Product Managers: Are You Really Investing in Your Career?

In the two decades I’ve been a proud citizen of the corporate world as an employee and then a consultant, I’ve found myself underwhelmed by the professional development opportunities offered by most organizations. Mature organizations have processes that ensure you set goals and are measured against them, but most of the time I felt they were designed to convince my employer that I was performing at an expected level rather than to encourage me to grow as a professional. Generally, the former will contribute to the latter, but the focus of the process was clear and it wasn't my career.

We as product managers should have special insight into career management as, in many respects, managing your career is like managing your product. You need a clear vision supported by measurable objectives, you need to prioritize investments in its development and then do your part to promote yourself in your "market" (your employer and prospective employers).

It is the idea of investing that is a common stumbling block for product managers (and most professionals). Through feedback I've gotten anecdotally from different sources, it is clear that most PMs feel like their organization is NOT investing sufficiently to ensure the type of professional growth they expect. In some geographies and companies, no budget is available for taking courses, attending events, etc. While free professional development activities like reading books and blogs exist, they should be part of a broader program which includes high-value, focused development opportunities, guided by people more experienced than ourselves; however, these opportunities come at a financial cost.

Who defrays this cost raises interesting questions. Many people are conditioned to expect their employer to fund most of their professional development. Sadly, many others expect nothing. Have you thought about how much you invest personally in financial terms in your career each year? If spending a paltry 1% to 2% of your salary could significantly accelerate your career growth, would you invest it? At a purely rational level, I believe most PMs would say that such an investment would be worthwhile. If we simply measure the value of accelerated increases in salary, we could easily come to the conclusion that the economic value is quite high. I therefore find it interesting that in most cases, this investment is not being made. Those who have no support from their employer tend to invest more, but is this investment commensurate with potential return?

I would like to challenge you to consider deeply these two things:

  1. Thinking about your career like a product can be powerful. Much of what you know as a PM can help you frame what you need to do to accelerate and maximize your income (both financial and "psychic")
  2. If you approach it intelligently, a small investment relative to your annual salary can accelerate your growth, maximize your impact and make you a happier professional

career.pm is dedicated to providing you the highest possible return on your career development investment. We’re looking forward to taking this journey together.