Alignment of the Product Management Industry

The Association of Product Professionals has a vision for the industry summarised in five points – Align, Promote, Assess, Advocate and Uplift. In this article, we’ll share why our first principle, ALIGN, is such an important bedrock for us to move the industry forward.

Since the early planning days of the Association, we’ve known that there is a core obstacle that we needed to solve for the industry that would make many other dominoes fall in place. The primary obstacle is the misalignment across the industry regarding a common language and what we view as “good product management”. Once we, the industry, has alignment on what good looks like, we can really start growing and investing more in the industry we all find ourselves in. We can’t do that until we have a shared understanding of what our language, terms and practices entail.

Why we need to ALIGN the industry:

We’ll be writing more on this in the weeks to come and hear from our board members on this topic. Still, it’s important to recognize how our industry has grown over the years. Different ideas of what product management is has muddled with the actual practice of the discipline.

This is relevant for product managers themselves and the roles in organisations. In some organisations, a product manager can be highly focused on delivery but has no customer-facing responsibilities. There might be no requirement to focus on commercial acumen in a larger enterprise, while in a smaller start-up, this is the key consideration for the role.

When we think about the career ladder for a product manager and their growth path, it becomes murky too. It’s different across industries and organisational sizes. This all means that we find it hard to translate skills, talent and knowledge across jobs, industries and organisations. This is a commonly heard refrain that “product management in my company is totally different from your company”.

An implicit understanding of what good looks like

While certain parts of this ring true, part of the reason this is the case is simply because we haven’t all aligned on what those practices, terms and ways of working are. If this were truly the case, it would also make hiring across companies impossible. Yet, we do it. There is a tacit and implicit understanding of what good looks like, yet we haven’t subscribed to one explicit version of it.

This is exacerbated by consultants, thought leaders and thinkers who constantly produce new frameworks, models and diagrams for our industry to use, which aids in the complexity and proliferation of different schools of thought. This isn’t wrong though, and it’s a good thing and necessary to push our industry forward and respond to the demands placed on us by a constantly changing external world. But this does create a cluttered understanding of what good is. Do we use this framework for roadmaps or this one? Is the one we pick as an organisation relevant only for us, or can I quickly get new team members up to speed because it’s a framework they have used before. Some things need to be proprietary, but some things should not.

Take career paths as an example. A quick Google search will show you over 30 different Product Manager career paths that are relatively the same but slightly different. Which one is the one of value? We’d argue… most of them, but that means it’s tough to filter to the one that’s right for you.

Clearer, aligned conversations

As our industry grows and matures, there are more nuanced versions of Product Management emerging, and we cannot simplify the finer niches of the skill with one term, “product management”. We need to start having clear conversations about what we mean when we say certain things.

The Association of Product Professionals first mission is to bring alignment to the industry around the common patterns, languages and ways of working we have and don’t have. What is necessary to understand in certain organisations and across seniority? What does good look like? This can only happen if there is a broader industry input and buy-in on what this is.

If you are interested in contributing to this mission, consider joining the Association of Product Professionals and adding your voice to the common set of practices and principles. We want to hear from you what this looks like in your organisation and give you the tools to be the champion for proper Product Management in your organisation.

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