Do You Have What it Takes to be a Product Manager?


Experience Requirements for Product Management

Once again, let's define what a product manager is.

The product manager is an extremely important person in an organization. You will typically find product managers at companies that build software or products for customer or business-to-business (B2B) use.

The product manager is basically the CEO of the product. They are responsible for the strategy and road map for the product, as well as the team of employees that are involved in every step of making the product.

The product manager has the responsibility of analyzing the markets and watching the competition, and laying out the initial product vision based on his assessments. The product manager has duties that are both strategic and tactical, and must have excellent leadership skills. He must be able to bridge the gaps between the many different teams working on a product, from design and engineering to sales and marketing.

Want to know some famous product managers?

Here are just a few you may have heard of:

  • Steve Jobs – Founder of Apple

  • Bill Gates – Founder of Microsoft

  • Larry Page – Co-Founder of Google

  • Jeff Bezos – Founder of Amazon

  • Michael Dell – Founder of Dell

  • David Filo – Founder of Yahoo

  • Steve Case – Founder of America Online

  • Larry Ellison – Founder of Oracle

Impressive, huh? Now many of the above didn't have the title of product manager, as they were in small start-ups. But they were product managers that saw their products from inception to completion (and the above, all very successfully!)

The job of product manager is one that reaches into several different fields. The product manager is part marketer, part salesman, part manager, part engineer, and part operational manager. As a product manager, you can choose to go into many different fields if you decide to advance past product management.

Education Requirements for Product Managers

Now, in the above list of famous product managers, many of those men dropped out of college, or didn't attend at all. While becoming a product manager without having a college degree is possible, it is unlikely. And if you are considering becoming a product manager, plan on getting an education.

Most companies will only hire product managers that have their bachelor's degree. Most product managers have their degrees in some type of business discipline, such as management or marketing. Some recruiters might require a master's of business administration, or MBA, when being considered for a PM position. This isn't always the case.

If you have a strong background in business or marketing, it is very possible to get a product management job without an MBA. If you can prove you have excellent analytical skills and demonstrated leadership on the job, then you are already ahead of the game.

Advanced college degrees can also be valuable from other disciplines, such as computer science and engineering. Someone who works as an engineer on a development team could easily become a product manager, especially if the product is a successful one. Just think, anyone would hire the product manager for the iPhone!

Getting Started

You cannot be a product manager without first having worked on a product management team. Probably the most difficult part of becoming a product manager is getting hired to work on your first product management team, and then getting the opportunity to demonstrate managerial and leadership skills.

This usually will not happen straight out of college. You will need some demonstrated experience in business-related work, like finance or marketing. You also can have experience from other fields, such as engineering and programming, but you will have to prove you are able to work as a part of a team. Engineers and programmers generally work alone, and a key to product management is working as a team.

If you want to become a product manager, it is never too early to start gaining the skills and knowledge you'll need to eventually be a product manager. You definitely need to have a strong knowledge in the three most important competencies of a good product manager.

1 – Best practices for user experience

2 – Understanding the basics of web design

3 – Working knowledge of web development

And the above don't have to be learned in a classroom. You can learn web development online and join professional groups. There are even great books that can help you learn and gain skills. Using social media sites like LinkedIn can also be a great way to learn more about the industry, and find people who are able to mentor you while you are in the learning and growing process.


There are any certifications available for product managers, some of which are more valuable than others. Here are the main certifications, as well as the requirements for each.

Pragmatic Marketing

Pragmatic Marketing is probably the most well-known certification for product managers. Being certified by Pragmatic Marketing means you have taken their courses and can demonstrate a certain level of knowledge in product management.

The certification does NOT mean a job candidate is more experienced or qualified for a job position, it only means they passed the tests necessary to become certified. It doesn't substitute for product management experience or teach everything that is required to be a successful product manager. Also, anyone can register, study for, and sit for the exam. It doesn't have any educational or experience requirement.

Pragmatic Marketing has six levels of certifications. You can be Pragmatic Marketing Certified Level One (PMC-I) – through Level Six (PMC-VI). The level of certification depends on how many of the exams you take and pass.

Pragmatic Marketing offers six exams. After you pass the first exam, you become Pragmatic Marketing Certified Level One. Once you pass two exams, you become Pragmatic Marketing Certified Level Two, and so on.

The six exams they offer are:

Foundations teaches how to understand the market, minimize risk, and effectively use your team.

