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Transitioning From Tech to Product Management

Ownership
New PM

23 November, 2021

Nicholas Cheever
Nicholas Cheever

Divisional Vice President, Global Supply Chain Technology at Trimble Transportation

Nicholas Cheever, Divisional Vice President, Global Supply Chain Technology at Trimble Transportation, talks from his experience on how to excel in a PM role when transitioning from tech roles.

Problem

Switching from engineering to product management: is that feasible?

Absolutely. What motivated me to become a product manager from an engineering lead is becoming a part of the solutioning process with customers. It exposed me to a lot of the aspects of how some processes could be done differently and efficiently from the solution perspective as a developer, knowing what conversations could translate into work. That was how I began my product journey from a technical perspective, given my opportunities with the company I was working at. Going down the trip, I understood that there are 2 sets of knowledge that lead into a product-type role:

  • Prior technical roles.
  • Marketing strategy roles that lead up to a product role

Since I was transitioning from a technical role, I needed to learn the marketing side of processes. Throughout the process, I realized that engineers have more control over the product via influence to accomplish specific goals, not through delegation. Others may not affect the development, so transitioning from a technical role to the product side, I knew that I had some levers to pull.

Actions taken

Take Lessons When Needed

Starting from taking some pragmatic product lessons, I was also fortunate enough to be able to find a mentor. When my role opened up within the company, the VP of product role was also vacant, who became my mentor. Sooner or later, I became wary of some of the quick lessons from the VP of product management, which would have taken me ample time to learn by myself.

Start Understanding the Business Side of Operations

It’s no surprise that most developers aren’t very social; we like dark rooms, and being an introvert puts me in a position to become more sociable. I had to start becoming more comfortable in putting myself more into the business side of things. It enabled me to learn more about the business in general vs the narrow exposure I had as a developer. Taking the financial aspects of a product into account, I had to educate myself about the product. It was more like a crash course for me to understand the market, customers, and the business to make the right decisions and have the proper conversations with the people I was collaborating with.

Take Accountability

Owning a product meant that I had much higher accountability. Most of the customers and stakeholders put that on my shoulders to ensure that I accomplished what was expected. That was another kind of building block, and learning how to deal with that kind of pressure and stress and still be able to function without getting too overwhelmed by it.

Because of my technical background, I was able to give the product team a perspective on what the technicalities might be all about. In some cases, where the product team may not understand what they were asking for when in reality, they were requesting an update or a feature, I bridged the gaps between those. I worked closely with the development team to get into the conversations and get things done.

Lessons learned

  • In transitioning to a product role from other fields, you will have to accept the fact of moving outside your comfort zone. If you’re not okay with that, you can start with a minor role in the product to get lighter exposure.
  • Understand that you might not directly influence the product, even though you would be working in the product team. You have to look for ways that would influence others individually 一 spending more time with your stakeholders and understanding how they work to get them on your side can help you influence others.
  • Have the proper perspective around all the incoming requests and demands of the role. Know that it’s not achievable by one person, and you might have to say ‘no’ more than you’re used to saying, especially to the things that don’t reach the broader vision.

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