Here’s the reality in today’s evolving product landscape: All paths lead to product. In my 20 years of product management, I am amazed and inspired by the diverse backgrounds of the people I meet who are involved in the product space. More than ever, professional journeys tend to be much more of a sinuous path rather than a straight line; where you go to school, come out with a degree, and do the same job for your entire career. 

However, product management is unique. It does not only allow for people from diverse backgrounds to flourish, but the nature of the craft calls for diversity. 

The path of a product manager

We all know that an effective product manager needs to combine industry knowledge with excellent communication skills. They must also have strong business acumen, an understanding of technology, and an ability to lead with influence. Those are all highly transferable skills, but the need for diverse backgrounds in product management stems from something much deeper. The definition of the work itself.

The true definition of product management goes much further than prioritizing what needs to be done next. It is really there to help every part of the organization answer the most difficult questions.  

A PM’s path to organization-wide impact

For engineering, the question is “how do you build a product that is going to be used and loved by customers?” For marketing, it sounds more like, “how can we differentiate ourselves and generate leads?” Sales must understand how to win against specific competitors with the product being featured. Support needs product managers to help simplify the customer experience, creating ambassadors for the organization. Even finance’s tough question of “How do we make revenue and manage costs?” is answered with product managers’ help. 

As a result, it should be no surprise that product managers come from an infinite number of backgrounds and fields of expertise. However, a product manager’s background and experience will inevitably impact how they approach the craft. Their backgrounds will influence which questions they are more comfortable helping to answer. If they are not careful, they may even be biased toward prioritizing those questions over others. And that can lead to problems down the road.  

How to lead as a product leader

To win with your strengths as a product manager, your original background is most likely your area of mastery. Don’t shy away from it; embrace it. If you are a growing product manager, focus on gaining experience that will solidify your weaker areas. Do not let it hold you back. However, I urge you to stop short of trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Going to this extreme will set you back and can only slow you and your product down. 

To use a very Canadian metaphor, you don’t need to try to transform the sharpshooters on your hockey team so they also become your fastest player with the puck. As long as your sharpshooter is fast enough to get to where he needs to be, both should learn to pass the puck, and your team will do great. (Don’t get me wrong, though, if you come across a player that does both, draft him ASAP!)

Where do you go from here?

First, if you are considering a career in product management, I have good news. There is room for your skills, no matter your background. So stop hesitating and jump in. I promise it will be fun and rewarding!

If you manage a product team, take time to reflect on how the different backgrounds of your product managers complement each other. The perfect product manager may not exist, but getting the right mix of backgrounds and diversity on your team and fostering great collaboration may be the next best thing.

About the speaker
Patrick Charbonneau MEDFAR Solutions Cliniques, VP Product Management Member

A highly motivated and bilingual professional, Patrick Charbonneau boasts a rich background in product strategy, performance, and product marketing. Currently serving as the Executive Vice President of Product Management and Strategy at MEDFAR Clinical Solutions, Patrick drives the expansion strategy for primary care products, overseeing a diverse portfolio that includes EMRs, patient portals, and billing integrations. In the role of Senior Vice President of Product Management at ALAYACARE, he played a pivotal role in tripling the company's value, managing home care, residential, and R&D products. Known for his ability to optimize operational efficiency and contribute to system design, Patrick has consistently led teams to deliver profitable outcomes. With a career that includes leadership roles at TELUS HEALTH, where he directed the expansion of health benefits solutions and drove growth in the national pharmacy product portfolio. Armed with a Graduate Diploma in Management and a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering, Patrick possesses a unique blend of technical and strategic expertise. Fluent in both English and French, he excels in formulating innovative solutions aligned with business objectives. With a commitment to excellence, Patrick Charbonneau remains focused on making significant contributions in the product management field within the organizations where he serves as well as in the broader product community.

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