Focus teaches how to find opportunities and build credibility.

Build teaches how to work with different departments and focus on the team.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Product Management course?

Market teaches how to understand buyers and what they want in products.

Launch teaches how to create marketing programs that help successfully launch products.

Price teaches how to determine what the market is willing to pay for a product.

The Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM)

The AIPMM is another certifying organization for product managers. The AIPMM offers five certifications, all of which can be obtained after passing an AIPMM administered exam.

Certified Product Manager (CPM)

This certification determines that an individual agrees to adhere to certain standards set by the AIPMM and that they have a commitment to the career of product manager. The CPM certification is one of the most well-known in the industry, and is also recognized internationally.

The individual with the CPM certification demonstrates an understanding of the product lifecycle. It also demonstrates product management skills and knowledge of:

  • Building case studies

  • Writing business plans

  • Market planning

  • Competitive analysis

  • Project plans for each major activity

  • Product specifications

  • Developing product launch plans

  • Product Lifecycle Project modeling

  • Phase-Gate Process modeling

  • Product/Market Data modeling

Certified Product Marketing Manager (CPMM)

The CPMM furthers the knowledge learned in the CPM exam, and focuses on product marketing. The individual with the CPMM certification demonstrates an understanding of product marketing. It also demonstrates product marketing management skills and knowledge of:

  • Strategic and tactical marketing functions

  • Building and executing marketing plans and budgets

  • Managing the creation of marketing deliverables

  • Creating marketing campaigns to drive customer acquisition and revenue

  • Assessing the market, clients, competition, and trends

  • Evaluation of relevant data

  • Translating insights into business, product, or service opportunities

  • Measuring and analyzing product and business performance

  • Recognizing and recommending opportunities for improvement

Agile Certified Product Manager Exam (ACPM)

This certification demonstrates an advanced knowledge of Agile product management. Those who pass the exam must fully understand Agile and how to apply its concepts to real-life situations. It also demonstrates knowledge of:

  • Agile development (Scrum, XP, Lean)

  • Release management and planning

  • Documentation

  • Organizing around Agile launches

  • Road Mapping

  • Distributed/larger teams

  • Integrating Agile within a traditional product process

Scrum Alliance

The Scrum Alliance offers certifications for those who wish to work in software development using Agile and Scrum methodologies.

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

This certification allows the holder to help teams use Scrum. They understand Scrum and its core values, and can demonstrate an expertise above and beyond other product and project managers. CSMs are able to help Scrum teams work together and better learn the Scrum framework.

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

This certification allows the holder to fulfill the role of product owner on the Scrum team. The product owner is basically the same as the product manager; the term owner is simply used in the Agile and Scrum methodologies.

CSPOs are usually on the business side of the project, and are responsible for getting the product produced, and satisfying the needs of all the stakeholders. They also maintain the product backlog and make sure everyone knows which tasks take priority.

One thing to remember about these certifications is that there are no prerequisites for sitting for the exams. So, anyone can study and take the exams -- even someone with no experience in product management. Because of that, these certifications don't hold the same weight as certifications in other industries, such as project management.

In addition, currently, none of the above certifications require any continuing education or requirements for recertification. That could change, but those with existing certifications could be grandfathered in and not responsible for continuing education.

However -- and this is important -- when applying for jobs, you normally submit a resume through a website to a company's human resources department. Before a human ever sees your resume, it undergoes a scan looking for certain industry key words and terms. Often, these certifications are picked up in these searches, and therefore, having them can give you a better chance of getting a job with large companies.

Many companies will offer to pay for you to obtain certifications, especially once you have proven yourself as a successful manager. Many companies are also willing to partially, or completely, pay for advanced education, such as master's degrees, for employees who show promise and loyalty.

Salaries and Job Descriptions of Product Managers

Product managers can make an extremely competitive salary. Salary is obviously determined by many factors, such as experience, certifications, and location.

Product Managers

The product owner title is for those product managers that work in the Agile or Scrum development methodologies. There are product managers for software that don't work in Agile, and they make a hefty salary.

Product managers for software are tasked with managing a software product from inception to completion. They are the conduit between the customer and the company, and they help form the product vision.

In their job they are responsible for facilitating the communication between all the internal and external parties involved in the development of the software. They consistently meet with the customer to make sure the software is being developed to their satisfaction, and to listen to any feedback the customer may have. They also work with the marketing team in order to devise ways to sell the software and features to customers and consumers.

