The growing importance of data and analytics to Product Management has previously been discussed on Mind The Product by Edward Upton in Going Beyond Pageviews, and Simon Cast in Everything a Product Manager Needs To Know About Analytics. Articles like these may lead you to think that moving from a data role to a product management role should be pretty straightforward. But is that really so?
I recently moved from a data analyst role to a product management role and I wanted to share my personal story. Reading about my experiences may be useful for other people thinking of making a similar move. As a data analyst I worked closely with the product team, providing things like insight in to user behaviour and analysis of A/B tests. I also created reports that were used to answer hypothetical questions about the product and user behaviour, to prove or disprove assumptions made by the business.
Before leaving my data analyst role I went on two different training courses. The first one was an intensive scrum management course run by Scrum Alliance, and my fellow students were a diverse group of product managers, scrum masters, analysts, and developers. The course focused on the day-to-day management of teams and product backlogs. For me, the real benefit of the course was the opportunity to discuss problems and challenges with people from very different business backgrounds.
I also went on a much longer Product Management course run by General Assembly (GA). This covered many aspects of product management and related business development, and focussed on working on early stage products. This course gave me a much more serious grounding in product management.
Putting ideas into practice
These course gave me plenty of ideas for improving processes at work. I was able to back up my suggestions by reporting what other students had said they were doing at their companies. My managers weren’t always receptive to new ideas, particularly from a more junior staff member. But I was able to implement my ideas on my own website (The Startup Magazine) where I am my own boss.
I used the skills and techniques I’d learnt on my courses to analyse site visitor and run a user survey. I also started monetizing the site by producing an eBook. I tracked visitor behaviour and when I recognised difficulties with the eCommerce plug-in I’d chosen, I changed to a different platform with an immediate improvement in results.
I knew that data analysis is influential in decision making and thought that meant that the transition to a product management role would be easy for me. That wasn’t the case. It took me a while to find a suitable new employer, neither too large nor too small, where I’d be allowed to learn and grow in an established team. I was very lucky to eventually find a job working with a head of product who did not expect me to know everything on the first day, and who was keen to help me learn, grow and develop my career in product management.
I found that although I do use some data analysis and data mining in my new role, these activities only account for a relatively small portion of my week. I do use a combination of skills I learnt on the two courses I took earlier. The Scrum course taught me how to write user stories, lead planning and review meetings, prioritize the backlog, and monitor team velocity.
The Product Management course taught me how to analyse and understand customer feedback, how to address Minimum Viable Product (MVP) decisions, and how to collate user requirements and transform them into features and stories.
The move from data to product was not as straightforward as I had hoped, but the training courses definitely helped. However the practical experience I am gaining in my new role is far more valuable.
If you have an ambition to work in product management there are ways you can gain some experience in advance. For example, you can offer to help in a startup, or work on your own product ideas and publish them on the web, or find a relevant internship in an existing product team. I am sure that if you are determined your efforts will eventually pay off.
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