Product managers are certifiable

A question I've been hearing with increasing frequency is, "Should there be a professional certification for product managers?" Tyner Blain has a thoughtful post on just this subject that's worth reading.

There are three obstacles to making professional certification worthwhile:

  1. First, you have to agree on what product management is.
  2. Then, you have to define the curriculum that every product manager needs to master before getting the blessing of some certifying authority.
  3. Finally, you need to trust the certifying authority.

Sadly, all three criteria remain unmet. That doesn't mean that someone can't create certification for particular product management techniques, just as developers can get certification in particular Agile methods, or opthamologists can get certified to perform Lasik eye treatments. While these certifications can be extremely valuable, they're not the same as receiving a degree in product management, which means that you've mastered all the basics of that discipline. Whatever they are.

It'd be great if academia just got off the dime and created professional product management programs at the university level. If you can get a degree in designing the right products to meet people's needs, why not have a complementary degree for understanding those needs in the first place?

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re: Product managers are certifiable

Thanks, Tom, for the reference! It would be great if we could get a university curriculum. As a mechanical engineer (by education), I appreciate that the practice of mechanical engineering can be massively different from one job to the next. It was really hard to get my PE certification - it required that I demonstrate skills across a wide spectrum of the types of work that mech-e's do. Much of it I had never been exposed to, and from which I had to apply first principles to divine the right approaches/answers. I wonder if there are enough "first principles" that are common to product managers to establish that foundation.I've yet to hear someone dispute the pragmatic marketing framework, that may at least be a good place to start. What do you think?

re: Product managers are certifiable

Thanks, Tom, for the reference! It would be great if we could get a university curriculum. As a mechanical engineer (by education), I appreciate that the practice of mechanical engineering can be massively different from one job to the next. It was really hard to get my PE certification - it required that I demonstrate skills across a wide spectrum of the types of work that mech-e's do. Much of it I had never been exposed to, and from which I had to apply first principles to divine the right approaches/answers. I wonder if there are enough "first principles" that are common to product managers to establish that foundation.I've yet to hear someone dispute the pragmatic marketing framework, that may at least be a good place to start. What do you think?

re: Product managers are certifiable

Hi Tom, I'm taking the Pragmatic Marketing practical product management three day seminar, starting Monday. It seems to be a robust program with all three of the criteria you've laid out. Do you have specific pros or cons of that program? Let me know if so. http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/

re: Product managers are certifiable

"Hi Tom, I'm taking the Pragmatic Marketing practical product management three day seminar, starting Monday. It seems to be a robust program with all three of the criteria you've laid out. Do you have specific pros or cons of that program? Let me know if so."I think the Pragmatic Marketing program is extremely valuable, worth every penny you pay for it. However, it's only three days. That's not a criticism of Pragmatic Marketing in any fashion. It is, however, the difference between a workshop and a degree, between a certification and a diploma. As with any discipline, you need to invest a significant amount of time into learning the different skills and domain-specific knowledge before you can say that you've mastered it.For example, you could easily spend weeks learning the techniques to elicit requirements from customers. Are there good quantitative approaches? How do you glean from an enhancement request what the customer really needs, and how strongly? How do you know if a particular customer is representative of what other customers need? How do you know that you're talking to the right person in the customer organization?And collecting requirements is only a fraction of the job. As Adam Bullied said in a good post a couple of months ago, PMs learn these skills on the job--sometimes well, more often imperfectly and incompletely, and often not at all.

re: Product managers are certifiable

Guys, I'm not so sure there can be a professional certification for product managers. The sticking point for me is summed up in Tom's Item 2, (define the curriculum that every product manager needs to master before getting the blessing of some certifying authority).Essentially, engineers, project managers and the like have certification programs which quite rigorously define the candidate and graduate capabilities. As "professional" certifications, they suggest that even without an employer, one is fully able to deliver an engineering or project management result worth paying for.Product management differs in that our employers retain us monthly to address, contribute to, or deliver some specific objective of commercial value and strategic benefit. A quick review of the old "Five Forces Analysis" reminds us just how susceptible the product management environment is to (and dependent on) market forces, economic conditions and yes..company support.Rather than go on too long, let me ask: How do you similarly certify product managers so they can stand alone outside the organisation as member of some homogeneous professional'community?For reference purposes, I offer a link to Where Do Good Product Managers Come From? http://odnt.typepad.com/new_dog_old_trick/2004/02/where_do_good_p.html

re: Product managers are certifiable

Peter's got a good point. From my point of view it comes down to how much of product management is an art vs. a science. Yes, you can teach a methodology for both introducing new products as well as new versions of existing products; however, that will miss so much of what it takes to be an EFFECTIVE product manager.Product management is so difficult because it’s not just one field. Just like a construction project, the general contractor needs to know a little bit about cement, steel, glass, heavy machinery, cranes, etc. Product managers have a similar subject matter requirement that is not easily measured.Perhaps a different approach would be to set up an apprentice program as is done in some trades. That would definitely put a value on mentors and who wouldn’t want to eventually be known as a “master product manager”?Here are a few thoughts on the different between a good vs. a bad product manager:http://itproductmanagement.blogspot.com/2008/05/good-vs-bad-it-product-managers.htmlAnd a few more comments on tricky things that product mangers need to know like what “force majeure” means:http://itproductmanagement.blogspot.com/2008/06/force-majeure-what-is-it-and-why-care.html- Dr. Jim AndersonBlue Elephant Consultingwww.blueelephantconsulting.com