Anyone who tells you that ageism isn’t alive and well in the world of product management is probably under the age of 40. I have a different perspective. I grew up watching TV shows that evangelized the youth and constantly told people to “stick it to the man” or not to trust “anyone over 30.” This has likely contributed to the Western world’s view of the over 40 as people not to be respected, but as an outdated generation that should be moved aside for something bigger and better.
In terms of product management, however, this line of thinking could be giving way to disaster. In product management, you need both youth AND experience to come together to form the most powerful whole that they can possibly be for the benefit of the organization.
Product Failure Rate and Age
According to the Journal of Product Innovation and Management, the failure rate of most products comes in at somewhere around 41%. Breaking things down by industry, the lowest rate was at 35% (Capital Goods Manufacturing) and the highest was at 45% (Consumer Goods).
How is product failure rate related to age of the product manager, you might ask? By far, the number one reason for product failure is a lack of process and experience. By and large, older product managers have a deeper understanding of process and how to deliver through that process. This isn’t bias – this is called “experience.”
But Is Age Important?
Breaking things down a bit further, one recent trend in the industry involves the fact that younger product managers tend to work in two places: in startups and on applications for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Studies have shown that apps have a higher failure rate than most products and startups in general have a failure rate of 90%. According to research from Distimo, with the more than 800,000 mobile apps available in Apple Inc. ‘s App Store, only 80 of them generated more than $1 million in revenue during the fourth quarter.
Is age important? That depends on how important “not failing” is to your long-term business model.
Striking a Balance
None of this is to say that evaluation based on age is a bad thing, regardless of which side of the fence you happen to come down on. Most industries could use a new, fresh perspective in product managers and youth is one way to accomplish that. Youth naturally brings with it a much-needed change in pace and can be a great breeding ground for innovation and more.
However, industries ALSO need a seasoned, experienced product manager workforce to help keep processes flowing as efficiently as possible and to help keep failure rate as low as it can be. This in turn gives way to the biggest benefit of all: higher profitability across the board.
In the end, ageism is not a good thing in terms of product management. AGE itself, on the other hand, is. A balance MUST be struck in order to increase profits and still drive the innovation most industries need to survive the next several decades.