their daily routines.

Product management training provides students with theoretical and practical content that they can apply at their workplace to be more productive. The training also helps establish a baseline for attaining functional expertise. Any true product management training program is solidly built upon a training theory that is aimed at generating proper skill build-up and professional competence – which is what the company and the practitioner require.

This review explains the forces that shape contemporary product management training programs.

Reasons for Training
The value of training depends on what the individual or organization is trying to accomplish and there could be many motivations for such. There are numerous independent and conjoint reasons that drive companies to have their product managers and product teams partake in professional product management training. Some of these motivations include:

  • Imparting new and specific product management skills.
  • Building consistent skills among existing product managers.
  • Instilling business discipline in anticipation of company growth.
  • Creating and educating a team of new and inexperienced product managers.
  • Educating new and inexperienced product managers joining an existing product team.
  • Compulsory training as part of a quality improvement certification, such as ISO 9001.
  • An integral part of the professional development of every product manager at the company.
  • Training and subsequent certification to gauge and rank the company's product managers.
  • Streamlining the methods, processes, and responsibilities between product management and product development.
  • Standardizing product management practices across business units, particularly after mergers or acquisitions.
  • Revamping current product management practices with a more consistent and efficient product management methodology.
  • Training and subsequent certification as a marketing tool to promote internal morale and project an external image of professionalism.
  • Transition from a sales-driven product delivery strategy to a market-driven product delivery strategy, because of the desire to expand current market share or enter new markets.
  • Transition from a technology-driven product delivery strategy to a market-driven product delivery strategy, because of productization demands placed on the company by its customers.

Training Subject Matter
Formal product management training programs have evolved alongside the discipline itself, but unlike the standardized training programs that are available worldwide for universal subject matter such as computer programming or project management, the plethora of product management training programs offered by different vendors are extremely inconsistent. They are all based on and advocate drastically different concepts and teach markedly different practices.

There is ongoing interest and discussion about product management and this has generated a lot of digital information about product management on the internet in the form of articles, blog posts, presentations, webinars, group discussions, etc. The resulting overwhelming mass of digital information reflects the diversity and opposing interpretations as to how to define, explain, describe, and organizationally place product management.

Product management training vendors equally offer classroom-based training programs that drastically differ and present curriculums that advance their own particular perspective on product management.

Some vendors promulgate the idea that product management is a generalization (aka CEO of the Product) and not a specialization. With such a broad definition it is possible to fit almost anything into the realm of product management and indeed these vendors' highly generalized training curriculums are reflective of that. Some vendors view product management as being overwhelmingly and inextricably tied to product development and thus their training curriculums are very technical and focused on the development project. Other training vendors' curriculums are deeply rooted in theoretical academia and some curriculums are limited to being wholly centered on sharing one specific instructor's previous workplace experience.

Regardless of the particular perspective that the vendor is promoting, the centerpiece of the curriculum must be a consistent and complete product management methodology. Otherwise, and without any methodological foundation, all the unfounded assertions put forward in the training curriculum constitute subjective supposition and conjecture and they are not cogent arguments by any measure. Such assertions can be easily disproved with methodological counterarguments.

A methodologically-based professional product management training program should provide the following:

  • A structured approach to product management, resulting in less time spent arriving at product management decisions.
  • A comprehensive set of tools, concepts, models, and procedures, resulting in a more effective execution of product management processes.
  • A clearer understanding of the product management process and its principles, resulting in greater potential to deliver successful products.
  • Conventions on "how to do" and not just "what to do", resulting in more efficient effort spent on performing the appropriate product management activities.
  • A comprehensive approach to product management that considers the most relevant contributing factors, resulting in more complete and realistic product management decisions.

Vendor Offering
Beyond the subject matter being taught, some vendors compete on price and others compete on quality. As with passenger cars, consumer electronics, and any modern product or service, some product management training programs offer more "features" than other programs. The old adage of "the more you pay the more you get" is profoundly relevant here.

All vendors with their very different product management training curriculums offer some positive value relative to their price points. At one end of the spectrum are the low-end and less costly vendors who are often dubbed PowerPoint Companies because their entire offering hinges on a single MS-PowerPoint presentation file which they employ to deliver their training. These vendors usually compete on price and arguably they do not offer anything substantial beyond the classroom experience. In some cases, the low-end vendors' offering is an obvious disjointed collection of product management products and services bundled together to provide a more cohesive brand image.

