If you’re reading this, you might be asking yourself, “Should I get a product management certification?”
And I’ll give you the short answer: It depends.
In this post, I’d like to share a few perspectives related to this question, along with some thoughts and observations about the vendors I’m familiar with. Finally, I’ll offer my personal advice for answering the question for yourself. (That’s key: I can’t answer this for you!)
As we begin, let’s think about this like a product manager. We’ll start by evaluating the problems people are trying to solve when considering training and certification.
Why Consider Certification?
Practicing or aspiring product managers might consider product management certification for several reasons, including:
- A better understanding of the role. Regardless of what background you bring to product, your personal experience is just one perspective. In contrast, certification programs let you broaden your understanding by learning from experts.
- Becoming more effective at core tasks. Formal training takes you beyond basic context and into real-world techniques used by top performers to drive their careers forward.
- Competing with others (aka resume fodder). Some employers look for certifications; others see it as a sign of dedication to one’s craft.
- Learning business and marketing fundamentals. Those who come to product from the technology side of the organization might be lacking in these areas. Certification programs can help them “beef up” their business skills.
- Showing competence within their own organization. Other departments may view certified team members with a little more credibility.
What Benefits Does PM Certification Provide?
Now that we’ve considered why someone might pursue product certification, let’s think about what benefits this training could provide. In my view, these benefits fall into two categories:
- Business and marketing theory: Some programs teach useful marketing basics like types of markets, product launch fundamentals, Porter’s generic strategies, BCG growth-share matrix, and other models. These frameworks can come in handy when conveying ideas to colleagues.
- Confidence: This is one of the secondary benefits of knowing “how to do the job” and learning the scope of the role from an academic perspective. After all, it’s difficult to be confident when you feel like you’re still finding your way. Once you do gain confidence, you’ll be better prepared to get things done as a PM.
How Do Product Managers Obtain Training?
In general, product managers obtain training in the following ways:
- Graduate school. Many product professionals come from MBA or other graduate school programs. These provide the basics of the business side of product — P&L, marketing, etc.
- Courses that award certifications. A number of vendors have assembled training curricula to educate product people. After completing these courses, participants receive a certification.
- Certification programs without courses. These certifications are driven by the candidate’s experience in the field, not via a formal course.
- On the job. Going through product launches, sunsets, regular releases, roadmapping sessions, and negotiating with stakeholders is “trial by fire.” In my opinion, it’s the best way to really learn product.
- Books and blogs. Books have been covering the mechanics of product for years, but there has been an explosion of great books on product since the publication of Lean Startup. More to come below.
- Meetups, conferences, and unconferences. Given my history with ProductCamp Austin and ProductCamp Atlanta, this blog post would be woefully incomplete without mentioning that local in-person groups like ProductCamp are a great way to learn from experts and meet others in the same line of work.
Most practicing product managers will agree that on-the-job experience and mentorship are the two best sources of learning. The role requires relationship-building and fitting into an existing power structure, two things that can’t be codified in a book.
What Are the Major (US-Based) Product Management Certification Programs Like?
During my product career, I’ve taken part in a few product management certification programs, including some of the most popular ones.
At its core, Pragmatic teaches the Pragmatic Marketing Framework. Of the frameworks that attempt to describe the entirety of the PM discipline, this is probably the most well-known.
My experience: The training is structured very practically and the material remains useful after you complete the program. In my opinion, it emphasizes the “what” over the “how” of PM. However, Pragmatic does provide a library of resources for alumni that can help with the “how” part.
The Certified Product Manager/Certified Product Marketing Manager programs are more academic, emphasizing MBA-level academic material like the BCG matrix, marketing mix, and many others. I trained for these using courses provided by the 280 Group.
My experience: In some ways, these courses addressed the gap I felt from not getting an MBA. Unfortunately, the tools are quickly forgotten unless you use them in your day-to-day work. Like Pragmatic, AIPMM offers a library of tools and resources for alumni.
