A competitive market that drives the creation of increasingly complex products has also boosted the demand for skilled product managers. In the modern business world, talented product managers develop expertise in diverse disciplines, including product design, marketing, engineering, and leadership.
It’s a set of skills worth developing. With an explosion in products expected this decade, “product managers are in greater demand than ever before,” reports Forbes. A study that found a 32% increase in product manager jobs between 2017 and 2019 confirmed for many that the world has entered a Golden Age of Product Management.
Merrimack College prepares students for product manager careers with the Master of Science in Engineering Management— Product Management Concentration. Merrimack offers the program 100% online.
Students learn about key areas such as product innovation, design, scheduling, marketing, data science, accounting, and engineering management principles. Students also focus on building a career by choosing a track in Life Sciences, Complex Technological Products, or Software/Web/Mobile.
What Product Managers Do
The digital world and the growth in IoT (Internet of Things) technology has led to more connected devices with great complexity. Businesses need product managers to guide their development.
Product managers oversee teams that plan and create new products. They learn client needs, define the product vision and work with teams across the organization (engineering, sales, marketing, etc.) to ensure the final product meets customer requirements.
A popular saying attempts to define product management by contrasting it with engineering management: “Product managers focus on building the right product, while engineering managers focus on building the product right.” In practice, however, product managers do both.
Reducing Product Uncertainties
A product manager seeks to reduce variables in building a product. That starts with a focus on finding the right product. Product managers do so by answering questions such as: Who is the customer? What problems do they face? How can this product solve that problem? Is building the product worth the risk involved in clearing technical hurdles?
They also focus on building the product right. Narasimha Krishnakumar, Global Chief Product Officer for cloud-based IoT company Wind River, said in an interview that product managers “tend to focus on the market problems and customer problems – the who, the what, and the why. But product managers can also influence the how – determining the best way to build the product.”
He said building the product right includes ensuring that the team creates a high-quality product that meets client needs. That involves working closely with engineers, quality teams, and Operations.
Why Are Product Managers in Demand?
Many factors have driven growth in the product management field. Market competition requires companies to find an edge in making products that meet consumer demand, where product managers excel.
The sheer number of devices produced in a fiercely competitive market has also driven product manager demand. The IoT already includes more than 20 billion objects. That’s projected to reach 75 billion in 2025, Forbes reports. Also, most businesses now rely on software as a service, leading to a need for improved cloud-based products.
Not all the growth is in “Big Tech” companies. The study that reported 32% growth in the field listed factors that drive product manager job growth.
- The digital transformation of brick-and-mortar retailers into eCommerce roles, including Big Box retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot
- Banks and credit card companies seeking new digital-first financial products, including JP Morgan Chase, Visa, and Mastercard
- Top audit firms and management companies looking to develop products for consulting and financial advisory
The need for product managers is reflected in their annual salary. The average nationwide reached $112,080 in June 2021, according to Glassdoor.
An Education in Product Management
Merrimack’s Product Management program offers an industry-aligned curriculum that provides students the unique mix of product manager skills needed for success. The program builds on the graduate student’s existing knowledge in the field. Students develop expertise in:
- Establishing inter-departmental relationships
- Driving innovation
- Building business strategy
- Developing product specifications for a range of product
- Marketing analysis
- Analytics tools
- Developing products that meet user needs
- Project leadership
- Communication and leadership skills
- Best methods to use resources to meet goals
The program consists of 33 credits. The curriculum includes business core courses in marketing, managerial communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, diversity and inclusion, leadership, finance, and accounting. Students also take core courses in data science, analytics, and engineering management. Students use eight elective credits to focus on one of the three-track selections.
Merrimack College developed the curriculum to address skill gaps identified by professionals in their product management careers. Merrimack faculty also have experience in the industry. They teach both concepts in the classroom and share how to overcome real-world challenges in product management.