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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Questioning Product Management Training

As someone who offers software product management courses (along with consulting and other services), I realize this post may seem a bit self-serving. Regardless, I'd like to address a few questions and even misconceptions I encounter frequently on social media and in person on this topic.

Q: Can PM training help me if I'm an experienced product manager?

A: Sometimes phrased as "Is training just for newbees?". I would say about 80% of my "foundation-level" students have at least 3 years of product management experience. Some have considerably more. What I've found is that many of them "fell into" the role without any formal training or even organizational norms to guide their work and professional development. The value of getting an end-to-end perspective exploring those areas of the profession many organizations overlook or undervalue cannot be overstated. It's extremely gratifying as an educator to see virtual light bulbs ascending above people's heads as disjointed bits and pieces from their knowledge and experience come together into a coherent picture.

 Q: Is the value of the course in the content, e.g., slides, templates examples?

A: Although I (obviously) believe the content of my courses is valuable, the most consistent feedback I get from participants is that even greater value comes from:

My sharing my real world experiences
Meeting other product managers and getting insight into how other organizations operate.
These are a couple of things you simply can't get from a book or blog or by working a million years in the lab. As product managers, we can get so wrapped up in operational demands that we don't network enough. That means we're not learning from more experienced people or improving our performance based on other organizations' experiences. Meeting others who have similar ambitions and face similar challenges can be an enlightening and invigorating experience. BTW, some of my stories are as entertaining as they are painful. :)

 A: Can PM training help me in my startup?

Product managers' core competency is turning ideas into viable product businesses. Is that relevant to you as an entrepreneur? Probably. There are a host of other skills you'll need to be a successful entrepreneur, but spending a few days learning the basics of conceiving and delivering products will give you insight that might help you avoid all-too-common, fundamental errors that hobble many startups.

I've had multiple entrepreneurs take my course and I've always been impressed with the quantity of notes they take! Their direct feedback has convinced me that the limited time they spent in the classroom was highly valuable.

Q: Will training make me an effective product manager?

 A: Although most people wouldn't take this question seriously, I hear and read people reminding others that training can't make you a world class PM. What a revelation! Some folks grasp of the obvious is most impressive. If years of medical school can't make you a great doctor (you also need talent and experience), then a few days in a PM course aren't going to radically change your competency. However, training can give you an end-to-end perspective and insights into practices that you can extend on the job to make a significant, positive change in your performance as a PM.

Q: Is training as valuable as an MBA?

A: While I hesitate to address such a ridiculous questions, I have heard people make such comparisons. Most PM course are a few days and cost a couple thousand Euros (give or take). Even thought this is a drop in the bucket compared to the investment in an MBA, there are things PM training can deliver that you won't get in most (any?) MBA program. A few days of laser focus on the PM topic is in no way a substitute for an MBA, but can still be highly valuable and give you perspective and information you won't get from a more generalized approach"on campus".

So what are your experiences with PM training? Do any of these points resonate?

For more information on my training (including distance learning!) and consulting offerings, please see

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