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Product Management

Domain expertise – Does it really matter to a product manager?

A week ago as I was going on a trip with my family, my sister-in-law announced that she is recently given the role of a Product Manager. She was all excited about it and asked me what should be the first thing for her to work on. She started her career with a global pure-play product engineering services firm as a Software Engineer and gradually promoted to the role of Technical Lead. Myself being a Product Manager for quite some time now, I shared my thoughts based on the experience I have gained as a product manager.

I have been working in Inside Sales domain for quite some time now. As a Product Manager at InsideSalesBox, my job is to keep myself up to date with the best sales practices and processes, sales tech trends, evolving problems and needs of sales professionals and the next move of the competing products. You would acknowledge that as we are in this tech industry where the things are really dynamic and the new products and features come up very fast, the most pressing challenge I face to stay abreast with any such developments. Being from a Sales domain since the beginning of my career as a Business Analyst and Solution Consultant, I could pick with Inside Sales domain which I consider as a niche of Sales domain.

The advice I gave to my sister-in-law is to first build a thorough understanding of your domain. As technical lead, she has been involved in building features and functions by working on architecture and software development work. She has been working on HOW part of the problem till now. However, in her new role she would be expected to work on WHY and WHAT and WHEN part of the problem. Product Manager needs to sense the gap the customers face, what he can do to solve the problem and which solutions should be prioritised for the customers to serve him well. So I asked her to develop an understanding of the business impact of your technology on your customers. I believe if a product manager understands the domain better, she would be able to successfully chart out the process maps for the problem in question and hence work with customers to find gaps and come up with the solutions to not only plug in the gaps but add value to the whole process for accelerated business impact. If a product manager is an expert in the domain she is into, she would be able to do justice to her job as a Product Manager.

To all those, we are starting their journey as Product Manager need to work on attaining domain expertise. Say, if you are working in an e-commerce company, you need to understand e-commerce space very well. You need to know global and local e-commerce companies and their products. Understand if you deal B2B, C2C or B2C e-commerce and the user personas of those who would use your product. You need to have thorough understanding on e-commerce process and engagement lifecycle from attaining vendors who supply products/ services, syncing your e-commerce product with the vendor’s inventory, customers coming to your website, going through the items, placing order, making payments, tracking, order, vendor dispatching order, delivery boy delivering order and customer again visiting your site.

The successful are going to be those product managers who would have held in their domain, have established community network and have gained thought leadership. In the next write-up, I will be talking about on how to gain domain expertise. Stay Tuned!

Disclaimer: As fellow product community has shared the views on the blog about other areas where a product manager needs to gain expertise as well. I would overall define the expertise over a matrix of 7 dimensions – Business, Market, Product Management, Domain, Technology, Software Development Collaboration and User Experience.

Business – Business Management Acumen with exposure/ flexibility to work across multiple functions

Market  – Market Understanding. Able to visualise market potential. Marketing and Sales aspect for a product space

Product Management – Product Management expertise. Roadmapping, Prioritisation, Market Research, Strategy.

Domain – Understand the problem and gaps in the domain/ industry/ practice in questions

Technical – Exposure to technical aspects, technology behind a product User

Software Development Collaboration – Agile/ Scrum Product Owner expertise

Experience – User Design and Experience element is also appreciable

I strongly believe that the weight to be given to this 7 expertise areas while evaluating a PM for a product depends on the product itself. For e.g., for a technical backend product in PAAS space to used by other product teams would require a PM having a greater technical hold as compared to user design skill. However, for an end consumer application like Facebook, a much more weight will be given to User Experience design over technical.

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About author

I am a Product Management professional. I love to write and talk about product, growth, career, and entrepreneurship in Enterprise Software and Internet space.
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