At the other end of the spectrum are the high-end and costlier training vendors with an international reach who provide a host of products and services that include a progressive training program, an international certification program, professional templates, a systematic workbook, psychometric tests, a knowledge base, computerized retention aids, consulting and implementation services, and even more. The core of the vendors' offering is a robust product management methodology and all parts of the entire offering are fully synchronized and share communality in all aspects (terminology, roles, processes, deliverables, etc.).

Some vendors offer a single rudimentary course while others offer a more complete occupational core and advanced skills training program that is formulated to provide the required knowledge, skills, and tools. It is noted that although not many do so, some vendors erroneously equate the product manager role with the Agile/Scrum product owner role and thus offer a misguided Agile/Scrum training program under the guise of product management.

Training Experience
The training experience offered by the different vendors varies immensely. The differences in training experience go even further in matters such as training pedagogy. Effective learning depends on experiences appropriately designed and facilitated by knowledgeable instructors.

Because students have different learning styles the training program must apply a pedagogy that uses different ways to present the material so that the training is collaborative, contextual, and active, with instructors taking the role of facilitators. Product management content might be difficult or boring for some people and the right pedagogy can create a substantially more pleasant and effective learning experience.

When it comes to delivering training programs, there is no real way of knowing which delivery format is intrinsically better. However, a delivery format and the associated pedagogy are always chosen depending on the audience, venue setting, and content. The objective in selecting a delivery format is to promote content understanding and retention and make the overall training experience as positive and as meaningful as possible.

In general, the classroom delivery mode, a discourse given before an audience with multiple instances of audience interaction or involvement in the form of discussions, exercises, and drills, is considered to be most effective when delivering complex and diverse product management content to a small group of students. Some low-end vendors avoid the classroom delivery mode since it is time-consuming, intensive, and potentially more challenging for the instructor because of the many questions the audience may ask.

Curriculum Customization
It is impossible to accurately satisfy the specific needs of different companies or individuals with the same universal curriculum. Obviously there is not and cannot be a curriculum which unadjusted would fit the training requirements of all companies.

To compensate for the different needs and before any alterations, the product management training curriculum must first be generic (in respect of a company's specific needs) yet be very comprehensive and address virtually all needs commonly encountered by most companies.

Using the generic content as the foundational base, customization is often done at the curriculum and instructor level. Adjustments to the curriculum are made by altering the focus and time spent on specific topics within the curriculum. Further customizations to the training delivery are dynamically made by the instructor who steers all discussions to focus on the company's deliverables and challenges, thus making the training experience more contextual.

Ultimately it is up to each and every company to merge their own needs, culture, and existing processes with the information they were introduced to during the training in order to produce a desired internal change or effect.

Classroom-based training programs are considered the best means of learning the desired subject matter, and they provide notable advantages which include a knowledgeable instructor, peer interaction, and a disciplined and structured study environment.

However, for reasons that include budgetary concerns, individual learning pace, geographic location, timing and regional availability, and industry needs, self-study is a viable option and nowadays there are plenty of resources to do that.

If one is interested in self-learning then, other than the selection of published product management books, there are plenty of free or low-cost resources available on the internet to help better one's knowledge in product management.

First and foremost and as the starting point in self-learning, it is recommended to seek and learn what product management is according to the different perspectives that abound and determine which definition makes most sense.

Product management is comprised of many activities that profoundly impact a product's chances of success. In order to succeed a company must execute all fundamental tasks and follow all key processes in product management. Consequently, only a professionally designed product management training program can effectively teach the sheer magnitude of the product management body of knowledge (tasks, processes, deliverables, and roles) that a company requires in order to compete in today's competitive markets.

In addition, product management professionals are considered nowadays to be the talent reserve from which the future executive officers of the company are drawn. Therefore, only a professionally designed product management training program can properly prepare and equip professionals with the knowledge, skills, and tools to be ready for the strategic thinking and type of decision-making that are required in executive management roles.

Functional expertise acquired via professional training and domain expertise gained through real work experience – both backed with individual motivation and commitment to the product management profession – are the driving elements towards product and career success.