Are Product Management certifications worth it in 2023?
"The only thing consistent about Product Management, is the lack of consistency" — myself.
I think everyone by now, understands that what Product Manager means to one business means something else entirely to another.
The role and expectations of a product manager can vary significantly from one organisation to another, with some organisations focusing purely on the strategic aspects of product and others entirely on the delivery or product value building aspect.
Despite this, a lot of product management certifications have popped up recently promising to make you into a "certified product manager" (whatever that means). And there are some decent names behind these courses, like the Kellogg School of Management all the way to MIT.
How much do Product Management Certifications Cost and what do they cover?
There are countless Product Management Certifications out there and I won't cover them all here, but based on my research they cost anywhere from $500 to upwards of $5,000!
Generally most of the certifications take a strategy-first approach (which is a positive aspect), with an emphasis on go-to-market planning. Some of them also cover growth strategy, which is great (and is something I am quite passionate about, in fact I cover that comprehensively in my own Startup Product Management course ).
Generally the topics in these certifications cover:
- Introduction to Product
- Market Research & Sizing
- Product Strategy
- Ideation & Innovation
- Product Development & Lifecycle Management
- Go-to-Market Strategy
- UX & Design
- Stakeholder Management
- Case Studies
Now you might be impressed by that list of topics, but there a couple of things to consider. Firstly, most of these topics have good material available for free and if you're dedicated enough you can learn a lot (without paying a penny), albeit its not structured like a course or certification is. Secondly there are dozens of good Product Management Courses available on Udemy and various other platforms, that are a fraction of the cost.
Now lets find out if Product Management certifications are actually worth it!
Lets start by exploring into the ever-evolving nature of product management across different organisations and discuss why, in many cases, pursuing a certification may not be the most worthwhile use of your time. Additionally, we'll explore the pros and cons of product management certifications to help you make an informed decision and also cases where a certification might be worthwhile.
The Fluidity of Product Management Roles
As I mentioned earlier, product management looks very different from business to business. Within the same industry or sector, product managers might find themselves navigating vastly different responsibilities, depending on the company's size, culture, and product offerings. This diversity is influenced by factors such as organisational structure, industry demands, and individual company strategies.
Company Culture: The culture of an organisation plays a significant role in shaping the product management role. Some companies emphasise a highly cross-functional approach, while others prefer a more siloed, top-down hierarchy. The role of a product manager is often defined by the company's approach to innovation and collaboration. And quite often, Product Management is treated like a support function rather than the true, "leadership and innovation" function it should be (but thats my opinion).
Industry and Product Complexity: The complexity of the industry and the product itself can significantly impact the role of a product manager. In industries with rapidly evolving technologies, the product manager may need to focus more on innovation, while in more mature industries, the role may be centred around optimisation and refinement. And there are some industries, for instance, think about a Product Manager in a "legal/law tech" firm. who is probably quite disconnected from the actual "product" itself. The product in that instance is the law service provided and the "digital product" is merely a vehicle that delivers the actual product. And in some cases like this I'd argue, you really need more of a Product Delivery function rather than a classic Product Management function.
Organisational Structure: The organisational structure of a company dictates how product management integrates with other departments. In some organisations, product managers have a more strategic role, while in others, they are involved in detailed tactical decision-making.
Team Size and Resources: The size of the product management team and available resources can determine the scope of the role. Smaller teams often require product managers to wear multiple hats, while larger teams may allow for specialisation.
The Pros of Product Management Certifications
✅ Skill Validation: Certifications can validate your knowledge of product management concepts and best practices, which can be appealing to employers.
✅ Networking Opportunities: Certification programs often offer networking opportunities, allowing you to connect with industry experts and peers.
✅ Improved Job Prospects: In some cases, certifications may enhance your job prospects, especially when specific certifications are preferred or required by employers.
✅ Structured Learning: Certification programs provide a structured curriculum, ensuring that you cover key topics in product management.
✅ Credibility: Earning a certification demonstrates your commitment to the profession and can add credibility to your resume.
Cons of Product Management Certifications
❌ Lack of Tailored Learning: Certification programs offer a standardised curriculum, which may not address the unique challenges and expectations of your organisation.
❌ Evolving Industry Dynamics: Certifications may not keep pace with rapidly changing industry trends and may be based on established best practices that do not apply to your specific organisation.
❌ Emphasis on Practical Experience: In many organisations, practical experience and adaptability to specific company processes are highly valued, and certifications may not adequately address these aspects.
❌ Opportunity Cost: Pursuing a certification can be time-consuming and costly. The time and money invested might be better spent gaining hands-on experience and demonstrating results within your organisation.
Unsurprisingly as we've seen Product Management just isn't a one-size-fits-all role. The fluidity and diversity of responsibilities within the field emphasise the importance of practical experience and a deep understanding of your specific organisations needs.
While there are some instances where a product management certification can provide a competitive edge, the ever-changing landscape of Product Management across organisations makes it evident that, in many cases, such certifications may not be the most worthwhile investment.
Aspiring Product Managers should instead, focus on gaining relevant experience, catering to your organisation's unique demands and delivering incredible outcomes. For any Product Manager to be considered successful, the prerequisite is being able to deliver great outcomes. If you have the extra money for a certification, it certainly won't hurt you but I don't think it'll go as far as practical hands-on experience will. And as I covered earlier, there are cheaper alternatives to product certifications.
And for Product Managers looking to climb the career ladder. Focus on building commercial value for your business and be able to demonstrate that in your next role. Show the next hiring manager how you helped define the value proposition and the impact it had on market-fit.
Agree or disagree with my thoughts, get in touch.