Best Practice Area ProdBOK Product Management

Product Manager: From Occupation to Profession

Written by Paula Gray

Though the process of creating and selling goods and services has been around for millennia, Procter & Gamble is generally credited with the concept of managing products and brands.  They first introduced the idea in 1931 with the launch of the “brand man” role and occupation.

The role remained a largely ad hoc occupation until the forming of the Association of International Product Marketing & Management (AIPMM) in 1998 with the goal of bringing awareness to the occupation of product manager and support to the individuals.  The PDMA had existed since 1976 however, their focus was strictly on new product development and left a gap serving those who managed products in market.

Long before blogs existed, the AIPMM launched the first product manager community forums and promoted the first of the product management books.  The early book list including Lehman and Winer’s “Product Management” (1994), Gorchel’s “The Product Manager’s Handbook” (1996), Dver’s  “Software Product Management Essentials” (2003), and Haines’ “Product Manager’s Desk Reference” (2008) among others.

The AIPMM also promoted the early pioneers in product management training including Brian Lawley, Steve Johnson, Linda Merrick, Mara Krieps, John Mansour, Linda Gorchels and Steven Haines.  This early group stepped up to help other product managers in the formation of what would become the groundswell that we see today.

Part of the driving force for creating the AIPMM association was to act not only as an advocate for the occupation of product manager but also to bring order and consistency where there was a disconnect in the methodology.  This unification and clarity would ultimately help elevate the occupation of product manager to the status of “profession.” Professions differ from occupations in that they have undergone a specific trajectory, met established criteria and are elevated in status and influence.  Two of the key defining factors of a profession, according to the late sociologist, Harold Wilensky, is the establishment of a professional association and then a certification based on the association’s body of knowledge (Wilensky 1964).

In 2004 the AIPMM launched the association’s first official certification credentials for product managers and product marketing managers with the Certified Product Manager (CPM) and Certified Product Marketing Manager (CPMM) designation.  The vast body of knowledge that the AIPMM had gathered and analyzed from product managers around the world served as the basis for the certification.  The AIPMM designed the certification process for the individual product manager to demonstrate both a mastery level of 1) the knowledge of standardized best practices and 2) the application of them as well.  The AIPMM then later published “The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge® (ProdBOK®)” in 2013.

By 2004, with the launch of the certification, product managers had seen much more awareness and visibility leading to a booming cottage industry of consultants and trainers eager to promote their own unique version of the product management process.  The certification credentials and publishing of the ProdBOK® were designed to ensure that the focus of product managers was on the knowledge of standardized best practices and to reduce the “noise” of the ad hoc methodologies that served to keep the occupation disjointed and inconsistent.

Andrew Abbott, noted sociologist, defines a profession as “holding the jurisdiction” for both executing specific tasks and for the knowledge required to do it successfully.  Abbot breaks the jurisdiction into three parts where an occupation “claims to classify a problem, to reason about it, and to take action on it” (Abott 1988).  The concept of jurisdiction is important for product managers because the process of managing and marketing products does have some overlap with other occupations.

The AIPMM’s development of the Seven Phase Product Life Cycle™ and the standardized best practices and certification around it were a huge step in establishing the “jurisdiction” for product managers.  Each product manager that earns a certification adds to the strength of the jurisdictional boundaries of the profession.  Occupations that don’t successfully achieve jurisdictional boundaries are not elevated to the status of a profession, and worst case, are simply absorbed into other occupations.

Certification clearly benefits the individual product manager and the profession as a whole, while it also benefits products, product lines, and entire organizations.  When a Certified Product Manager® oversees a product or product line, they are operating with not only an understanding of best practices but also how to improvise and adjust when needed.  They become an even more valuable asset to the organization as their credibility grows, which does well to reflect upon the profession.

So when an individual earns the AIPMM certification credentials, they are in effect claiming the jurisdiction that the AIPMM has been advocating for since 1998.  Not only does the individual product manager benefit from demonstrating their mastery of best practices, but the entire profession benefits as yet another individual has assumed their rank as “professional.”  Many people have been working for many years to see this dynamic role elevated to its rightful rank as a profession.

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.