Why Consultants Make Great Product Managers

by: Ken Kanara

 

Demand for PMs continues to grow

Demand for Product Managers has increased sharply over the decade, and shows no signs of stopping. According to Product Management Hiring Trends in the US Report, there was a 32% increase in demand for the role over a two year period (Aug 2017 – July 2019). As technology becomes more a part of our daily lives, It’s safe to assume that demand for the role will continue to be strong in the years to come.

 

Consultants as PMs? But they can’t code!

Our firm works with PE and VC portfolio companies looking to fill critical roles across strategy, operations, and finance. More often than not, they are requesting candidates with a consulting background from top-tier firms like McKinsey, Bain, or BCG. Over the last 5 years, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of Product Managers searches for those clients.

 

Over the past 5 years, we’ve also seen a decreased focus on the need for technical backgrounds for PMs. In fact, some clients specifically ask for candidates with no software development background whatsoever. They are looking for smart, business-minded “athletes” who can help drive technical teams.

 

So why are ex-consultants great PMs?

1. Ability to manage people and deadlines

Consultants were trained to manage projects. Project management involves various initiatives, owners, interdependencies, and of course….a variety of personalities. It’s not easy to juggle all these things, but consultants seem to do it quite well (and some even enjoy it!). Software development has many parallels to project management, so it’s not surprising that consultants would be a natural fit.

 

2. Ability to think holistically about the business

By definition, agile software development leaves room for changes in direction throughout the process. This means PMs need to be able to think holistically about the business when it comes to product features and future versions. Great Product Managers make a point of obsessively talking to their users. They want to understand what really drives value for them, and then translate that what they are building, and the overall company strategy.

 

3. Ability to prioritize

Similar to business strategy, success in Product Management is often more about deciding what you aren’t going to do, than what you are going to do. At any given time, there is a backlog of changes that might need to take place, but they can’t all happen at once, and each has an associated cost and potential benefit. Former consultants are particularly good at prioritizing these changes, and making value decisions on what should happen.

 

Steep (but achievable) learning curve

There is a bit of a learning curve for consultants considering a career in Product Management, but it’s easier than you think. Once you get the basics, you will start to see the parallels with product and project management. I recommend a basic course like OneWeekPM if you are interested in starting. They also offer a more technical version for those with a lot of ambition!

 

 

Ken Kanara is the President and Managing Director of ECA Partners. You can reach him at [email protected].

 

 

Ken Kanara
President and Managing Director

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