Break into a Career in Product Management
Product management roles are not just your typical 9-to-5 job. They are filled with excitement and the opportunity to drive change. As a product manager, you will have the chance to shape the future of a product, a startup, or even an entire company.
One of the most thrilling aspects of product management is the combination of strategic thinking and hands-on execution. You will be responsible for defining the vision and strategy for a product and then working with cross-functional teams to bring that product to life. From market research and competitive analysis to developing go-to-market plans, you will be involved in every step of the product development process.
Product management roles also provide plenty of opportunity for advancing your career in the tech industry. Many product managers go on to become boardroom level leaders, or entrepreneurs with their own exciting ventures. With the right skills and experience, product management could be the starting point of an exciting and fulfilling career path.
But where do you start? We’ve written some useful tips across up seven areas that should serve as a launchpad for your exploration into a product management career path.
1. Immerse yourself in the role.
First, you want to soak up as much information as possible. And this isn’t just about product management terminology, but go off and learn about design thinking, user experience design, user interface design, business strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Research the skills required for product management and determine how they align with your strengths, interests, and transferable skills (think about what you’ve done in the past that may translate well into the product management role). Become familiar with the different roles in product development process and how product manager interacts with them. And finally, start thinking about what kind of PM do you want to be – for example, technical, analytical, marketing, or the visionary type.
There are plenty of good book recommendations, check out some of the above for a good mix of topics that can feed into understanding how product management works.
2. Understand industry trends.
You must be aware of the latest technology and industry trends and developments. This world moves fast, so don’t get left behind. In order to do this attend industry events and conferences to learn from experts and network with other professionals. Go on social media and follow thought leaders and influencers in the product management field, and engage with their content. Join online communities or groups specifically focused on product management to stay updated on the latest discussions and debates. Read books and articles by experts in the field to gain a deeper understanding of current trends and best practices.
3. Build a support network.
Attend industry events and conferences to meet other product managers and professionals in related fields. Join online communities and forums related to product management (start looking on LinkedIn for example). Reach out to any product managers in your immediate network and ask for informational interviews and conversations. Volunteer to be a mentor or mentee in a product management program – these can often lead to further opportunities and networking. You want to build some lifelong connections at this stage with those that will help you navigate the overwhelming amount of advice & choice that’s out there.
4. Sharpen your communication skills.
Learn about effective communication techniques and strategies. Think about where you need to improve in these areas and get to work. You will often have to pitch, present and run workshops as a PM, so it’s good to get practice immediately with public speaking and presentations. Learn how to write effectively, whether it’s emails, reports, or user stories. Communication is one thing, clarity is another. And just like user researchers do, practice active listening and learn how to ask good questions. You will have lots of things coming to you information wise, so make sure you are able to take it all in. And finally, you will have to learn how to say no, so learn how to handle difficult conversations and negotiations.
5. Hone your problem-solving skills.
You will want to start practice critical thinking and problem-solving through puzzles, games, and any other fun activities. Become familiar with design thinking and how it can be applied to product management. Read or watch case studies and analyse how companies solved problems in their products or markets. YouTube is full of great material, so use the free resources to arm yourself with good understanding. To go to the next level, practice problem-solving with a group to learn how to collaborate effectively. What about perhaps starting a little side business or venture? This way you can start to learn learn about decision-making techniques and how to apply them to product management. You essentially will be the first product manager of your own little startup business!
6. Get technical.
This is where you’ll want to get a little deeper with your knowledge. Research Agile, Scrum, and Lean methodologies and their applications – there are plenty of free resources online to help do this. And with your own personal project or own venture, try out different methodologies. Learn about user research methods such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. What does a user researcher do and how do they feed into the product manager as part of the product development process? Read about user research best practices and case studies, and look into the latest industry tools and software platforms. And finally, start digging deeper into data – study statistics and data analysis techniques, and learn about data visualisation and how to effectively communicate data insights. You’ll be presenting these insights regularly, and using them to make decisions wise. Software wise, and if you can get a hold of some data sets, practice analysing data using tools such as Excel or Tableau.
7. Finally, be persistent but enjoy the journey.
Set yourself some realistic and achievable goals for yourself in terms of breaking into a career in product management, and while doing so stay motivated and focused by reminding yourself of your long-term career aspirations. Take advantage of any opportunities as they arise and be open to new possibilities. If someone says they are happy to have a coffee to talk product, make sure you go! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from mentors or professionals in the field, you’ll find that many are really open to helping and supporting you. And importantly keep learning & upskilling, keep practicing and keep networking.
So to close this off, if you’re looking for a role that offers excitement, challenge and the chance to make a real difference, product management might be worth pursuing. It’s a role that requires a unique combination of strategic thinking and hands-on execution, and it’s a role that can be incredibly rewarding for the right person.
What are you waiting for?