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T-shaped product managers

 

Product management is a diverse role that attracts people from different backgrounds. It's fair to say that anyone could be a product manager. In the series of articles, I've described the most common transitions and offered a few tips for aspiring PMs. 

When you become a PM your background can keep serving you and making you more successful. However, good PMs are never comfortable with what they know. Good PMs are always on the lookout for that next thing to learn or an area to improve. But the options are so plenty, how would you decide what to learn?

Reading about product management you could come across the term T-shaped PM. What is it? 

PMs are expected to be generalists -  knowing how to solve their customers' problems in a way that works for the organisation they work in. However, often there is a desire for a PM to have a depth of knowledge in a particular, specific domain. For example: a PM that specialises in product design, or a research-oriented PM, or perhaps a technical PM for API-based product. As a player on a football team, you know the rules and can comfortably attack or defend. However, to become great you also need an edge, something you do best. When this something aligns with your team's needs - you can go on winning. 

If you're switching to product management - your previous role might define the shape of your "T". A developer PM could be great at finding solutions and building them. A marketing PM might be super useful in the growth stage. A project management PM could align a complex portfolio and lead its improvement. It doesn't mean you're a hostage to your background. If you didn't enjoy what you were doing before - you'll have an opportunity to redefine yourself as a PM. 

Another way to shape your "T" is through the industry experience. Even if nowadays there is less demand for industry experience, it could be your PM advantage. Especially in tricky markets (regulated ones, or niches). It's quite often to see someone getting their first PM job on the back of their impressive industry experience. Considering they'll like their new job and will receive sufficient support to learn the trade - they could become outstanding product people. 

T-shaped PMs often have an advantage over pure generalists. It's still not easy to assess PMs, especially during a recruitment process. So often companies start with specific expertise they want a new PM to possess and go from there. Being a T-shaped PM makes you naturally appealing to some companies, industries and products. 

Obviously, it's great if you actively work on your T-shape. You can increase the breadth of your knowledge as a PM or/and you can go deeper into a particular domain to specialise. As with most things, it's probably best to aim for a balanced approach in making your T wider and taller. 


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