Posted by Tom Grant on November 5, 2008
One of my dream projects is to compare product management in the technology industry to similar jobs in other parts of the economy. For example, there are people with the job title "product manager" in the biomedical industry. How different is their work from a product manager at IBM or SAP? (I know a little about our cousins in other industries, but that's not the same as doing the research.)
We also have the product manager-ish position of business analyst in IT departments. How similar are they to product managers?
Fortunately for me, we have analysts at Forrester who study this breed of cat. Mary Gerush just published a document, "Find And Grow Great Business Analyts," that includes the current status of the job responsibilities and requirements for business analysts. The similarities are more striking than differences, which leads one to naturally wonder how much product managers can learn from business analysts, and vice-versa.
Or at least commiserate with one another, since many of the challenges are the same, too. Amorphous job descriptions, a challenging mix of social science and computer science skills needed to do the job well--all that sounds very familiar. There are even people who have the title of "business analyst," but don't do what you think that particular job entails. (See a recent post on the Silicon Valley Product Group blog for more discussion of these points.)
It's also reassuring, in its own weird way, that business analysts have many of the same issues about reporting relationships. One of my least favorite projects, when I was working for a technology company, was a customer in the US military who had made split responsibility for requirements and implementation between two one-star generals. Surprise, surprise, there was friction between the business analysts and the developers. Both sides felt hamstrung by the other. Go figure. Both business analysts and product managers need to be persuasive, but good people skills are no match for big organizational impediments.
Still, as interesting as business analysts are, I also have a strong desire to research product management outside the technology industry. Even if the role is very different from PM in the technology industry, I'd expect the differences to be illuminating. For example, the pharmaceutical industry's burden of regulation certainly shapes the entire product development effort, including PM. Having worked with development teams that encountered the realities of regulation for the first time, I certainly would have liked to draw on a few lessons learned from other industries.