Product Management is a difficult job. It’s more than just managing the product; it’s about building relationships with stakeholders, conducting research on the market, and figuring out how to get buy-in for new products. And that’s on top of all the other work you do as a Product Manager! If you’re feeling frazzled from your current role or looking for a change in direction, should you be a Product Management Consultant or Product Manager? That depends upon what type of person you are. In this blog, we will explore both options and advice to help make your decision easier.
1. Product Management Consultant
The Product Management Consultant role is very new. Product Managers are still struggling to figure out what Product Management really is, so Product Management consultants are even more of a mystery. Product Managers are hoping for help on projects but are wary of consulting firms who might take their position in the market too seriously and try to poach their employees. Product managers also know that they’re not experts at everything. They’re experts at Product Management, but maybe not marketing or design or business development. What happens if you bring someone in who tries to tell them how it’s done? Product Management Consultants can offer an external point-of-view which can be valuable, especially when working with smaller teams or inexperienced Product Managers. Product Management Consultants can also help Product Managers with the Product Marketing aspect of the role (and Product Marketers will often need help, too!)
Paulina Sliwa is Product Management Director at SAS Global services and leads client-facing Product Management consulting engagements in New York City. Product Management clients hire Product Management consultants when they are in a bottleneck, when there’s not enough capacity to do everything that needs to get done, or when their employees are inexperienced in Product Management. Paulina grew her Product Management consulting practice by bringing in experts on specific topics like UX Design, Mobile Advertising, Quantitative Analysis, etc., so that her clients wouldn’t have to go outside of their company for Product Management expertise. Product management consultants specialize in Product Management and Product Marketing, but Product Managers often need help with other business areas too. Product Managers are currently responsible for all aspects of Product Management, so it makes sense that they would eventually reach a bottleneck where they cannot do everything themselves.
“As Product Management becomes more specialized, product managers will need to lean on outside resources, including Product Management Consultants.” – Paulina Sliwa, Product Management Director SAS Global services.
2. Skills Needed To Be A Successful Product Management Consultant
Product Management Consulting is still new enough that there aren’t many guidelines on who the best candidates are or what qualifications you should have to get started. One consulting firm requires Product Management consultants to have at least three years of Product Management experience, and at least five years in Product Management is preferred. Product Management Consulting is a great way to develop your Product Management skills and expertise as well as build relationships with Product Managers across different industries.
Patti Johnson, President ProductCamp DC and Product Marketing Manager for Loudoun County Public Schools, has been a Product Management Consultant since 2013. Her first client was the Director of Product at a major social network — someone she had previously worked under. She continued her work there because she really enjoyed the product strategy work and wanted to shape the company’s direction. It also allowed her to develop her personal brand. When you’re starting out, you need to be thinking about how Product Management consulting can help your career. Product Management consultants are hired for their expertise, which means they have a responsibility to share what they know with Product Managers. Product Management Consulting has the potential to open doors to higher-level Product Management roles at any company you’re consulting for.
“As Product Management increasingly becomes more specialized, Product Managers will need access to subject matter experts outside of their organization.” – Patti Johnson, ProductManager Loudoun County Public Schools
3. How To Get Started As A Product Management Consultant
One of the best ways to start learning about Product Management is to spend some time as an intern or entry-level employee at a technology startup. You can learn about Product Management consulting by working as a Product Marketing Manager at a larger company. Product Management Consultants need to be independent and self-sufficient; they’ve got to know how to manage their own time and show clients what they can do for them. Product Management Consultants are hired because of their expertise, so the best way to get started is through your personal network
4. Why Becoming A Product Management Consultant Could Make Your Career More Flexible
Becoming a Product Management Consultant has allowed Patti Johnson to travel more freely between IBM (where she now works) and Loudoun County Public Schools (her client). Being an independent Product Management Consultant gives you the flexibility to work with multiple companies, which could help you decide where you want your Product Management career to take you next. Product management consulting offers the flexibility to work with companies in different types of Product Management — Product Managers at one company may do market research, and Product Managers at another may focus on building product features, for example.
The world is still adjusting to Product Management Consultants, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for Product Management Consultants. Every time a company decides that they need Product Management Consulting, that’s an opportunity for Product Management Consultants. It just requires that you prove yourself, which can be tough when you’re new to Product Management Consulting.
5. Why Being A Product Manager Might Be The Better Choice For You
When it comes down to it, if you are passionate about Product Management, Product Management Consulting is probably not the best choice for you. Product Management Consultants work on Product Management tasks at any company that hires them, but Product Managers are responsible for Product Management day-to-day. Product Managers may always be managing Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers, but Product Management Consultants can’t just hope to waltz into a company and start making product decisions. Product Management Consulting requires extensive Business Analysis skills (which Patti Johnson had already developed) as well as an understanding of how to sell Product Management services to clients. If you’re looking for more of a business career, becoming a Product Manager might be the better choice for you.
6. Pros And Cons Of Being A Product Manager/Product Management Consultant
Product Managers are Product Management professionals, and Product Management Consultants may be Product Management experts. Product Managers and Product Management Consultants need different skills and experiences to meet their needs. Product Managers should take care of Product Management day-to-day; Product Management Consultants can help Product Managers by doing the Product Management tasks that Product Managers don’t have time for or aren’t as familiar with. However, like all careers, there are good reasons to become either a Product Manager or a Product Management Consultant (or both!).
Being both a Product Manager and a Product Management Consultant can help you see your product from two completely different angles. The ability to see your own career from multiple perspectives can make you more successful in all Product Management fields. Product Managers and Product Management Consultants both need Product Marketing skills to succeed, so building those Product Marketing skills can help you transition between the two careers without any hesitation. Product Managers work with Product marketing professionals regularly, so understanding Product Marketing as a Product Management Consultant will help you understand what they’re doing and why.
A career as a Product Manager or Product Management Consultant is going to be hard work. If making tough decisions, managing people, and using your expertise wasn’t hard enough, becoming a Product Manager or Product Management Consultant requires even more dedication. However, for those willing to put in the time and effort to become either a Product Manager or Product Management Consultant, there are significant opportunities for Product Management jobs and Product Management careers.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to each career path. Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for your lifestyle and work-life balance. But the one commonality between both careers? You’ll be making an impact on a company that will affect many lives! The question isn’t whether or not you should become a Product Management Consultant or Product Manager; instead, it’s which of these paths offers the most benefits for you right now at this moment in time.