What’s Canada’s Product Management Problem?


Canada has all the ingredients to nurture successful companies into the future — with ample support for startups that need a hand in reaching their potential. Known for its strong accelerator and mentor networks, Canada is home to relatively low costs for building companies and its significant government support has allowed major cities (i.e. Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) to excel as startup hubs.

While most Canadian startups thrive in areas of science, engineering and research and development, there’s one key missing ingredient. What is it, you ask? Product management of course.

Product Managers in the Tech Ecosystem
If there’s one thing that sticks out the most in Canadian startups, it’s the lack of product managers in the tech ecosystem — a major skill shortage that can cripple the chances of executing major outcomes.

Unfortunately, Canadian startups in the tech scene that haven’t had any big successes are known for falling far down the trap of being preoccupied with shipping features (i.e. featuritis), when they should be choosing to invest in product managers who can help prioritize only the value-producing features that contribute towards the growth of the product. They create a feature factory as a way to try to stay a step ahead — measuring output over outcomes.

When you take out good product management from a promising startup, often all you’re left with are the consequences of a badly built product and the disappointment of a high potential startup that never sees the light of day. The reality is that product management should be a priority on both a local and national level.

So what do you do when there’s a lack of quality product management and experience? The good news is that it’s a very trainable skill set that can be taught within any company. Luckily there’s a new resilient generation of tech startups in Canada, allowing more opportunities for product managers to flourish and develop. In fact, according to Prospect Q4 2020 State of Talent Report, in major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, product management is ranked fifth in the list of top job functions in demand.
With plenty of good on the horizon for Canada and its tech startup ecosystem, a number of questions spring to mind:
  • How can Canada maintain momentum in the coming years?
  • How can Canada build iconic companies that will define the country for years to come?
  • What does that mean for individual product managers?
  • Are the country’s startup leaders ready to make the product-led transformation in their organizations?

What’s scary is that despite there being a spike in tech startups, product managers still aren’t prioritized enough. This includes other major cities like Montreal where product management doesn’t even rank in the top six job functions in-demand. Startups view dedicated product management roles as a luxury or the role can even be informal and split between engineers and founding CEOs/CTOs. The reality is that people don’t often see good product managers in action and build the necessary appreciation for what they bring to the table. And what’s worse on top of no product manager? Having bad product leadership.

Now’s the Time to Build Digital Products
There has never been a better time in history to build digital products. Companies are becoming more product-led while digital transformation and product roadmaps have been accelerated. The race is on for companies to hire product managers. Thanks to more companies offering their services online and embracing remote work, product managers are now sought after in virtually all industries and locations.

However, there’s a quality and experience gap for product roles fundamental to execution. And execution makes all the difference when you’re a startup. Now that companies have accepted that they need qualified product managers, they’re realising it’s one of the hardest roles to fill. The preoccupation of shipping features kills product managers dead in their tracks and not having enough qualified product managers is really not a bottleneck you want to deal with.

So where do product managers come from? There’s really only one reliable source of good product managers, and that’s from within a startup itself.

Product Management as a Trainable Skill set
So where do you begin? You’re in luck because product management is a trainable skill set and it’s something that can be taught within a company rather than requiring training courses or academic degrees.

"I think that visual learning is the easiest and most comprehensive way to learn. It is a very logical first step to see good PMS in action: watch me and copy." - Paul Ortchanian/Founder Bain Public

This is the best way to build good product managers. For instance, with Google’s Associate Product Manager Program (launched in 2002), the idea is to train from within, hiring people straight out of university and training them over a two-year structured program.

At Bain Public, we have a similar attitude about the relationship between companies and the way to build good product managers. Helping organizations who invest in a broad capability-building program for existing talent is our area of expertise. We approach training with collaborative learning exchanges and fieldwork to practice new mindsets and skills where product managers work on real projects with regular coaching and feedback.

In fact, our SOAP™ methodology was created for product planning and roadmap prioritization based on principles of product strategy, lean startup, user-centred design, data science and more. It's an approach designed to help organizations create knowledge and build product strategies. When employed, it will help create new value, respect stakeholder opinion while getting buy-in, and optimize product delivery through iterative releases while validating and eliminating waste. We’re not trying to win new business; we’re trying to create something to further Canada’s product-led startup ecosystem.
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Would you like to learn more about our SOAP™ process? Visit our Solutions page
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Bain Public offers consistent roadmap planning processes & tools for business leaders and product managers organized around what motivates, inspires and improves growth. We offer a variety of blog posts, e-books and approaches designed to help organizations understand their digital strategies, introduce elements of roadmapping and establish product-led change amongst the senior leaders and managers. Our approach, product, expert advice and coaching helps entangle complex technology, people and roadmap dynamics. For more information, visit bainpublic.com or call 514–442–8487

Thanks to Loren O'Brien-Egesborg for contributing to this article as well as to Nina Mourtada for reading drafts and overseeing aspects of its publication. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article, then shoot us an email info@bainpublic.com.