Domain expertise – Does it really matter to a product manager?


A week ago as I was going on trip with my family, my sister-in-law announced that she is recently given the role of a Product Manager. She was all excited about it and asked me what should be the first thing for her to work on. She started her career with a global pure-play product engineering services firm as a Software Engineer and gradually promoted to the role of Technical Lead. Myself being a Product Manager for quite sometime now, I thought this is the moment I can seize to impress my in law by sharing the experience I have gained as a product manager.

I have been working in Inside Sales domain for quite sometime now. As a Product Manager at InsideSalesBox, my job is to keep myself up to date with the best sales practices and processes, sales tech trends, evolving problems and needs of sales professionals and the next move of the competition products. You would acknowledge that as we are in this tech industry where the things are really dynamic and the new products and features come up very fast, the most pressing challenge I face to stay abreast with any such developments. Being from a Sales domain since the beginning of my career as a Business Analyst and Solution Consultant, I could pick with Inside Sales domain which I consider as a niche of Sales domain.

The advice I gave to my sister-in-law is to first build a thorough understanding of your domain. As technical lead, she has been involved in building features and functions by working on architecture and software development work. She has been working on HOW part of the problem till now. However, in her new role she would be expected to work on WHY and WHAT and WHEN part of the problem. Product Manager needs to sense the gap the customers face, what he can do to solve the problem and which solutions should be prioritise for the customers to serve him well. So I asked her to develop an understanding on the business impact of your technology on your customers. I believe if a product manager understands the domain better, she would be able to successfully chart out the process maps for the problem in question and hence work with customers to find gaps and come up with the solutions to not only plugin the gaps but add value to the whole process for accelerated business impact. If a product manager is an expert in the domain she is into, she would be able to do justice to her job as a Product Manager.

To all those, we are starting their journey as Product Manager need to work on attaining domain expertise. Say, if you are working in an e-commerce company, you need to understand e-commerce space very well. You need to know global and local e-commerce companies and their products. Understand if you deal B2B, C2C or B2C e-commerce and the user personas of those who would use your product. You need to have thorough understanding on e-commerce process and engagement lifecycle from attaining vendors who supply products/ services, syncing your e-commerce product with the vendor’s inventory, customers coming on your website, going through the items, placing order, making payments, tracking, order, vendor dispatching order, delivery boy delivering order and customer again visiting your site.

The successful are going to be those product managers who would have hold in their domain, have established community network and have gained thought leadership. In the next write-up, I will be talking about on how to gain domain expertise. Stay Tuned!

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2 thoughts on “Domain expertise – Does it really matter to a product manager?

  1. Hi Varun,
    Vladimir here. I guess the more you in-law’s role is into marketing side of a PM the more domain expertise she needs to begin with. Different companies have different view on the PM role.
    Some will name a position Product Manager but expect a person to do product ownership instead. In which case SDLC knowledge and tech skills will matter much more.
    The product manager role is still quite new to many people and organisations, so it’s good to understand their expectations.
    So although I think in general you’re right, the personal advice can be quite different on a case by case basis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • VARUN MITTAL says:

      Hi Vladimir,

      Thanks for adding other dimensions to product management skills. I appreciate it 🙂 I agree with you that its depends how a product manager role is defined within an organisation. I would overall define the expertise over a matrix of 7 dimensions – Business, Market, Product Management, Domain, Technology, Software Development Collaboration and User Experience.

      Business – Business Management Acumen with exposure/ flexibility to work across multiple functions

      Market – Market Understanding. Able to visualise market potential. Marketing and Sales aspect for a product space

      Product Management – Product Management expertise. Roadmapping, Prioritisation, Market Research, Strategy.

      Domain – Understand the problem and gaps for the domain/ industry/ practice in questions

      Technical – Exposure to technical aspects, technology behind a product User

      Software Development Collaboration – Agile/ Scrum Product Owner expertise

      Experience – User Design and Experience element is also appreciable

      I strongly believe that the weightage to be given to these 7 expertise while evaluating a PM for a product depend on the product itself. For e.g., for a technical backend product in PAAS space to used by other product teams would require a PM having greater technical hold as compared to user design skill. However, for an end consumer application like Facebook, a much more weightage will be given to User Experience design over technical.


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