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Product Management Professional Development

Jon Harmer
4 min readJan 9, 2021


Hi all, and Happy New Year! After taking a little time off to recharge, be with family, and celebrate the holidays, we’re back in the saddle again this week with the Product Growth Leaders Topic of the Week.

This week’s question was:

What was your most valuable product management professional development experience (a course, workshop, leader, coach, project, something else)?

My answer in the thread was:

My first real product management job back in 2008 was very eye opening and impactful. Learning what Product Management actually was — I had never heard of it before. And part of it was taking the Pragmatic Marketing course (was it Steve? I don’t remember!) because a number of the other PMs had taken it (and had the placemat on their walls.)

Basically, my first product job helped me frame many of my previous experiences (as a help desk agent and as a developer at CNN) in a new way around Product Management principles. Understanding the user and their problems, and not just giving them the thing they say they want, but really understanding why they think they want it. At the help desk, we had people asking us to help them do all sorts of crazy things, like deleting ALL of the .jpg files on their machine because they took up so much room — turns out many of those are system files necessary for the UI, so don’t do that. Instead, understand that they have a space issue and work on better solutions to that problem.

Pragmatic Marketing was very impactful on the group in general. Many of us had that as our first formal PM education and it helped create for all of us a framework for attaching the concepts and practices necessary to succeed. For those who didn’t list Pragmatic Marketing, usually it was one of their first PM roles that was the most impactful. For me, it was the combo. I believe this is because Product Management is so ambiguous and varied from company to company, that having some foundation upon which to build and adjust is crucial. If you have to discover and invent everything from scratch, it’s just too much.

The other common thread many people’s answers had was that the professional development experience was actionable and was something they were using in their actual role.

“Tell me, and i will forget,
show me and I will remember,
involve me and I will understand”
— Many variations of this quote over time: Source

From HBR — only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in a training program to their jobs. This is likely related to a number of things, but frequently it’s because it’s hard to implement the learning in your day-to-day job, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. From that HBR study:

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered experimental studies of memory in the late 19th Century, culminating with his discovery of “The Forgetting Curve.” He found that if new information isn’t applied, we’ll forget about 75% of it after just six days.

So the key is to make the learning actionable and apply it to a problem you are facing in the moment. Which actually relates to the question of the week (answers below in order of results), which was:

If you had the budget to invest in product management professional development for a team of 5 to 10, where would you spend that money?

  • Hand-on Workshops
  • Live Product Management Training (in person or online)
  • Coaching
  • On-Demand Product Management Training
  • Other

My approach to this is that you start with training, move to workshops, then continuous development with coaching as your people get increasingly skilled. PM101 training is, as I mentioned earlier, really useful for junior PM’s to get them a set of frameworks, concepts, and shared language to start operating from. As the team gets more skilled, you move to workshops, where they can apply the concepts to their actual current work (so that the learning is better retained, per the above HBR study), and work it through with experienced supervision. And ultimately, you can use hands-on coaching to help refine your teams’ skills and optimize your actual work. That coaching can come from within the team — mentors and leaders and such, or can be external. As Grant said — there are different problems you are trying to solve with these professional development methods. The more you get into the actual application, the more hand holding/guidance you need. And the more you can make it real and actionable and use it in your day to day, the more it will actually turn into meaningful learning.

At the end of the day — continuous professional development, either self-guided or with external help, is key to your success as a Product Manager and a leader. If you aren’t learning, you’re falling behind. So get out there and learn something new.

Learn more about the Product Growth Leaders community here.



Jon Harmer

I understand users and buyers and their problems. I help solve those problems and communicate that value.