In this extensive guide for aspiring product managers, Naimeesha Murthy, Product Leader and Founder of Products by Women covers everything from the common types of product specializations, skills and competencies needed to become and succeed as a product manager and communities and opportunities to tap into to begin your journey.
Before you begin your journey as a product manager, it’s best to begin with knowing what product management is and who a product manager is. Product management is a business process that aims to successfully execute the product life cycle: planning, developing, and managing the product or service. A product manager is the one who oversees the process and ensures the proper execution of product strategy to guarantee that the end users would receive quality product or service.
As a product manager, you play a key role in the whole product development process which ultimately leads to the launch of new products or services of your company. In this regard, you have to ensure that during the time of launch, the intended audience for the product or service was targeted and that the objectives of the company for the launch were met – brand recognition and ultimately, revenue generation.
Common types of product management
Analytics Product manager. An analytics product manager is someone who has a strong background in data and analytics that would guide the company by providing data-backed insights.
Business Product Manager. A business product manager has an advanced understanding of business principles and focuses on the business aspect of the organization. Having an MBA is a plus, but not necessarily required and can be supplanted with extensive experiences from previous engagements.
Marketing Product Manager. A company benefits from a marketing product manager’s extensive knowledge of the customer and the current state of the market, as well as the company’s standing vis-à-vis its competitors. This product manager comes from an advertising or sales background, with an understanding of the importance that marketing has in the product and ultimately, the company.
Tech Product Manager. A tech product manager is knowledgeable in the technology that comes with the production of the product or service. This manager comes from a technical background and dabbles with the process of building the product or service.
UX Product Manager. A UX product manager is someone who ensures that the needs of the users of the product or service translate into the features of the product or service design, and takes care of the company’s interactions with its end users. They endeavour to unravel key insights using user research.
Becoming a product manager
Now that you know the basic role of a product manager and the different types of product managers, we now dive into the basic requirements and skills asked of you if you want to be a product manager.
Product Manager requirements
Undergraduate degree. An aspiring product manager is required to have an undergraduate degree most of the time. There are other companies, however, that do not require an undergraduate degree for the product manager role, but these companies are comparably fewer. Ideally, the candidate must have a business-related degree but now, engineering, marketing, and computer science degrees are likewise welcome.
Years of experience in the field. Before being considered for the product manager role, the candidate must already have extensive experience to show. The length of experience depends on the level of the position that you are applying for. There are some companies, however, who welcome candidates without previous experience.
Specialized/technical training. Since the candidate will be applying for a role that demands specific skills and people management, the candidate must have undergone training related to the post that they are applying for.
Core competencies needed
While your role as a product manager largely depends upon the need and structure of the company, there are basic competencies that the role typically demands from the candidate:
- Conduct user testing and customer interviews
- Run design sprints
- Planning and prioritization
- Ability to properly allocate resources
- Perform market assessments
- Revenue and pricing modelling
Relationship management and leadership skills
As a product manager, you are expected to have heavy interactions with people within and outside their departments. Thus, relationship management skills and leadership are good qualities to possess. Relationship management pertains to the establishment of trustworthy rapport and connections with internal and external stakeholders alike. Leadership, on the other hand, is a skill where the manager effectively provides a direction to the team towards the successful attainment of its goals.
Having empathy towards others is an important skill for a product manager. Understanding the needs of the consumers is important in developing the product or service. Equally important, too, is understanding where the technical team is coming from when developing the product. This kind of awareness will be a big help in steering your team towards the development of the product or service that fits the needs of the consumers.
Values alignment with the company
It would be great if you can find a company that shares your principles and aligns with your values. With this, you will be able to maximize your skills and potential knowing full well that you are working for a company that shares the same vision as you.
You should have a keen understanding of the target consumers of the product or service that the company is developing as a product manager. As such, much of its work will be market research and analysis to make the product or service development scientific and data-driven. The fruits of the research will be a big help in the success of the business.
What makes a good product manager?
Problem-solving skills. A product manager should be a creative problem solver, seeing as much of their role shall be on product improvement and troubleshooting. They should be able to think outside the box and look at the problem from a different perspective to come up with an elegant yet efficient solution.
Open for collaboration. One of the tasks of a product manager is to engage with other people from other departments to gather input as well as provide feedback. Thus, a product manager should be a team player and be comfortable collaborating with others with the goal of achieving positive results for the product or service.
