Have you ever looked at a product and wondered whether there was a single hand at work, which led it from conception, through design, production and finally delivery to the shop? That person is the product development manager, who is responsible for developing new products from scratch, or enhancing existing products.
Cecilia Wong, deputy general manager for business operations at Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong, says a product development manager's work may stretch from product conceptualisation - finding out what type of products should be developed to satisfy a need - to working with designers and engineers to build the product, and collaborating with vendors, partners and suppliers to make sure the product can be manufactured to specifications.
Wong says once the product is made, product development managers work with other corporate departments to launch the product, working out the logistics of how the product is delivered, and what the marketing mix should be. Finally, they monitor a product that has been launched, and figure out ways to improve it or add new features.
Grace Lee, senior consultant for Michael Page engineering and supply chain, says the backgrounds of product development managers depend on what industries they serve. In the textile industry, they usually come from a design background, while those working in the hard-goods industry, such as in the manufacturing of electrical appliances, housewares, and garden and kitchen equipment, are mechanical engineers.
A typical career track in product development starts with a product development specialist, or a product developer, overseeing the development of actual products. They are supervised by product development managers, who may be promoted to become head of product development.
"It's difficult to say how long it takes to reach each level in the product development career track. It really depends on how talented you are," Lee says, adding that monthly salaries vary from HK$35,000 to HK$60,000, depending on the industry and individual experience. Product development managers in apparel and infant clothes sectors tend to get better pay.
Higher diploma course is useful
Individuals seeking a product development role in the textile or fashion industry, should consider enrolling in higher diploma courses in fashion design and product development, offered by the Vocational Training Council and Chinese University.
Also useful is a Project Management Professional certification granted by the Project Management Institute, which has a Hong Kong chapter.
It is an industry-neutral credential, which requires receiving a set number of hours of classroom training, and passing a written exam.
Technical skills a must
Product development managers need to have a good balance of technical skills and commercial sense.
They have to judge whether a product can be realised physically, and whether it can be marketed to an audience who would pay to purchase it.
They need to be proactive and stay up-to-date with relevant market trends.
Since product development managers will be driving different company departments in order to achieve their goals, good communications skills are a must.