Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

Should I get product management certification?

Posted on July 5, 2008 · 11 Comments

Question: Is there any value in getting product management certification?

I am a MBA student with an engineering background looking to pursue a career in product management. This question is about the certifications helpful to people with my profile looking to start in product management, particularly in boosting the intial career search opportunities.

Among the certifications from organizations like Pragmatic Marketing, AIPMM, 280 Group and others, what are the aspects I should look for in deciding about product management certification?

Answer from Scott Sehlhorst of Tyner Blain: I remember going to a stump-speech given by a congressional candidate in Fort Wayne, IN, about ten years ago.  After giving his pitch, he took questions from the audience. After every question, he would say “that’s a great question” and then he would say whatever he was going to say, which was not always an answer to the question. Sometimes I wonder if he meant “that’s a great question” in that it was great that someone asked a question that gave him a reason to speak.

As to the question of which certifications to go get as a product manager — that’s a great question.

When I’m interviewing a product manager candidate, I don’t care if he or she has any certifications. I care a little bit about what they know (what skills do they have), and a lot about what they will be able to learn.  Personally, I have the Pragmatic Marketing “practical product management” certification, which I believe is useful shorthand for “think strategically” and is a primer for discussion, but otherwise does not provide value. Their practical product management training is to this day the best single training class I’ve attended in any topic. I would place significant value on a product manager having the perspective that Pragmatic espouses, and being able to demonstrate their ability to apply it. Having the associated piece of paper is secondary. I’ll also add that I haven’t heard anyone I’ve ever worked with express that they “care about” certifications for product managers.

Great product managers understand their markets and customers. They can discover and value the problems and opportunities faced by the customers in those markets. They can prioritize the problems and their solutions to achieve a product strategy. They can pull that ‘big picture’ together into a vision and a roadmap. And they can communicate — both with customers and with internal stakeholders. A great product manager can lead people (note: I did not say manage, that can be useful, but is not always required) — because a product manager usually has ownership of a product, but not a team.

Are there any certifications that say “I can do all of that?” None that I know of. Can a product manager learn enough about the customers in a particular market, about the competitors in the space, and the team that will deliver success? That’s what I want to know.

Thanks again, and great question.

11 other answers so far ↓

  • David Locke // Jul 5, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    What will eventually happen is that the product management associations will build some certification that shortcutting HR departments will use to screen candidates. Eventually, those without certifications will be excluded from the jobs, just as what is happening with the PMI.

    As that eventuality is realized, salaries will vanish, because product management will become commoditized.

    It’s not something to worry about right now, but realize that your product manager work is a gateway to the next job or career, and that you cannot sit still. Keep being educated and trained.

  • Derek Britton // Jul 8, 2008 at 9:18 am

    While there is always merit in being certified in any professional discipline, and it is a laudable objective to have for anyone, Scott raises a very interesting point about the value of experience and passion over any other professional qualification or credentials. And indeed unless there is a demonstrable track-record of effort, achievement, and preferably a few mistakes and learning points along the way, it is difficult to “get excited” about anyone who is simply mechanically listing an array of courses taken and “accreditations” received.

    But we should stop and think, as David suggests, about the future of the industry, and the inexorable commoditisation of this professional discipline. However bleak an outlook that might be, and however little you accept it now, we must assume some attempts to turn the PM role into a cookie-cutter role that the likes of recruiters and HR people can have a simplistic means to categorise. For as long as there are organizations who’s value proposition is about providing training, recruitment and skills services, there will always be a niche for a new “lightweight” or “easy access” training program (plus “qualification” at the end of it) to help those new to the role get their feet on the first rung of the ladder and start their careers in PM. In fact, you would almost EXPECT any new starter in PM to be on at least one professional training course (I know I did) as part of their right of passage into the role. For that though, unless your company is specialised enough to tailor its own internal PM training, chances are a generic public course hosted by one of the industry leaders (280, Pragmatic, AIPMM) will fit the part nicely. They are all good, and all the materials cover the main concepts perfectly well.

    While we await the dumbing down of the industry such that the role is just 10 bullets on a job spec, and individual 1-day workshops for each, I propose there is nothing better than a resume of several years of experience, failure, success, customers, products, launches, retirements, revenues, more customers and lessons learnt. That will trump any accreditation anyone can present to me.

    Once you are specialised in the role (no PM role is the same, as the product/organization/culture/customer base all shape and fine-tune the nature of each one) you may find yourself establishing other development needs. But that is for another day.

    For the time being, roll the dice, pick one that suits you and your organization, and above all else, just do it quickly. There’s little time once you are on board to go back and demand more. But much more than that, report to yourself what you did and what you learnt so you can sell yourself as a PM, and not just as someone who attended a course once.

  • Tyner Blain // Jul 8, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Product Management Certification…

    Should product managers get certifications? Ask a Good Product Manager asked us to answer.

    Is There Value in a Product Management Certification?
    In a recent question / article at Ask a Good Product Manager, an MBA student with a background in enginee…

  • Eric // Jul 9, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    I’m a mechanical engineer who also went on to get an MBA and found myself a software product manager right after graduation. Until recently I never even knew there was a certification for Product Management and don’t ever recall anyone mentioning one either.
    I did get my PMP but haven’t found that it has opened any doors for me as I’ve changed companies over the years.
    What has counted most was an obvious passion for customers, a strategic rather than tactical approach to product management, vision, and the ability to communicate to and lead all the teams that make a product a success: IT, Testing, support, documentation, MarComm, etc.

