Career Advancement in Domain Expertise vs. Generalist PM Roles

Welcome to our Product Newsletter, a biweekly email highlighting top discussions, and learning resources for product managers.

What We Will Cover In This Edition:-

Top Discussions: 

1) Should PMs be jack of all trades?

2) Is it possible to become an expert on a product, or do product managers always have to be generalists?

3) Which PM role offers faster career advancement and more money—domain expertise or a generalist PM role?

Top Learning Resources:

1. What Is An API?

2. How To Identify Good Design In 6 Steps

3. 10 Exercises To Train Product Thinking

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Top Discussions

Question 1Should PMs be jack of all trades?

Are you in agreement with the statement that product managers are a jack of all trades but a master of none?

Just curious to know more about it.

– Rohit Kumar

Discussion

A] Product managers must be able to adapt quickly and think strategically, but they also need to have a deep understanding of the products they are managing in order to be successful in their role. By continuously improving their expertise and staying up-to-date with industry advancements, product managers can ensure that they are equipped to make informed decisions and guide their teams effectively. While specialists may have more in-depth knowledge of a specific area, generalists can bring a broad perspective and versatility to their role, allowing them to pivot and problem-solve in a variety of situations. Ultimately, both approaches have their strengths, and product managers can find success by leveraging their unique skills and experiences in the ever-evolving landscape of product management. Hence, it won’t be wrong to say that PMs are jacks of all trades.

– Jesus Rojas

B] The statement “Product managers are jacks of all trades and masters of none” reflects the perception that product managers need to have a broad skill set and be adaptable to various responsibilities. While it’s true that product managers often work across multiple disciplines and need to understand various aspects of product development, marketing, and strategy, the characterization of “masters of none” might be an oversimplification.

Product managers do need to balance a diverse set of skills, including communication, leadership, analytical thinking, and domain knowledge. They must collaborate with cross-functional teams, understand user needs, and make informed decisions. However, this doesn’t mean they lack expertise. Successful product managers often develop deep domain knowledge and become subject matter experts in their industries or product domains.

In essence, product managers are not necessarily “masters of none.” Instead, they are professionals who excel in synthesizing a range of skills to drive the success of a product. They might not be experts in every single domain, but they are certainly specialists in the unique role they play in product development and management. The ability to balance breadth and depth of knowledge is a key aspect of effective product management.

– Bina Campos

C] With regard to product managers, I believe that there are many archetypes that correspond more closely to various functions:
Technical: extensive technical skills, most likely with extensive experience in SWE. Excellent for machine learning and platform products.
User experience (UX) entails having a deep understanding of the product and the consumer. Great for items aimed at consumers.
Business – MBA types. Great for products with many stakeholders and inputs, or sales driven products.
Generalist/Entrepreneurial Product Managers are People Who Get Things Done. Excellent for initiatives that are part of a more established company’s skunkworks or that are in the early stages of a startup.
There is no denying that a generalist product manager may also be an expert in consumer goods, for instance, but the majority of product managers that I am familiar with, including myself, tend to fall into one of these categories.

– Cathryn Cui

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Question 2) Is it possible to become an expert on a product, or do product managers always have to be generalists?

Hello there, I have been working as a product manager for the last three years, and I have the impression that you learn certain frameworks. However, since this job seems to be a generalized accumulation of abilities, I am curious as to whether or not it is feasible to become an expert in this sector.

Although it is obvious that one might become an expert in a certain field, I am referring to product managers in general.
Thanks in advance

– Marco Silva

Discussion

A] Getting expertise in disciplines that are related to yours, such as design or engineering, is one method to carve out a niche for yourself. Particularly if you concentrate on a certain platform, such as the web, mobile, or virtual reality. In many cases, the finest products are those that make use of the platform’s more subtle capabilities, and PMs who are too generic will not see the value of these products.

Within the PM organization, you also have the option to specialize in a certain talent. For instance, having a strong command of SQL and putting that knowledge to use in user analytics. Alternatively, you might learn how to utilize an application programming interface (API) in a fundamental manner in order to automate chores or get answers that SQL would not provide.

– Jane Winfred

B] In this case, there is no either-or choice. PMs—even generalists have the potential to become deep specialists if they have the time, passion for the product, and interest in it. By continuously expanding your skill set and knowledge within the PM domain, you can become a well-rounded professional who is able to adapt to various challenges and opportunities. This flexibility and expertise will not only benefit your career growth but also add significant value to the products you work on. The ability to specialize in a certain talent within the PM domain allows for continuous growth and development of skills. IMO, by honing in on specific areas such as SQL or API utilization, PMs can enhance their expertise and bring added value to their role.

