Getting into Product Management

Here’s some of the questions I get asked by people interested in product management.

What is a Product Manager?

In a nutshell, a Product Manager oversees a team of engineers, designers and testers to develop a product, bring it to market and grow it. A Product Manager sits at the interface between design, engineering and business without the need to be an expert in each of the areas. The strength of a Product Manager is having an in-depth understanding of what the customer wants, communicating frequently and gaining feedback, testing prototypes and bringing that customer need back to the team — in order to work with them to create a product that fulfils all criteria. Simple, huh!

What skills does a Product Manager require?

In terms of hard skills, an engineering or a design background can be an advantage, so are data science and SQL skills, but you’ll find many Product Managers who don’t have such technical background. The single most important skill that a Product Manager should develop is influence. While none of the people on your team report to you from a management perspective — you can’t fire them or affect their pay — your ability to win people over, to pitch ideas and to use evidence to construct convincing arguments are your most valuable assets. With experience, you can learn the capacities and limitations of the technology as well as best practices in UX and UI design. Your interpersonal skills will also come in handy in your communication with customers — from identifying a new need for a product feature to translating it in a technical business requirement in your teams. Empathy is your greatest asset here.

What experience is useful to become a PM?

Looking at my peers, I have found people from such diverse backgrounds, which confirms it for me that there is no clear route into Product Management. You can start in a specific role in the Tech sector, you can be in project management or you could be an engineer and realize that you would like to try Product Management. A common route is also that of a Business Analyst.

How can you find out more about Product Management?

The advantage of Product Management being a fairly new field means that a lot of experts are offering definitions of the discipline, which is still being shaped. If you’re interested in finding out more about Product Management, this is my ultimate list:

  • If you like reading, Eric Ries The Lean Startup or his mentor’s Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany are a great starting point
  • If you really like reading, then you might find Facebook PM Simon Cross’s reading list useful.
  • If, like me, you have a fairly short attention span, then you may prefer podcasts or blogs, such as SVPG’s.
  • If you prefer newsletters that will come into your inbox once a week, great reads I enjoy are Ken Norton’s Bringing the Donuts, and Mind the Product.
  • Mind the Product also organizes events, there’s the conference, which comes at a price, but also free monthly events called Product Tank where they tackle different topics relating to Product Management, plus it’s a fantastic networking opportunity. ProductTanks get booked up quickly, so make sure to sign up as soon as you see it.

What’s so great about being a Product Manager?

What I love about being a Product Manager is the challenge of solving problems, of getting people rallied around a problem and of juggling multiple priorities. I get to interact with all parts of the business and it gives me a great insight into how the business is run. While not a creative role in the strictest sense, creativity is key when it comes to addressing challenges, often with limited resources.

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