Do you think Product Management is a "Real" Career?

I recently attended a PM meetup, and I received a lot of backlash when I asserted that being a PM is not a predefined profession like being an accountant, lawyer, or developer, and that instead, we are expected to “be like a liquid that fills in the spaces wherever needed” and that this varies from company to company and even from division to division. My point of view is that we are meant to be “jacks of all trades” who concentrate on what brings the most value to the company, and that this can change from time to time and place to place. This was thought by some (including some high profile Product Directors) as being defeatist and leading to poor product development. So what are your thoughts?


Does any profession have a set definition?

I worked as an engineer for many years, performing various tasks that aren’t often associated with engineers. Why? Because there existed a need and no one was willing, able, or accessible to fill it.


@MarioRomero, I’d think that many professions are considerably more clearly defined than product management, at least ones that call for years of formal education. I’ll probably employ the abilities I acquired while attending law school if I work as a lawyer, just like an engineer. PM lacks formal training, thus it is not surprising that its definition is less precise.


Haha. My wife practices is a big law attorney and works for the top firm in her industry, yet she hardly ever applies what she learned in law school.

Why are you squabbling about such a pointless issue?


I agree 100%. In law school you learn the theory you need to pass the bar exam. Everything you need to practice you learn on the job, as you tackle each new problem.

Hmmmm… That sounds familiar…


I was a chemical engineer for years. You could not be more wrong.


It’s a ridiculous question, as has been said by everyone else.

What you said has some weight because, in most cases, it is up to us to ensure that the product is accurate, delivered on schedule, etc. Since we are most at risk for product failure, it is most expected of us to go above and beyond the call of duty to succeed (within reasonable limitations).

Regardless of how extensive our overall responsibilities as PMs are, I’m not a tax accountant, a lawyer, or anything else. I must yield to those who are authorities in their fields. You can push, test, or question them, but the engineers and they are the experts. In a good company, an accountant shouldn’t just coast along; they should also be alert to problems that lie on the edge of their knowledge, searching for creative solutions to concerns, etc.

I believe you are purposefully causing a commotion. Respect the knowledge of others, gain their respect via your own knowledge, and maintain your humility.


I’m not sure how my viewpoint “stirs up trouble” because there was no disrespect intended against PMs or other positions. I’m trying to convey that a PM’s position is less clear cut than other, more established roles. As a result, I view the PM role as one that works towards a certain goal rather than one that does a specific action. A product manager, as you mentioned, “does what it takes to achieve success”—a pretty broad job definition. A builder builds, a chef cooks, a developer writes code. These are all actions.


A builder builds a building that someone thought it was a good idea to build, someone else submitted the idea to relevant authorities, someone else designed, someone else signed off budget for, someone else approved the whole project, etc. It seems to me that you’re considering none of the jobs involved before a builder starts laying bricks “real jobs”, and more broadly, none of the roles related to strategy, authority, decision making, “real jobs”, as if only people with tactical, strictly making-related responsibilities have one.

It’s true that our daily tasks might be quite different from company to company, even team to team, or previous iteration to current iteration of a single company, but none of this has anything to do with a profession being a real profession.


There is no argument, I believe, against the fuzzier boundaries in product management. The sentence should be ended there, though.

“Product management has hazy boundaries, and we occasionally need to jump in strange places to ensure that things get done,” Cool and unremarkable all around.

However, the criticism and negative votes you are receiving here show that whatever you say after that is likely to come out as pretentious or as an attempt to make your profession seem particularly remarkable or to make others’ occupations look routine, etc. That atmosphere doesn’t go over well because the job is so heavily reliant on influence and soft power.

No matter how you meant it to sound, it comes off as dick measuring, and no amount of discussion will change that. Let it go; It’s just a dead-end line of questioning.


With your definition, the roles of a doctor and a lawyer are equally vague as those of a PM.

The purpose of PM is to identify user pain areas and create successful solutions. There are numerous ways to do this.

Do not mix up procedures and goals. Comparable to confusing features with solutions.