– Dan Coelho

C] The Growing Specialization of Product Management — Reforge is an interesting look at the increase in specialization as product has matured as a discipline. As the field of product management continues to evolve, having specialized skills will set you apart from your peers and make you a valuable asset to any organization. Embracing specialization can lead to exciting career opportunities and help you stay competitive in the ever-changing tech industry. Specializing in certain areas can also lead to increased job satisfaction and a deeper sense of fulfillment in your role as a product manager.

Additionally, having specialized skills can open doors to new and exciting projects that align with your passions and interests. In a competitive job market, having specialized skills can give you a significant advantage when seeking new opportunities. By continuously learning and improving in specific areas, product managers can position themselves as experts in their field and increase their marketability.

Overall, focusing on specific skills within product management can lead to increased job satisfaction and a more fulfilling career. It is important for PMs to continuously seek out opportunities for growth and development in order to stay relevant in the fast-paced tech industry.

– Dhiraj Mehta

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Question 3) Which PM role offers faster career advancement and more money—domain expertise or a generalist PM role?

People frequently argue in the field of product management about whether to become a generalist PM or to specialize in a specific area. Which path ultimately leads to quicker career growth and higher salaries? Is it more advantageous to have in-depth knowledge in a specific field or to have a broad skillset that can be applied to various industries? I feel these are important considerations when pondering which PM role offers the best opportunities for upward mobility and financial success.

I would appreciate your views on this, please.

– Shiyao Liu

Discussion

A] In actuality, you require both.

I want a candidate with domain expertise or an exceptionally strong track record of acquiring domain knowledge if I am seeking to recruit a more senior PM who is also an IC. In order to recruit and keep people, I am prepared to go above and beyond in terms of title and budget if it means finding someone who knows our clients and/or our users.

Adtech/health tech space. For junior folks it’s not a big deal. For managers it’s not a big deal. So if you are looking to transition to management I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

– Matthew Shun

B] Domain expertise in a specific industry can lead to faster upward mobility within that particular sector, while generalist PMs may have more flexibility to transition between industries. Salaries for domain experts tend to be higher due to their specialized knowledge and ability to drive results in a specific field. However, generalist PMs also have the advantage of being able to adapt to different industries and bring a fresh perspective to various projects.

While domain expertise can lead to faster promotions within a specific industry, generalist PMs may have more opportunities for career growth in the long run. In terms of salaries, domain experts may command higher pay initially, but generalist PMs who excel in different environments can also negotiate competitive compensation packages.

Ultimately, the choice between domain expertise and generalist skills depends on individual career goals and preferences.

– Nathan Endicott

C] Those with domain expertise in a specialized but highly regarded industry (I’m thinking of hardware or tangible products such as solar panels, robotics, bio/pharmaceutical, etc.) would earn exceptionally high salaries. On the other hand, generalist project managers who can adapt to various industries may have a more stable and diverse career trajectory. It is important for individuals to consider their long-term career goals and interests when deciding between specializing in a specific domain or developing generalist skills.

Probably a generalist, but I would also like to know what you mean by “advanced mobility”—merely attaining the position of vice president or chief executive officer. Specializing in a specific domain may lead to quicker career advancement and higher salaries in industries like advanced mobility. However, developing generalist skills can provide a more diverse range of job opportunities and long-term career stability. Ultimately, individuals should weigh the benefits of specialization versus generalization based on their personal career goals and interests.

– Dianne Stinger

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Top Learning Resources

APIs are like drive-thru windows for code, taking specific inputs and producing predictable outputs. They’re crucial in modern software development. Examples include the Google Maps API translating addresses to coordinates and the JavaScript Array. Sort API sorting numbers. The term’s usage in conversation often differs from its technical definition.

How to Identify Good Design in 6 Steps

Good design is not just about aesthetics, but involves thoughtful decisions with the end user in mind. While good designers use technical skills and principles, great designers add more to the mix, embodying what creativity truly is.

10 Exercises to Train Product Thinking

Digital Scrum Master Alex Kistenev suggests 10 brain training exercises for Product Managers. These exercises aim to boost product thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. One exercise is sketching an interface from memory to understand design choices and generate improvement ideas.

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