Chp 1 – Path to become a Product Manager

There’s never been more exciting time to pursue a career in Product Management. Technology is all around you and Tech companies are booming with more access to venture capital than ever before and have successfully demonstrated how to build a sustainable business and develop a strong ecosystem around them.

Websites like Product Hunt share new (web & mobile based) applications coming up every day.

If there were the best times to learn, grow and innovate in the product world, it’s now.

Naturally, many of us have this question of  – “How to get into Product domain?”

This section would help you answer that.

Let’s start with understanding What is & What is not Product Management?

Product Management – Myth Buster

Getting into Product Management

Getting into Product Management can be tricky as it requires some prior work experience. However, once you do get into the domain, it becomes a lot easier to move deeper into the domain.

Unlike Information Technology or Management, there aren’t many colleges where you can major in Product Management.

So how do you move into the Product domain?

Paths to Product Management

Direct Paths to PM role –
  • You are an Engineer with product interest or business acumen
  • You are a Designer with product interest or business acumen
  • At your current firm, you have worked closely with a Product team (as Business Analyst, Marketing, Customer Support, Operations, Sales or any other role where you were helped the product team get better user insight)
  • You have an MBA, or you are a Management consultant with exposure to Product
  • You work closely with a technical product team at your current company.
Indirect Paths to PM role (examples) –
  • (Current) Operations Manager at a firm -> Senior Operations Role at a Startup -> PM at a Operations/Logistics SaaS startup
  • (Current) IT Project Manager at a large (say) Infrastructure firm -> IT Project Manager at startup -> Infrastructure PM at the same startup
  • (Current) Investment Banker -> finance role at a consumer startup -> Data PM at the same startup
  • (Current) Designer at marketing agency -> Designer at a startup -> Design Leadership role in a company -> Consumer-facing PM at the same startup

You should target to gain skill/experience in 2 out of following 3 key knowledge areas to position yourself as a PM –
– Domain/Market/Customer
– Business
– Product development (Technical/Design)

The following Product Triangle by Dan Schmidt can help you plan how to plan your inroads into Product Management.

Triangle of Product Management

You’ll possibly already have expertise in 1 of the 3 knowledge areas.

  • If you are in a technical role you already know about product development.
  • In case you are in sales or marketing, you have the customer knowledge.
  • If you are in operational or support role you already have the domain expertise.
  • If you studied business or are an entrepreneur you have the business side.

Also, you should think about how you can leverage your current skills/experience to grow in other required domain.

Gaining the right experience

You need to demonstrate that you understand the concepts involved in Product Management thoroughly.

So, how to get that launch-pad to PM?

It’s either
– Your Current Job
– A side project

Using your Current Job to get into Product Management

The role of a Product Manager is quite broad. So many things that a PM does; chances are, that some of those stuffs, you are doing at your current job without you knowing it.

Following are some of the skills or Work Experience that you can leverage –
Prioritization — Do you work on multiple tasks at once and regularly prioritize them for you and your team?

Customer Focus — Do you talk to users of a product or tool (internal or external)? Or, do you take feedback from customers and translate into action?

Quality Assurance — Have you reported any bug or have found any case of some use-case which hasn’t been covered by the product flow?

Interactions with Product Team — Have you interacted with the product team to help them with data or insight or simply given feedback on any product to the team?

Cross-domain Teams — Do you regularly work with multiple teams at your job?

Process Improvement — Do you have any experience of working with process development or improvements?

Data Analysis — Do you work with data and help your team make sense out of data?

Business Case / Pitch — Do you have experience in developing business case? Have you done market-sizing?

Marketing — Do you have experience in marketing? Can you understand, communicate and engage with your target audience?

Industry Expertise — You have deep knowledge of how your industries works? What are the processes and/or stakeholders involved?

Though the above list of skills is for anyone who’s thinking to transition to PM role; however, the path becomes easier for people who are already a part of a Product Development team (Engineer, Designers, Business Analyst).

Important Focus Areas

You could look for following ways as the first step towards Product Management:

Bring Customer Focus

  • Talk to Customers (by tagging along or being in touch with Sales team or Product Manager)
  • Also, get in touch with Customer Support Team to read or answer customer issues
  • Practice writing user-stories for the feature you are working on
  • Additionally, you can treat other engineers (or team who builds on top of your developments/design) as your customer and brainstorm their use-cases and develop user stories

Think about Impact

  • Always think in terms of the difference your feature or product would make in user’s goal
  • Think big (practice divergent thinking)

Bring persuasion into communication

  • Do your homework and research
  • Develop credibility in your team

Connect with PM and help them with some of their tasks

  • Help in any feature that needs more specifications
  • Brainstorm better UX
  • Help in making some Product decision
  • Start taking some Leadership tasks and/or Coordination work
  • Practice Prioritization
  • Sharpen your Analytical Skills: A good example could be pulling in usage metrics and develop some insights to help your team.
Using Side Projects to learn about Product Management

Side projects can be a good way to gain experience in Product Management. It would also help you showcase your ability to identify a problem and design and develop a solution around the problem.

The side project could be a –

  • Document (of product feature that solves a user problem) posted on a blog or website
  • Prototype (High Fidelity or Low Fidelity)
  • Improved functionality of Current products or Reimagining any current product
  • Developing a Product (by hiring or taking help of resources)
  • Design & Usability Projects (Check out IDEO)

Branding Yourself

You should consider having a public online presence via having a website or blog.
It is also advisable to keep an active profile on Quora or Twitter by participating in Product related discussions.

Next –
Path to become a Product Manager
Guide on how to answer Behavioral Questions
Guide on How to answer Product Questions
Guide on How to approach Case-based & Market Sizing Questions

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