  • Mahesh // Jul 27, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks everyone for providing your inputs on the question.

    Jeff and all the contributors on this blog in answering the questions are providing a valuable resource particularly for people like me targeting a career in product management, appreciate the efforts.

    Regards,
    Mahesh.

  • Jeff Lash // Aug 21, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    For most people who ask the “Should I get certified” question, it’s because of one these reasons:
    1) They think it will help make them more marketable as a candidate — to get a job as a PM, to get a new/better job as a PM, or to get more money in their current job
    2) They think it will give them some credibility within their organization — “trust me, I’m a certified PM”
    3) They want to show that they have some level of knowledge

    For people who think of reason 1, it’s probably not realistic. Though there are some companies and hiring managers that will value certification, those are few and far between, and even then they may only value one type of certification (e.g. a hiring manager who is certified by Company X and thus only cares about Company X certification)

    For 2, it’s probably not realistic either. If hiring managers don’t value certification, why would the IT manager or VP of Sales.

    For 3, “showing that they have some level of knowledge” is usually related to 1 or 2… and if not, and it’s just for purely selfless reasons, then they don’t need a certification to prove to themselves that they have some level of knowledge.

    So, when someone asks, Should I get certified?, my response is — why would you want to? If the reason is one of the 3, then it’s not worth it. Maybe you should still get trained and take classes, though the certification itself is rather irrelevant. The focus shouldn’t be on having the diploma you can hang on the wall, it should be on the knowledge you obtained along the way.

    You can also look at it the same way a product manager would look at an issue — What is the underlying need? What is the problem certification is solving? Will it solve those problems? What are other ways to satisfy those needs?

    Incidentally, I am “certified” in a few different things, though in my case the certifications came as a result of training I attended. Had there not been certification involved, I still would have attended the training and I still would have learned as much, and I don’t think anything else would have been different (job, salary, credibility).

    BTW, Marty Cagan just posted an article titled Product Management Certification? over on the SVPG blog which discusses this very topic.

  • Weekly Reader: 25July08 | The Productologist: Exploring the Depths of Product Management // Sep 10, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    [...] Should I get product management certification? [Ask a Good Product Manager] [...]

  • Ebun // Jul 18, 2009 at 12:18 am

    It’s been over a year since this blog post was first written. In light of the economic downturn and natural evolution of professions (a lot about a career path can change in 1 year!), do you think that the arguments in the post and subsequent comments are still valid?

  • Linda Gorchels // Sep 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    As a faculty member of UW-Madison’s Executive Education Center, I’m frequently asked: “what is the value of certification?” First I want to clarify the difference between certificate and certification. A certificate is generally a non-credit alternative to a degree. It recognizes the attainment of a body of knowledge at a certain point in time. Its value is in “proving” an individual has been exposed to a minimum set of competencies related to success on the job. Certification implies ongoing updating of related knowledge. Teachers and many professionals are required to obtain a specified number of credits or continuing education units (CEUs) to demonstrate their commitment to life-long learning. True certification requires a governing body with a database for updating and maintaining course completion statistics.
    As the author of The Product Manager’s Handbook and the Product Manager’s Field Guide, I’m frequently asked a similar question about product management. In this case it is almost always a question about getting a certificate rather than certification. So, a product management certificate may have value in demonstrating an individual has been exposed to a comprehensive set of resources relevant to the role of product management. It can be a tie-breaker in a job search, especially if the credential is from a recognized institution and enhances desired skill sets. UW-Madison’s Professional Development Certificate in Product Management, for example, includes coursework on influencing without authority and business acumen, since these are usually deemed critical competencies for product managers.
    Regarding the question of whether this information is still valid in a downturn, the best answer is: “it depends.” There is no question that companies value more knowledge over less knowledge, but there also has to be a cost-benefit value for the training. Many of the concepts can be learned from inexpensive (or free) sources, and then it is up to the individual to substantiate the self-learning is equivalent to the “packaged” learning in a certificate.

  • Gene // Oct 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    It’s been 3 years since the last comment in this thread. I would be interested to hear if views have changed at all.

    In particular, I am considering PM training/certification as a way to refresh my skills and demonstrate my current proficiency, as well as a route back into the workforce.

    I was a PM at the beginning of my career about 20 years ago. Worked in the role for 5 years before starting my own small consulting business.

    Now I find myself needing to get a job, and PM roles are what appeal to me the most. But my prior experience seems to count for little because it was so long ago. I am thinking a certification would help bridge the gap.

    Would be very interested to hear thoughts and suggestions on the topic.

  • Derek Britton // Oct 13, 2012 at 4:09 am

    I personally believe that the same answers from 3 years ago apply as much today as they ever did. In fact training may be a differentiator in a tough job market – and a recent training investment would be a benefit I’m sure. Notice here I’m saying training rather than certification: I still would argue that as there is no global body that presides over the product management discipline, any “certification” is merely the assertion of the vendor of the training. That said most folk I know in the product management discipline do recognize the value of the big players (280, Pragmatic, AIPMM) and would therefore attach some importance to such courses.

    Having recently done so, I would also like to include the UK-based productfocus.com, who provide good public courses and most recently of all are starting to introduce an on-line training function.

What do you think?