Dear Product Manager, are you an artist or a scientist?

Ope Adeoye 4 minute read

Once in a while, I support Uche to faciliate some product management training classes. In order to break the ice at the beginning of the class, I often run this debate. Is the practice of Product Management an art form or a scientific process? If universities offered such a course, should it be in the humanities or the sciences?

Image from Higher perspectives

Without fail the class is almost always divided down the middle. We never reach a consensus. I often use this as a test of the level of diversity of the class as well. The more diverse the experiences in the class, the richer the discussions during the training delivery.

An organisation's perception of this question has far reaching effects on how the function works within that company. In some companies, it's believed that PM's should report up to a CTO. In others, it reports up to a Chief of Marketing. 

It also reflects in what kind of product managers a company values more. Those with engineering chops or those with customer experience black belts.

The primary argument for art

What exactly is the science behind the day to day activities of a product manager? There's no specific 1 + 1 = 2. Creativity, ability to interact with people, extract insights from "conversations", etc are some of the top skills required of a PM. How then is all this a science? No it's not.

The primary argument for science

The scientific theory (if you remember your elementary science well) states something about starting from an observation, establishing an hypothesis, conducting some experiments then collating and analysing some results. Is this not exactly the high level flow of a PM's role? Believe me, it's science!

As a product leader, the main thing to know is that the more diverse a product team is in composition, the richer the results you can expect. Mix your team with people who started from a technical background as well as people from the humanities side of the wall. Only then will you get the best of both worlds as they interact and sharpen one another. And remember: mentor, mentor, mentor. As much as possible without bias for one side or the other. (I'm guilty here).

By the way, what do you think it is, art or science?

Vote here.