High articulation skills. Being able to articulate yourself well is a skill much needed by product managers. He or she should be able to communicate a message clearly to the team to avoid any misunderstandings and grey areas in the execution of strategies. This applies to speaking with consumers, too, when interacting with them.
High level of empathy. A good product manager should be able to put themselves in the shoes of the consumers. At the same time, they should also be able to relate to their team members on a deeper level. Empathy could also help you navigate your relationship with other teams: you can understand their pain points and the challenges they face during the different phases of product development.
Jumpstarting your product management career
Having in mind the makings of a good product manager, here are the steps that you could take to kick-start your career.
Associate (and Rotational) Product Manager Programs. These elite programs are being offered by many leading companies that provide opportunities for aspiring candidates to experience the different opportunities or roles in different departments in their company to help them in exploring product development. In every “rotation,” the candidate shall assume a different role in a different team within the organization. An example would be Google’s Associate Product Manager (APM) program which gives a candidate the experience to lead efforts across engineering, design, and marketing, among others, being highly involved in the launching of new products or services.
Build up your credentials and skillset. If you are preparing to jump into your career as a product manager, then it is imperative that you brush up on your knowledge about the field. Equip yourself with knowledge about the basic principles of product management, the product development process, and the product life cycle. You likewise need to up your skill set by further developing your competencies that relate to the role that you are aspiring for. Identify gaps in your skills and focus on addressing them.
Get your certification. Getting a formal certification as a product manager could help you in the long run as these certifications offer a structured learning path that would equip you with the necessary skills and would expose you to real-life scenarios. You would also benefit from the guidance of experts and veterans on the field through lectures and mentoring sessions.
Connect with other product managers
You can only learn so much on your own. As an aspiring product manager, it is important to build fruitful connections with other product managers, especially those who could be your mentors. Today, there are online communities dedicated to connecting product managers with each other. Below are a few examples:
- Reforge offers cohort programs and offers you access to tons of content offered by the site. It also exposes you to other community members and provides an opportunity to connect with other product managers who were part of the community.
- The community created by Products by Women endeavours to make skill-based professional development more accessible for women in tech and business. Community members are given the opportunity to learn from peers, programs, and mentorships. It also organizes events for community members to gather and learn.
- Product Buds is an online community for both new product managers to industry veterans.
- Women in Product aims to equip women with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the world of product management by fostering a cultivating community and organizing events and conferences for knowledge sharing and networking.
- Inclusive Product Management Accelerator is a free, twelve-week product management professional development program that broadens access to economic opportunity by bringing more diverse voices to the Product Management community who can inspire innovations that universally improve lives. The goal of the cohort program is for mid-career professionals from historically marginalized communities to get hired into their first product management role.
- ADP List is a global community that lets you learn from world-class product mentors for free
Look for an opportunity
Now that you’ve taken proactive steps to achieve your goal of becoming a product manager, you are now ready to scout for opportunities. Your degree certification and mentoring should have equipped you for job hunting and interviews as well as preparing resumes to better suit the role that you are aspiring for. In case you need more boost when it comes to your interview skills, there are websites such as Product Alliance, Product Management Exercises and Exponent that can help you prepare for your interviews.
Beginning your product management career in your current company
Before exploring opportunities outside of your company, you can start by looking within your organization for product management roles that you can apply to. You have an advantage in the sense that you have been with your organization for quite some time and as such, you had the chance to demonstrate your expertise and skills. When it’s time for your interview, narrate your experiences in problem-solving and process management, and highlight your learnings and qualifications – including your certification – to emphasize your competencies. Don’t be shy to bring forward and underscore your accomplishments and at the same time, don’t be afraid to own mistakes and hiccups in your projects.
Your journey to becoming a product manager begins with you recognizing your existing skills and taking steps to acquire the ones needed that are not yet there. Acquiring a certification will be a huge help to boost your credentials. Aside from these, as a product manager, you will be expected to handle different roles at different times, so an assortment of hard and soft skills will be needed from you. While it may seem that building a career in product management is daunting, take heart and know that all journeys begin with a leap of faith – and taking that first step will take you to your product manager role.
Access more great content to further your product management craft
- Are you a Product Manager? Or a Project Manager in disguise?
- How I got my job in product – Sankalpa Sarkar, Product Lead, Walmart
- Learnings from London: The secret sauce to hiring great product people by Kate Leto