I’m laughing as I write this. You just keep saying the same thing, but I guess it’s nice that you’re keeping your ground. I just don’t see why you would come to this forum and make such an absurd claim. I’m not here to prove that you are correct or incorrect. Actually, I believe that this is a troll job. You mention formal education… Many of the top engineers and designers were unaware of that. Aren’t they real professions? Finally, a product team: designers, developers, and project managers all have duties within the group to get everything done. The rest is noise if you understand that.


Although there is a core to the PM job that is all about owning and fully reflecting the market demand and the market outcomes you want to see achieved, I believe that PM is less regimented than certain other positions. People can pick up a ton of talents in this field. You are a major leader on the periphery of the core, so you must ensure that holes are filled. However, this is not the “professional” aspect of your job. I’ve noticed that many folks in this sub seem to believe that on-the-job improv is the only sort of training available to PMs. I believe those emotions are connected. People who have never received any PM instruction may believe it is all nonsense.


@PriyaVarma, from my experience, most PMs receive no formal training so it isn’t surprising that is how they feel.


It sounds like you and/or your company may not understand what product management is. Not an attack, but an observation based on your description.

The “predefined professions” you list are very broad in their disciplines as well. For example, what do you think “a lawyer” does? Meets people in jail and argues in court, right? Did you know that there are a subset of lawyers that never go to court? Meeting/selling clients, doing research, reviewing contracts, going to court, etc. Their work changes from company to company and industry to industry. Tax law, environmental law, immigration law, labor law, corporate law, criminal law, etc. However, the one thing that defines lawyers is that they help clients navigate the legal system. This is the common purpose of the profession.

The purpose of product management is to improve the company’s product (or service). This is done through a broad range of work (market research, working with stakeholders, launch planning, pricing, collecting data, creating roadmaps, etc). This is a broad range of tasks, but has a singular, common purpose.

Perhaps the question isn’t if product management is a real profession, but are you a real product manager? This is probably how it was viewed by some of the people you described. As a leader, it’s concerning to hear that your people don’t understand what they need to do in the company. That’s either a reflection of your ability or their utilization of you as a resource, probably some of both.


@MarcoSilva, Oh wise Sage, please explain to me what a “real product manager” is.


@FergusXavier, You speak to your colleagues and superiors, but it is not well received, and you have no idea as to why. You contact a different source of professional peers to seek their thoughts and feedback. Either you dislike it or you agree with it but become rude.

Do you also apply this to customer reviews? Ask them for their opinions on usability and then tell them to “laugh it off”? It appears that they were correct; your attitude does affect the quality of product creation! You’ve got a lot to figure out, so good luck.


This is a very important question, in the progression of this very young profession.

The management practice, which is the basis of this profession, is far from abstracted like it is for many other professions. And that usually means it is still evolving.

However, unlike before, the push back at any attempt to put forth an abstraction is also unreasonable. So the adoption seems to have exceeded the actual progress in management theory. That usually is not a good sign for a young profession and something that the practitioners should come together to address and try to resolve, I think.

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Hardly any profession will stay pre-defined for long with the advancement of AI. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that people will no longer be working, just that things are advancing and changing now at a much faster pace than they were, say, in the 90s.

People with a fixed mindset are already finding it hard to remain relevant in the modern workplace, and this trend will continue.

PM can mean lots of different things to different stakeholders and be seen differently in different organizations, so you need to have a clear understanding of what is expected from you and how your success is being measured. You need to define your role and objectives that you will deliver to the management in order to be successful. But this is a continuous process, not a one-off exercise that you can do when you start your job and then use it for the next five years at the company.

Don’t think it makes much sense to categorize jobs into real or fake. This is not productive. This all boils down to what is meant when saying job/profession and what mindset the person you are talking to has. There are plenty of examples of non-standard jobs and arrangements if you look at all jobs globally.

I briefly agree with you, additionally success manager whos get up skills from predefined profession like you said seveloer , engineer, lawyer and ect.

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