New McKinsey Product Academy aims to upskill product managers at scale

As almost every company becomes a software-oriented company, product managers are becoming increasingly important. Sometimes called product owners or technical product managers, people in these roles are responsible for several things: shaping a software product based on customer needs, pressure testing it for business viability, collaborating across engineering teams to build the product, and working with sales and marketing to commercialize and take the product to market.


Our latest research shows that about 60 percent of companies across industries say that they view software as a source of competitive advantage or the primary focus of their business. As companies grow their product management function, they will need to quickly train new product managers (PMs) and upskill existing ones. But effective, accessible training is hard to find. McKinsey Product Academy is an ongoing, cohort-based speaker series featuring prominent leaders on an array of timely topics.

We spoke with Rikki Singh, a Silicon Valley-based associate partner in McKinsey Digital, about the launch of the McKinsey Product Academy. The program, which launched earlier this month, has over 9,000 signups as of this publication.

What is the McKinsey Product Academy?

McKinsey Product Academy is McKinsey’s investment in empowering product managers of the future in an inclusive way. On May 13th, we launched our Product Academy Fundamentals program, an eight-part speaker series featuring leading voices from across the product world. This is an extension of our existing Product Academy Immersion program, an eight-week bootcamp tailored to the needs of an organization.

Why is McKinsey making an investment in product managers?

New McKinsey Product Academy aims to democratize tech
McKinsey associate partner Rikki Singh
New McKinsey Product Academy aims to democratize tech

We conducted research with more than 400 companies and found that product management is key to driving successful business impact of software investments. What we’re also seeing is the rise of product roles even in non-software or non-traditional tech companies. Think about a retailer using a software transformation as a source of growth, its success relies on getting the product management role right.

By 2025, there will be three to four million PMs globally, many of them new. And they wouldn’t all come from traditional tech paths. They may be in other roles and transitioning to a PM role because their organization is going through a software transformation. So, upskilling and equipping these PMs for success is critical.

We want to become the top destination for existing PMs to learn and grow on that journey and for those looking to switch into the product management track to be able to do that successfully. This is aligned with our firm-wide mission of sustainable and inclusive growth. Everyone who needs to be a PM should have an accessible starting point.

People participating in Product Academy Fundamentals will be from a wide range of sectors. How did you approach designing the series to meet broad needs?

The fundamentals of building a software product are always the same. There are some nuances that come up as far as hardware or software, and we do adapt based on that. Our overarching goal was to cover topics that touch every aspect of a product development lifecycle ranging from defining product strategy to customer advocacy to building platforms. We then found leaders with hands-on experience to share their expertise and unique backgrounds. Finally, we included topics such as product outside of traditional tech companies and responsible product management to cater to the wide breadth of PMs.

How will empowering more product managers affect businesses and business leaders?

We’re aiming to empower product executives who are going be leading the charge on the next wave of product management. There are big-picture questions executives will ask PMs to lead on: How do we become more innovative? How do we ensure that we're customer-backed and what we're building is addressing their needs?

Companies also need to think about responsible product development. How do they, as product leaders, build products that take into account privacy, sustainability, and inclusion? We want product managers to work with product leaders to move the field toward these goals.

What will success look like?

Training and enabling over one million PMs in the next three to five years would be our definition of success.

We want to create a community of engaged product managers. This speaker series is just the first wave, so we’ll gather feedback and continue creating and refining future programs to serve this community as best as possible. We believe all companies can get product management right and they should start the journey now.

Would you like to learn more about how we help software companies? Please contact us.

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