Ever applied for a Product Management role because you love the Domain, even if the Product needs are not quite a perfect fit?
Ever sought to fill a role where you need robust Product Leadership, and don’t really care about Domain Expertise?
Graphing Domain Expertise vs. Product Expertise helps clarify the needs for a given role, and conversely to understand more about what drives PM candidates
This simple model comes up so often, I feel it worthy of a post and a quick graphic. This one is handy and bite-sized. You can take it as deep as you find helpful.
Sometimes a role calls for deep Domain Expertise, sometimes you need deep Product Expertise, and sometimes a role calls for both. Thinking about these dimensions helps to clarify what to look for during the vetting process. It can also help understand what kind of a Product Manager you are getting to know.
Some PMs lead with Product Management as their interest, skill set, and passion. They may or may not have deep expertise in a given Domain. Just as valid, but a different sort of PM, are those who are passionate about a given Domain and have found that being a PM allows them to work in that Domain in a satisfying role. This might be a former Developer who found that being a PM allowed more say over the direction of the product, without getting too far from the coding and delivery.
This model easily adjusts to being relative to the level of experience being considered. It works for PMs with minimal experience, up through Senior Leadership roles. A Sr. PM seeking to fill a role needing deep Domain Expertise might be expected to at least bring along a core set of PM competency to fill the role, and hopefully a thirst to develop more. A great PM may bring the leadership you need, but you will likely expect them to quickly ramp in the Domain and become the Subject Matter Expert in due time.
What about the Magic Quadrant? What about the Stars? Sometimes as the Hiring Manager you are fortunate to come across a candidate who exceeds expectations on both dimensions (or have a role that will require excellence in both). These candidates are often few and far between. When you find them, they are stars for the role, and will likely accelerate fast within the Org. Likewise, as a candidate, an opportunity to contribute deeply to both dimensions is a really great challenge and worthy of consideration.
For what it is worth, Domain Experience is not always necessary, or even a good thing. Amazon is a terrific example of a company who manages great success with PMs having little or zero experience in the Domain they get assigned (often on a rotation through multiple new domains). It is easier to think laterally and outside the box, when you don’t even know where the box is. Which gets me to my final tie-breaker. I’d take a career PM who loves building Product over deep Domain Expertise, all other things equal, if forced to choose. Domain Expertise is much more readily taught, and quickly, while Product Management Expertise is largely experiential and earned.