Product Management intrigues me. I had always understood it to be a highly interdisciplinary role drawing on elements of engineering, finance, marketing, and (obviously) management, but I hadn’t done any in-depth analysis. I’ve recently given the field a closer look, however, as the trend out here on the West coast seems to be to jump ship from Analyst gigs one year in to take up PM roles at startups. In fact, two good friends of mine left their Analyst roles (one at aand one a former colleague) to do just that. Both left after a single year in banking, and both couldn’t be happier at their new jobs. What seems to be the incredible appeal?
A bit of Googling led me to this definition: “product management is an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, or marketing of a product at all stages of the product lifecycle.” To draw an analogy, and this is the analogy my former colleague used in support of the argument that he was qualified for the role, product management is basically sell-side M&A, but with a product rather than a company. It’s like inventing, but with guardrails. As a PM you OWN a product from its inception. You could “own” the Facebook timeline, Google+, the “Like” button…or more tangibly Air Jordans, the Stratocaster, or those crazy Japanese toilets that talk to you…you get the picture. You reap the rewards if your product succeeds, and the blame falls squarely on you if your product fails – but therein lies the appeal.
The responsibility and autonomy granted to product managers can be enormous, especially at startups. And I can certainly see the appeal after a year of grinding away as an Analyst monkey underling. Beyond the merits of the role itself though, what I find to be most interesting is the fact that banking arms us with a skill set that is so readily transferrable to product management. Think about it – think about all the market analysis you do in your pitch books and marketing materials. Developing competitive landscapes, drawing upon Porter’s Five Forces, drafting pro forma projections, analyzing risks, assessing mitigating factors, even formatting things to look pretty for your MD – these are all frameworks and skills that can be applied to the marketing of a product. Whether we’re selling it internally or generating buzz in the marketplace, we could all theoretically jump ship. But why don’t we?
Are we just not creative enough? Is it just the money? Is it the fact that we like finance more and want to stay a step removed from the operations? Is it the fear associated with veering off that fabled “track” to glory…or is it something else? I’m genuinely curious to hear people’s responses...in fact, WSO Patrick – what are your thoughts? We’re all using your product right now!