Getting Your Foot in the Door - Product Management
23 January, 2019
The, so to speak, classic definition of a product manager's responsibilities include finding out about the 'what' and the 'why' of a product, while leaving the 'how' to the engineering side. What a product manager does, of course, differs from one company to another and, thus, your view of product management will in some way be shaped and molded by personal experience. However, if you are looking to move into the role of product manager, what type of background and experience can you gain to ensure that you are properly prepared to enter the position at any company?
- Product managers come from a wide range of backgrounds and just because you have an engineering background does not guarantee you a product management position. In fact, I have met product managers who have degrees in art & design, philosophy, law, and I, myself, have a degree in sound synthesis. Thus, your individual experience brings value to what you can offer a company so don't shy away from the position just because you think you don't have the proper degree.
- Work on a side project. I am not advocating moonlighting (having a second job in addition to your regular employer), but find a pain point- a specific perceived or real problem that needs a solution, and individually work through that. It could be something that is personal to you or maybe it impacts a fairly large number of people. In either case, brainstorm and list possible solutions. Next, test your hypothesis. Instead of building something, create a paper prototype, go to cafes and ask customers if they've ever struggled with that issue, if they respond positively then show them the prototype and document if they think it would be effective or not. This is a great way to teach yourself about products without having to actually go to product school.
- At your current gig, ask to be more involved with the product. One option is to take on more responsibilities on the product side. Another option is to sit in with the product managers to see how they prioritize their work, what point system they use with the engineering teams, and how they groom the backlogs. You could take this one step further and schedule a meeting with the design team to learn how they interact with the product. All of these aspects are going to vary from one place to another so it is a great opportunity to show your interest and become more involved.
- Look for a hole that needs to be filled. For example, if there is no formal or well-documented process for collecting requirements between all of the teams, then put together that structure and bring it to your team's attention. Part of product management is process and structure so you would, essentially, be responsible for putting together that process and that structure. If you execute it successfully and get a majority to buy in, then you will not only build trust with the people you work with you will also have put in place a part of product management. This is also a good leveraging point moving forward when you request to take on more product-oriented projects.
- If there is no product manager at your current company you could become that person. By jumping right into the position you are forced to learn quickly and efficiently. You can then build your own product team, especially with a scaling company, and learn not only the product side but also how to meet and manage people across different teams.
- There is no direct or correct path to becoming a product manager. Leverage your experience and your willingness to put in the extra work so as to land the position.
- Product management is less about authority and more about influence.
- The role of product manager is usually filled by someone who has a wide perspective of how things work. They have in their range of view the goals and operations of the entire company.
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