Unlike other vendors, Proficient focuses on product portfolio management. The program addresses the B2B buyer’s strategic business goals, with solutions that may span multiple products. This is in contrast to a siloed approach, with a product to solve every problem.
My experience: While I have not completed Proficientz training, I’ve sat through a half-day mini session, courtesy of Technology Association of Georgia, and learned a great deal.
What Other Training Sources Are There?
- The Product Development and Management Association offers the New Product Development Professional certification. PDMA is an older organization than the ones I mentioned above and tends to have (in my experience) more of a presence in consumer product goods companies.
- Blackblot is an international company that operates in the USA and Europe, with partners in other regions. They provide training and certification programs that are based on the PMTK® product management methodology.
- Tarigo offers three levels of training with a comprehensive three-day course, leadership training, and a “masterclass.”
Of course, there are also schools with physical campuses offering courses in PM, like General Assembly and Product School.
In addition, universities are finally offering product management courses. For example, Carnegie Mellon offers a Master of Science in Product Management. UC Berkeley offers a six-week certificate, Boston University provides a course through EdX, and the Institute of Product Leadership offers an Executive MBA in Product Management.
Books and Training by Product Bloggers and Authors
You can learn a lot by reading about product management and related disciplines. Here are some of my favorite titles:
- “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore
- “Inspired” by Marty Cagan
- “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis
- “Escaping the Build Trap” by Melissa Perri
- “Sales EQ” by Jeb Blount
- “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper
- “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
- “Good To Great” by Jim Collins
- “Lean Product Playbook” by Dan Olsen
- “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss
- “The Art of Product Management” by Rich Mironov
- “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr
- “Obviously Awesome” by April Dunford
- “Building a StoryBrand” by Donald Miller
- “Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen
Some of these authors – notably Melissa Perri, Marty Cagan, Rich Mironov, and Dan Olsen — write and speak frequently about the challenges of software product management and leadership.
- ProductCamp was founded as an “unconference” using the Barcamp model. Since 2008/2009, the series has been among the most successful of the BarCamp spinoffs.
- Industry – The Product Conference
- Product Management Festival
- Product School’s ProductCon
- Pendo’s ProductCraft
- And more!
A number of podcasts cater to product management professionals. They deliver entertaining interviews and relevant insights for product practitioners. I recommend the following:
- Product People
- This Is Product Management
- Product Love
- Product Science
Agile Product Owner Training
To confuse matters more, the Scrum Alliance offers a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) certification. This program harkens back to the confusion between the product management profession and the product owner role. Please note that product owner maps to some – but not nearly all – of what a product manager does. I wrote about the working relationship between those roles in a guest post for Aha.io, “The Product Manager vs. Product Owner.”
Women In Product
Finally, we’d be remiss if we did not highlight organizations that help underrepresented communities in tech. Women in Product elevates the visibility of and career opportunities for women in the field of product management.
What Value Does PM Certification Provide a Candidate?
Now, let’s get back to the topic of product management certifications. How much value do hiring managers assign to a certification? Can a certification really help your career?
In the early phases, the PM role can seem overwhelming. Attending a course provides context and useful information, along with a professional network for the budding PM to bounce ideas off of.
But getting certified isn’t the full answer. Years ago, Jeff Lash asked, “Should I get Product Management Certification?” The guidance here — in the form of a response by Scott Sehlhorst — still resonates:
“When I’m interviewing a product manager candidate, I don’t care if he or she has any certifications. I care a little bit about what they know (what skills do they have), and a lot about what they will be able to learn.”
To me, certifications are an asterisk. They suggest a possible drive to be better at one’s craft. However, that conclusion can only be drawn by looking at other attributes as well. For all a hiring manager knows, it could just be resume filler. That said, willingness to pursue certification isn’t something the unmotivated will likely demonstrate.
Ultimately, I view certification as a “nice to have,” but not critical. It’s not a “must-have.”
In the parlance of product management, what problem are you looking at certification to help solve? And is certification the best way to solve it?