Product managers must be able to optimize the development process, and, if necessary (based on company size), create a business plan to sell and market the product. They often are required to attend industry meetings to stay on top of current trends, which may require some travel. It is a full-time job that will report to the head of software development in their company.

For this position you generally need a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field. Furthermore, since it is a position that requires you to manage a team, managerial experience is required. It also helps if you have certifications, and they can usually account for a good bump in salary.

Product managers must have excellent communication skills, since that is their primary responsibility, communicating with both customers on the outside and the team and stakeholders on the inside. They should also have great presentation skills and preferably be proficient in at least one programming language.

The average salary for a product manager in software development is currently $89,516 per year.

Senior Project Managers

The senior project manager is one that has additional experience to a regular project manager, and one that handles larger projects for a company. They have proven leadership skills and a broad knowledge of technical processes and business strategies.

Senior product managers usually make a six-figure salary, approximately $116,000 per year. In addition, since they hold a managerial role, they are often eligible for large performance bonuses and profit sharing plans. Large companies, especially those in the tech field, offer excellent bonuses, from free company cars, to free lunch and laundry services.

A successful senior product manager can advance to higher paying positions, such as vice-president of product management, and can even advance higher. Some product managers choose to move into marketing, and advance to marketing director roles.

Product Owner

Product owners are basically product managers who work within the Agile software development framework. The product owner is a leadership role that is required to manage a software product from inception through completion. The product owner must have good technological skills, and be an effective communicator with those both inside and outside of the company.

The product owner will manage the product development team, as well as the ScrumMaster or Agile professional. They will help develop the road map for the product, and work through the entire development process with the software development team. The product owner is often seen as the CEO of the product.

The product owner must be able to effectively communicate the needs and wants of the customer to the team, and be able to report back to the customer throughout the development process. He will also work with other departments, such as market and sales.

The product owner position usually requires a bachelor's degree in a computer-related discipline. More and more companies and recruiters are looking for product owners who have their master's of business administration (MBA). This position requires at least five years of product management experience, and at least two years working with a Scrum or Agile team.

Product owners earn, on average, around $85,000 per year, and can be eligible for production and performance bonuses. They are also often eligible for company profit sharing plans.

For Certified Scrum Product Owner's (CSPO), the average salary is around $100,755. In this case, the certification makes a very large difference when it comes to salary. And of course, salaries range depending on geographical location.

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

While the CSM is not a product owner, he is a part of the team, and therefore we will include the position in our summary. CSMs are usually seen as engineering jobs. The ScrumMaster is responsible for leading the product team in its use of Scrum, and facilitating the Agile methodology approach.

The Certified ScrumMaster will arrange all Scrum meetings, sprints and product demos. On a day-to-day basis, he will develop and maintain all Agile and Scrum training for the team, and find ways to improve or speed up existing processes.

Certified ScrumMasters work with engineers, production, PMs, and logistical employees, and will report to the head of engineering. The job usually requires 10 years of experience, and the certification is mandatory. CSMs must obviously be well experienced with Agile and Scrum, be excellent communicators, and be capable of working in a team environment.

Certified ScrumMasters earn approximately $87,567 per year, and usually don't have more than 20 years experience.

While the ScrumMaster is seen as an engineer and a part of that department, it doesn't mean they can't advance past that to other departments. ScrumMasters who work closely with their team can learn other disciplines, and this can help with positions in other fields. And most importantly, it can demonstrate that you have strong leadership and managerial skills, which are often very difficult skills to get in the workplace.

Career Advancement Strategies

Where can the product manager go? Lots of places!

The product manager is an important position that demonstrates a series of skills required for top management and executive positions. A product manager could advance into marketing, sales, or project management.

The product manager with about 10 years experience can be promoted to a senior product manager, which pays over six-figures per year. From there, senior product managers can take a few different pathways to the top.

They can advance to the marketing director position, and eventually the vice-president of marketing. They can stay in product management, and advance to the director of product management for a company. The director of product management can be an incredibly important position. Just think of companies like Google or Apple, and all of their products. The director of product development would be responsible for the oversight of all of those products, which is an enormous responsibility.

They can also jump over into project management, and advance to the director of project management. All of these positions are executive positions, and with enough experience, a product manager or product owner could easily find himself in the C-Suite.