Should Product Managers also be T-shaped professionals?
A T-shaped person is a modern day professional who works in a high performing digital company. Long ago, Adam Smith told us to specialize and become super good at 1 thing. The world has changed since. From specialization to lean production and now agile/scrum – the business is moving fast, and we expect our knowledge workers to adapt and adjust quickly, learn new things fast and are able to meet their own objectives.
A T-shaped professional has deep, specialized knowledge in a specific domain, (representing the vertical bar). This allows the product manager to be a rockstar in a specific role. At the same time the professional has a broad understanding and capabilities across multiple disciplines (representing the horizontal bar) allowing the person to effectively work with others.
In devops teams T-shaped professionals are a no-brainer. The team is end-end responsible for their product. When everyone is a developer, each member can easily take on any type of activity or task, hence teams become high performing teams. In Marketing the same holds through. When everyone can write, project manage, edit or publish -> the team will address any bottleneck coming their way and increase effectiveness.
What about product managers though? Product Managers typically don’t work in a team of product managers, nor are they embedded with specific teams. They operate individually and influence multiple agile teams to deliver greatness. Should product managers also be T-shaped professionals? The answer is an absolute Yes. More than any other role, the product manager has to work across all domains.
The modern product manager is a T-shaped professional
Is the Product Manager a jack of all trades, and master of none? Is Product Management only focused on the horizontal bar? Product Management requires the horizontal bar to be wider than any other role in the organization, but at the same time it needs to be deep as well as Product Management is not just about collaboration and influencing, the product manager needs to be superskilled in product management tasks.
T-shaped professionals – the Long I
- Product Managers should be able to make the right decisions about their product at any point in the lifecycle of the product. Whether it’s about pricing, launching products, or any other aspect of the product management framework.
- New and starting product managers are starting with a short I. Their skills are fresh and still in development. With experience and training the ‘I’ becomes longer and product management skills are strengthening.
- Depending on the scope of the role in the organization specific skills require to be part of the I, while in other organizations they are part of other teams core skills. Take Product Marketing for example, this can be part of the role of the product manager, but can also be part of a dedicated Product Marketer.
T-shaped professionals – the bridge
- The bridge connects the I with the horizontal bar of the T-shaped professional. The bridge represents essential skills and critical knowledge for the Product Manager.
- Product Managers require a solid understanding about their domain (pharmaceutical, IT, manufacturing, telecom, energy). How solid? They should be able to speak about their domain at a conference, but don’t need to be subject matter experts.
- Domain knowledge can be taught quite quickly at the surface, but a deep understanding of the domain requires experience.
- The second piece represented in the bridge are professional skills. Think about communication, collaboration, teamwork, leadership, etc.
- Professional skills are portable to any other role the product manager will take on in the organization but are a no-brainer for product managers. It’s essential for product managers to influence others and excite them about your ideas and vision.
T-Shaped professionals – broadening skills
- The horizontal bar address the domains that are non-core to the Product Manager, but areas he or she influences. Consider the product development team and the sales team for example.
- A better understanding of the development process sweetens the life of the Product Manager and the Dev Team. Spending time to get to know each other helps, but an intrinsic understanding of the effort it takes to develop kick-ass products will put your development initiatives on steroids. What if your product manager is able to write user stories that make sense to the PO? It will not do away with the role of the PO, but talking the same language is called a ‘best practice’ and helps everyone.
- When the product manager truly understands the sales cycle the conversations with account managers will become a lot easier. Understanding how sales are done, what issues account managers face, and how the actual relationship with customers takes shape makes life easier.
From T-shaped to Pi (π) shaped Professionals
The step from T-shaped professional to Pi shaped professional is not a big step. When the product manager starts learning more about the dev process, the next logical step is to contribute to the development process for the next iteration.
Businesses benefit from professionals who have a few ‘spikes’ in various domains. They are adaptive workers, that can easily take on various roles and help to generate value where its needed most. Think of the Product Manager who is also a Business developer, or a Product Manager/Marketeer, or a Product Manager/Developer.
Read more on T-shaped product managers
Interested in reading more about the T-shape model, or T-shaped product managers?
- Roman Pichler offers a well written article on T-shaped product managers
- Railsware has a solid description written on their blow
- Wikipedia on T-shaped professionals
I’ve worked in product management most of my professional life. I enjoy all aspects of the product management role, except for anything related to administration. Coming up with new ideas, building great products, and working towards adoption and satisfied users drives me. Always looking forward!