Business of Product Management Certifications in India


Disclaimer – I am an MBA from IIM Bangalore and hence my views are biased towards the efficacy of the business education I got at my alma mater. I also went through a company funded “Pragmatic Marketing” product management certification.

Some years earlier, as part of my MBA interviews, I had prepared for a standard question – Do you think a MBA education is really critical for doing business? The obvious answer was no, but the trick was to justify for why I was putting so much rigor and efforts to get into an institute of repute. A classic oxymoron situation that required the need to introspect.

Circa, 2011, and after a degree and my preferred career in product management, I see this question once again in a notionally different form. Is product management certification important? If yes why? If not why? Some difficult questions indeed and highly contextual if one looks at the internet chatter (specifically linkedIn)

As I have gone through some of the marketing chatter and aspirants questions, I figured out there were following broad issues and each one of them merited a closer examination. Even the entire business is being factored along these questions.

Product Management Education - Needs and Players

Product Management Education - Needs and Players

What is product management anyways? – Frankly, one of the most valuable take away from any kind of certification based education is understanding the product management framework. As my professor in one of the electives at IIMB once remarked, “Product management is an eclectic and fuzzy space, it means everything and even then one may not be required or entrusted to do everything”. Private players (Pragmatic, Adaptive, Blackblot etc) have varied frameworks but definitely help an organisation or community to operate in a language using the same “grammar”. For beginners and aspirants it gives them a solid anchor to chart their voyage.

So far so good, however the grammar becomes effective only if an entire organisation adopts to it. Many players, varying language and hence it would be still some time where a neutral practitioner body co-opts such frameworks and a standard is adopted.

Would such certifications lead you to a better Job/Salary? –

Most obvious answer to this question would be the classic MBA’ism “It Depends”. It truly depends on who you are?

And more importantly, which part of the target market segment you belong to.

If you are a aspirant , the training is most likely not going to get you that job. At best it would be an hygiene factor if you already being considered for other reasons (more often product/domain expertise). As it stands in India, this constitutes the largest target segment from a training fraternity point of view with personal money at stake.

If you have just started in the product management role, such trainings are tailor made for you. More often than not it would help you hit the ground running. An MBA is clearly long term investment not compatible with immediate objectives. This is the second largest target segment for the training fraternity and clearly with the most amount of funding.

If you are somebody who has been on technical side of product management, and moving on to handle business side of things, your expectations would  be marginal to aspirational depending on how much on the job learning you had, however you would still be part of second largest target segment albeit corporate funded.

Is the training enough?

Product management is a multifunctional role requiring understanding of marketing, finance, general management to even organizational skills. And if you happen to be in consumer space, it may even require deeper expertise of many other subjects like market research, consumer behavior, data modeling and advertising. At the very least you might have to hone up your financial skills to do basic things as writing  a business plan.

Evidently, none of them is ever covered or intentioned to be covered in certification courses on product management. Learning in business operations is clearly a long term requirement and an MBA or regular intensive education (self learned or through specialized topical trainings) would ideally fit the bill. At best knowledge gained through trainings and certifications would open the eyes for need for them.

One size fits all?

Product management, specifically for high tech products, is an imported framework with crying needs to local adaptation. In fact, the context of emerging markets provides for a different sets of needs for this market. As of now, the feedback loop from trainees has just begun to flow back into trainers and hopefully we would see adaptation.

The crux of the matter is that simple juxtaposition of ideas suiting for global audience may not work for the local context. For most, the local markets are still evolving and they have the arduous task of being based out of India while work with markets that are a full time zone away.

Challenges ahead for product management trainers

As is evident, product management is a fledging and evolving eco-system in India and product management trainers would need to progressively asses opportunities and priorities. As described in the 2*2 matrix above, there is a need of contextualized, localized training (even at a beginner level) for a completely un-represented segment and unquenched want/need. On the other hand some of the offerings would be required to be offered for specialized needs of experienced practitioners.

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Posted on August 12, 2011, in Indian Software Industry, Product Management and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Well said Alok,,,,

    I am convinced that the entire concept of ‘MBA’ or for that matter even ‘Project Management’ are concepts that were ‘marketed’ by US universities in the late 60s and are still going strong.

    I’ll give you an example, when I was working for KPMG, I was shocked to find out that none of the Partners were actually MBA’s.. Some of them had masters degrees in various fields but hardly any MBAs.

    While speaking to the CEO, KPMG Australia, he said to me that, he ‘ hates its when people come up to him tell him that they are an MBA’. For him MBA was in-fact an art of “Mastering Business Acumen” and that he said was something that a 2 yr degree can’t teach. Anyway, that said… I am all for a Product management education and certification… keep blogging…

  2. I would appreciate if you got a little more specific with a case study model to make this interesting. Right now, these are thoughts all over the place, they need to get a lot more practical!

    • Thanks for your comments. There are no public data available for a case study basis, most of the thoughts are still conceptual and early stage. I am looking for arguments for and against to build up the case.

  3. Hi Alok ,
    Just read you blog. My 2 cents .
    There are two ways to build a career
    a) By Having practical knowledge.
    b) Through the right academic degrees.

    Sadly a) is very neglected in Indian scenario.Often persons who have been one side of the product could associate with the other side of it. Say a product developer would have seen the product manager more closely than some body who worked in a consulting industry.Some of the product developers could also turn themselves into product managers without an MBA or a certification.Most companies tend to hire some product managers from outside rather than allowing seasoned developers, who are more comfortable with the technical and business of the company.

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