Product management of physical goods

Hello everyone. Currently in an internal interview process within my company for a product management position. My company is a subsidiary of a global manufacturer and produces physical, relatively high-value electrical goods.

I would be working alongside another product manager as there are huge expansion plans for the product range in question and they expect high growth for it within the UK.

My queries are:

  • Does anyone here have experience in product management in a non-software, physical goods space?
  • What sort of skills are required?
  • What does your day-to-day look like?
  • What sort of age/experience level did you start at?
  • Have you ever thought about transitioning away from the role?
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I manage life science research products (stuff that goes into vials for labs) and operations becomes a significant topic. You gotta understand the resources required to manufacture, QC, stock, and ship the stuff. You have to understand demand forecasting and be able to relay demand information from the market to in-house (look up bullwhip effect which is where lack of demand clarity causes manufacturing to stock either too much or not enough in inventory).

Backorders and raw material supply will also become your concerns, unlike with software. Covid and residual technical debt screwed me over big time when I started as PM 2 years ago. A great time to get into the role lol :grin:.

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@Marco, What do you mean by residual debt and why do you think now is a good time to get into this role?

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@Christie, Technical debt is what happens when you take shortcuts in development to ship a product and then you encounter issues when it hits the market.

Also, it was a terrible time to start PM in Covid time. I was being sarcastic.

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If your goal is simply earning the most you can there is way more going on in software than hardware and I believe that trend will continue. Hardware products will continue to be absorbed by mobile phones, laptops, televisions, etc.

Iteration cycles are much quicker in software so more opportunity for promotions internally or looking elsewhere for more pay based on product shipped at your current place.

It takes two-three years to ship a hardware product. What if your first is a dud? Yikes!

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@PriyaVarma, Luckily for this particular product range, it’s going in the opposite direction as it is vital. The first could be a dud, but to be honest if it is or isn’t then I would still have learnt a lot.

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@Vlad, Understood but again, if you’re looking for huge pay increases, I do not believe hardware is the place for you. I think there is shrinking demand for people over time and relatively static supply. Also it is very easy to end up in a place where you are learning a lot that is only relevant to your current employment or sector. With software it is quite easy to move across sectors in my experience and sometimes even an advantage giving you limitless possibilities.

If you want to learn sure, do it. Especially if you’re relatively early in your career and have less to lose. Again though, if you’re only looking to maximize earning potential, software is much more likely to deliver. Hardware can be a bit old world with less of the incentives software companies use to hire and keep their good people.

Unless you’re owning the industrial design of a knob on the new Apple car or something in which case disregard everything I’ve said.

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What’s your end goal?

learn the ropes of PM because you’re passionate about the job?

You’re in it for the paycheck and you want to do what the job requires to keep those?

You get the idea. There are no wrong answers. You are entitled to define your own success criteria for your life. But once you answer that question you will have a better chance answering what you should focus on, learn, pay attention to in order to succeed.

P.s. to add some color, physical goods require distinct PM skills from the popular PM software life. Most software PMs would be deer caught in the headlights. Procurement, supply chain, lead times, intense partnership and supplier dependencies. More over, cost structure will be a big part of your game. You will be analyzing markup and so on. Your distribution channels section in the business model canvas will include how you’ll put your product on a literal shelve in a store (if you have physical stores, assuming from the massive global size of your company). I personally think that physical goods PM work can be fun. But it is quite different from software PM world.

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@Karan, Frankly, my end goal is to move up the ladder and make as much money as I can without huge sacrifices to my life!

Are you a product manager for physical goods? I know there’s a huge gap on here as apparently tech has taken over the title of “product manager” for itself.

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@vladpodpoly
I was. I am now on the software side. As you see, I already got downvoted so yes what you are saying is true. There is this dogma of PM being the software bro that comes from computer science.

I think your goal is an admirable goal to be honest because you are not fooling yourself that you are making a difference by working for a company that is already for profit and that will prefer customer convenience over solving real world problems.

To reach your goal, here are my two cents: get one year of experience under your belt. Depending on the company, you may be able to cruise just by shadowing the other PM, learning from them and executing similarly to them with attention to detail. A year or two in, you can literally double your salary by getting a PM job in another company.

If you open LinkedIn and look at the majority of PMs profiles, you will find what I’m talking about reflected on their resumes.

I find it sad, but given that most of the tech companies, or for profit companies out there can but won’t try to solve the problems that would leave humanity better off, but instead add an extra half inch to a phone screen or something similarly stupid when compared to competing on anti-rape technology or an ape-brain-proof way to reduce consumer consumption makes me feel no anger or judgement against someone who just wants to maximize their salary working in those companies.

I hope I helped in any way.

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I worked in manufacturing (mostly automotive, medical device, and store displays). PMs from what I saw were more along the lines of the consumer packaged goods type (possibly closer to product marketing manager in software?). The people responsible for the product (design, manufacture, deliver, support) were (traditional) engineers that had come up through the design ranks.

Possibly this is company and sector dependent like most things, but did you see any of this differentiation?