Product Management

Tips for aspiring product managers

Why become a Product Manager?

As a Product Manager, you are given the opportunity to solve customer and business problems.

It all starts with learning about business goals and understanding how the business operates. Simultaneously, you study the market and discover challenges that your customers are dealing with.

Based on your learning you then formulate a strategy to address customer problems and ensure that the business excels. While formulating the strategy, you get to meet and work with amazing people.

Also, you are offered an opportunity to outline the product roadmap to implement the strategy in concrete steps. You plan, define, validate and launch new features and improvements. You can actually see the progress being made towards set goals because you assessed and measured this.

Along the way, you make mistakes but you learn to avoid making the same mistakes again.

How amazing is this? This is the best job in the world!

Take a look at the five product management tips that I hope will be helpful for you or your team!

How to get into Product Management?

The two most common paths for getting into a product management role are:

  1. Through an internal transition.
  2. Being hired as a Junior/Associate Product Manager.

The most common and accessible scenario of getting into Product Management is through an internal transition. Also, this makes sense since a person who is considered to be competent for the role is already hired, understands the context and has developed existing relationships within the business — a big plus.

My path to Product Management was, indeed, through an internal transition from a Software Engineer role. During that time, I was passionate about user experience, interested in the business side of things and, of course, deep into the technology space. Only later, when I joined Yahoo! in Sydney, I learned about Product Management.

When I heard what Product Managers do, I was blown away and decided that I wanted to do that exact job. I spoke to my manager and began to transition into the Product Manager role. Within six months, I completed my transition and have loved being in and around all things to do with creating products ever since.

How can I get Product Management experience in my organisation?

This product management tip can help you build up some of the skills a product manager should have.

First, let your manager know that you have a desire to explore Product Management. Your manager can connect you with the right people and organise mentorship for you.

The best part is that no one can stop you from thinking like a Product Manager!

Here’s an example – say that a new feature is being worked on by the product team. Think about the feature in detail:

  • What customer and business problems is it trying to solve?
  • How do they know this is the right problem to solve?
  • How will success be measured?
  • How does this fit into the product strategy?
  • Is this feature trying to solve too many problems?

Write your answers down.

The key aspect is to think through these questions before reaching out to a Product Manager for clarification. If you don’t have an existing relationship with the Product Manager yet, that’s ok. Send them a note asking to share information about a particular feature because you’re curious about the problem and how it’s being solved.

Analyse new information. Have you discovered or learned something new? Are you seeing any gaps? Share your thoughts with the Product Manager but don’t expect a response. This exercise is for you, not the Product Manager. Asking them for a mentoring session wouldn’t hurt though.

Be curious, consistent and thorough and you’ll notice how you are getting better at understanding the context, problems and solutions. Build your soft skills by meeting people within your organisation: be genuine, open and helpful.

What do I need to be a good Product Manager?

To be a good Product Manager you need the following:

Be Customer-centric – Products solve customers’ problems. It’s critical for a Product Manager to identify real customer needs by talking to people and analysing their behaviour.

Be a Leader – A Product Manager is the voice of the customer and works across multiple business functions. They balance the needs of the different areas of the organisation and influence them to meet customer needs. The Product Manager needs to be able to paint the future, lead through influence and effectively negotiate through technical, financial and political hurdles while representing the needs of customers.

Think Strategically – Another important attribute of a Product Manager is to think beyond a span of 6-12 months. By keeping an eye on the current market, emerging technologies and competition, the Product Manager should be able to foresee and communicate the future direction of products.

Communicate – Communicate everything that you are planning to do, currently doing and have done. It’s as simple as that!

What are the different flavours of a Product Manager?

There are three different flavours of a Product Manager role: Tactical, Strategic and a combination of both. A good place to start your Product Management career is to be a tactical Product Manager.

“Tactical” Product Manager

In organisations where the Director of Product/CPO is responsible for the product strategy, a Product Manager is responsible for tactical activities and works closely with the product team on execution.

The PM’s day-to-day responsibilities include defining scope based on requirements, talking to customers, facilitating workshops with stakeholders, prioritising the backlog, working with software engineers and user experience designers to create new products/features and being the point of contact for issues and new ideas.

“Strategic” Product Manager

In other organisations, a Product Manager is responsible for the definition, pivots and communication of the product strategy. The day-to-day responsibilities include continuous analysis of the market, identifying customer problems/opportunities and industry trends, working with the wider business on its direction, communicating product strategy, documenting success stories and learning.

A Combined Role

This is when the Product Manager is responsible for all aspects of product management: strategy, discovery and execution. It’s the most complex aspect and my favourite flavour — you get to dream and you get to create!

What books should I read to learn about Product Management?

Consider reading the books that I have listed below. Once you have read them, you’ll feel more familiar and comfortable with the Product Management discipline, the product development process and what’s expected from a Product Manager.

  • Build Better Products covers how to build great products from start to finish with plenty of examples.
  • The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick is a great book that shares practical instruments to get valuable customer insights while not getting caught up in ego, complements and hollow promises.
  • Shape up by Basecamp is full of golden nuggets. It will give you a different perspective on how to think about problems and ship meaningful products.
  • The Lean Startup and Running Lean covers the lean product development process (a great approach for new products and start-ups) and includes examples of how to identify and validate customer problems, how to test a solution before building it and, of course, how to measure success.
  • Competing Against Luck describes the “Jobs to Be Done” framework and introduces the idea that customers don’t buy products or services; they “hire” them to do a job.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is one of those books on leadership I wish I read when I was a student. A great read for everyone in a leadership position.

Hope these product management tips are helpful! Good luck in pursuing your dream Product Management role! Join a discussion on Twitter and feel free to reach out to me if you have questions.