Traditionally Product Managers have often shared a common core skillset along with a breadth of knowledge and experience across the various types of product work and stages. The evolution of the Product function in recent years means that there are now fundamental differences in the types of product work, requiring different tools, processes, skill sets, and success metrics. We’re therefore seeing an increased demand for specialised Product Managers, particularly around the areas of Core, Growth, Platform and Innovation, which can then be further sub-specialised.

The need for product specialisation varies depending on a number of factors, such as the size of the company and product team, their stage of growth and also the maturity of the product itself. For example, an early-stage start-up would naturally have a smaller generalist team who can easily adapt due to frequent product/strategy changes, whereas a scaling or more mature organisation with a larger product team would require Product Managers with a focus on a particular area. Additionally, if your product has specific challenges then it would likely benefit from a Product Manager with a depth of experience in that area.

Product specialisation chart: Core, Growth, Platform & Innovation. Key skills, roles and disciplines 
If your business is making that transition into deeper specialisation within these squads, here’s what you need to know:

🕰 If you are hiring externally, expect a longer time to fill:

Unearthing niche experience will naturally take more time than searching for a generalist Product Manager. This is not only because your talent pool is going to be significantly smaller, but also largely because these details may not be specified or obvious on a candidates LinkedIn profile. The main way of finding the right talent is by reaching out to individuals within the relevant sector and digging into their experience. 

🤔 Going to market is not always the best long-term fix: 

It could be quicker to look internally for this person and take the time to train/coach them on the specifics within the area, rather than waiting to find the perfect hire within the market. They will know the business well and so it could be beneficial not only in terms of speed, efficiency & cost, but it is also providing more opportunity for internal progression. 

🔁 Consider transferable experience & skillsets:

When writing a job specification and setting out expectations, it’s important to not get too granular with specific experience. For example, within the Growth team you might be looking for a Product Manager who specialises in acquisition, however finding an expert in this area in the current market, particularly if industry experience is required, is almost like finding a needle in a haystack! It would be more beneficial to widen your search to any Growth Product Managers as they are typically concerned with the customers journey from onboarding through to retention, so they will have a good understanding of the acquisition process along with the desired growth-related skillset for the role. 

Burns Sheehan is working with several organisations that are leading the way in hiring within product sub-specialisations and we expect the trend to continue in other product-driven organisations. If your organisation is heading in this direction or you are having early conversations around the transition to deeper product specialisations, contact Louise Smith (Senior Director, Product and Leadership) and Ellie Staves (Senior Product Recruiter) for further hiring advice.