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Leveraging Domain Expertise

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In the end, the details of a matter are important. The right and wrong of one's way of doing things are found in trivial matters.Yamamoto Tsunetomo, samurai of the Saga Domain in Hizen Province

When evaluating new product ideas, domain expertise joins strategic initiatives and technology directions as key drivers for success.

Does this idea leverage your knowledge and reputation in the domain? Are you qualified to offer such a product? Do you have in-house expertise in the accepted practices and underlying science? Do you know what you’re getting into?

Domain expertise is a deep understanding of a set of accepted practices and scientific principles that are standard across many industries or geographies. For example, domain expertise in fraud detection, security, or instructional design is the same whether you’re working in banking, health, or education. Or in Brazil, China, or Russia.

Domain expertise is highly valued in product management—whether it’s actually necessary or not. And to some extent that makes sense. There are many aspects of managing products that rely heavily on domain experience. Most job postings for jobs at any level of product management require domain expertise.

However, where an individual is surrounded by other domain experts—often called subject matter experts—additional domain expertise isn’t necessarily critical for each team member. Rather than require deep domain expertise in each individual, product leaders must ensure that the team has access to the relevant domain experience, whether within the team or in another group in the organization.

For example, a leading breeder of lab animals wants to consider expansion into Europe and Asia. While market expertise includes understanding the laws for importing animals, it’s domain expertise that guides them with the mechanics. What environmental conditions ensure safe arrival? How long can animals stay alive while in shipping? Should they consider in-country breeding instead of shipping? What does that entail?

As it relates to product strategy, someone—and that’s usually a product manager—needs to leverage the organization’s domain expertise to ensure that the new idea becomes a successful product.

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