Is Product Management Becoming Commoditized?

Last week, I attended the webinar “Why are there so few great Product Managers? A CEO’s perspective”.

It was a good webinar, and one slide in particular got me thinking: Are PMs something special, like we tend to believe, or simple commodities like brine shrimp?

So eager to please, they can even be trained!

The webinar was presented by Barbara Tallent, a former product manager who is now CEO, and included her perspective on the topic plus insights from other CEOs.

Most of the talk was practical and logical…

  • PMs need to be great strategists, excellent communicators, work well with all parts of the company
  • PMs shouldn’t filter customer feedback to fit their own agenda
  • PMs shouldn’t let the appearance of process replace common sense

… with some interesting insights…

  • PM credibility comes from success of your products in eyes of CEO–not what you say, or your domain knowledge
  • Future leaders in business typically come from PM ranks

But there was one slide that just stopped me cold.

Say what, now?

The Q&A didn’t really dig deeper into the topic, which others noticed. The ensuing conversation spilled onto Twitter, with two distinct positions:

MattShandera @chriscummings01 Just curious, how could anyone see #prodmgmt becoming a commodity? I think the role is the antithesis of commoditization


DavidWLocke @chriscummings01 @MattShandera As tools become stable, as BOK becomes stable, as MBA glut pushes people into PM–commodity!

It’s a week later, and I’m still wrestling with the idea.

Is product management a dead-end career, unless you aspire to be CEO? If design can be outsourced, and engineering can be outsourced, why not product management? If any accountant can prepare my tax returns, and anyone can sell this product, can anybody become a product manager — the more junior, the better?

Or, is the reality more like my friend Jamie put it, after the webinar: “Do you really think that many CEO’s know what makes a great or bad PM? Given experience, I’d say a resounding ‘NO!'”

Gentle reader, what do you think?

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One thought on “Is Product Management Becoming Commoditized?

  1. I know this is not a popular opinion, by my life’s goal is to do just this. I want 5 year old kids in kindergarten to be intuitively following PM best practices. Why not, it would be a better world.

    But is it possible? I believe product management is essential and will always be so. However, the person “Product Manager”; I have my doubts. Not as the role it is today; many have already commoditized their own careers with their unwillingness to accept responsibility.

    Sure someone needs to be responsible and accountable for Product Management. But the role I’m talking about which is sustainable is an executive that has leadership responsibility and authority in a cross-functional environment. Not someone who doesn’t have the authority to make decisions impacting joint roadmap across Marketing, Training, Development, …

    Think about it, every time we shy away from the leadership role, don’t we slide just a little bit more into a commodity?

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