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TechieGen Career Guide

How To Become A Product Manager

TechieGen's Product Management career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in Product Management. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the data skills you should learn, the best data training options, career paths in data science, how to become a Product Manager, and more.

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15 Minute Read

What Is Product Management?

Product management is a process within a company that involves product development, planning, research, forecasting, pricing, and more, all of which leads to a product launch and product marketing. Once a product is brought to market, Product Managers will often also continue to refine the product after its launch.

In the digital sphere, Product Managers are typically involved with products that can be distributed virtually – a website, piece of software, or mobile app, for example. In many cases – especially in the growing field of product-as-service, or digital tools and products that serve as the platform for a company’s services – “product” can mean much more than a simple app or piece of software; it can also include UX design as it relates to the service itself, and even the design of the invisible systems or infrastructure it takes to deliver that service.

Product design at its simplest is also the most familiar. It occurs at the scale of a single product, like a discrete app or website with a specific goal in mind – in other words, one touchpoint, or a single point of interaction between you and your user. The success and failure of a product can usually be measured pretty easily at this scale, whether by your product’s technical ability to complete a task or by more quantitative metrics like conversion rates. Whatever the case, analytics will let you know if your product is working or not.

Consider Netflix as an example. The company’s singular goal is to let users watch video content, but the digital products Netflix has developed to achieve this goal are numerous. There’s the website, which allows users to watch movies in a browser window. There are separate apps for Android and iOS. There are versions of Netflix tailored for gaming consoles and Blu-Ray players, or baked into smart TVs. Each of these represents a separate product or touchpoint – a different way for a user to access the service – and each one had to be developed with different functionality and features in mind.

Of course, we generally think of Netflix as a service, not a product. Although Netflix relies on a dozen different, discrete products, all of them work together to provide a seamless experience. Here, at the level of service design, larger considerations come into play. You can almost think of service design as a meta-product that comprises the entire journey users make. At this scale, the Product Manager’s focus is on how the product they’re building contributes to the full experience that all users share. For this reason, service design considerations are much more complex than at the level of an individual product, and include not just functionality but also how your product affects and is affected by the real world, before, during and after use.

For Product Managers thinking at the service scale, a clearly defined vision is the key to success. Consider how Netflix feels the same no matter what device you use to interface with it; how the system sends customized content recommendations; how it lets you pause a video on one device and continue watching it on another; how it walks users through the signup process; how users connect with customer support live chat, and how support workers access different parts of the system to resolve customer issues. Each of these functions represents a unique problem, but together, they create a streamlined experience.

Depending on the type and complexity of the service a company is providing, these features don’t come easy. In fact, to create this kind of holistic product experience requires thinking not just about individual products or even the user journey, but about the company’s entire operations, including its social impact, position, and transformational impact. It’s hard to imagine that Netflix tackled such world-changing plans without a clear structure in place to govern its decision-making – and in fact, its expansion was carefully rolled out across three phases, each phase learning from the one before. And while few Product Managers are ever tasked with such an ambitious product rollout, the very same design thinking principles that guided Netflix’s multi-year international expansion are at play during the creation of even the simplest app.

In technology organizations and beyond, product management is an increasingly important process and role as it works across departments and functions to define the strategy, roadmap, and features of entire product lines. As with anything that involves a lot of moving parts, product development only works with a system of oversight to ensure all those parts are working together properly. There are just too many people involved in product development—from Graphic Designers to Writers to Data Architects to Developers—to let them all work independently and without guidance, focused only on their own work, and still expect the pieces to fit together.

In that sense, a Product Manager is like a Head Chef in a large kitchen. They’re responsible for planning the menu, making sure the kitchen is operational, making sure the ingredients are at hand, and making sure the line is fully staffed and trained. They may not do much cooking themselves, but their oversight of all the elements it takes to keep things moving smoothly can spell the difference between an efficient, profitable restaurant and utter chaos.

What Does A Product Manager Do?

Everything a Product Manager does is related to delivering a successful product, and that means they are responsible for defining and coordinating all activities needed to bring a product to market. This can include customer and user research, identifying market opportunities, revenue and pricing modeling, roadmapping, and more.

Because the role of Product Manager is both internal- and external-facing, it requires a mix of research, communication, documentation, team management, and collaboration with research, technical, and marketing teams; it also requires a thorough understanding of user experience. And while it’s true that Product Managers manage the development of a product, they achieve this by managing people—motivating, guiding, negotiating, and making sure that different teams, such as development, marketing, and sales are aligned.

As management consulting firm McKinsey describes the role of Product Manager, “They wear many hats, using a broad knowledge base to make trade-off decisions, and bring together cross-functional teams, ensuring alignment between diverse functions.” This helps to explain why product management is emerging as the new training ground for future tech CEOs.

As the name suggests, a Product Manager (PM) is responsible for overseeing product development from conception to completion. They help figure out what products should get made, ensure that they do get made, and report back on how users are responding to those products.

PMs are passionate about understanding their users’ problems and needs, and they rely on a deep user experience understanding when working with their research, technical, and marketing teams. PMs also cultivate a comprehensive understanding of the product’s strengths and weaknesses, always maintaining a desire for improvement.

In terms of digital product management, PMs are the glue that holds together the user experience, the technical requirements, and the business requirements of a product. Mind the Product co-founder Martin Erikkson has described them as “the unsung heroes of the tech world.”

This role has both internal-facing and external-facing aspects, and requires a mix of:

  • Research

  • Communication

  • Collaboration

  • Documentation

  • Management

While PMs are managing the development of a product, they are also managing people in order to accomplish the end goal. Intercom Senior Editor Geoffrey Keating jokes that a possible equivalent title is “Direction and Consensus Manager.” If you think about the steps it takes to create a digital product, from brainstorming to widespread user-adoption, you’ll appreciate just how much collaboration is needed. A Product Manager’s daily tasks depend on what stage of product development their product is in, as this will often involve working with different teams. Generally speaking, though, a Product Manager’s tasks typically fall into four (somewhat open-ended) categories:

Product Strategy

Before development begins, the Product Manager develops a document to clearly outline a vision for the product, including how the product will evolve over time, how it will get there, and why it will be successful. Underlying all of these considerations are the customers’ needs.

Product Roadmap

The roadmap is a visual representation of how the product will evolve over time. This big-picture plan helps to ensure that even the smallest steps of the product’s development play their part in helping to reach its grander goal. This plan is then used to prioritize tasks, coordinate between teams, and continually measure overall progress.

Product Backlog and User Stories

Getting into the nitty-gritty of building out the product’s features, this list is essentially a running tally of things to be done during product development. This to-do list is framed from the perspective of the user, not the Developer, and so focuses on the product per se, and not the work that goes into making it.

Product Analytics

After a product has launched, the work continues, as new features are rolled out and bugs are removed. Product Managers monitor all the data that feeds into this ongoing process (including how the product is used, performance analytics, and customer feedback) to identify areas for improvement.

Underlying each of these responsibilities is Product Managers’ passion for understanding their users’ problems and needs, which they translate into a comprehensive understanding of the product’s strengths and weaknesses, always maintaining a desire for improvement.

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What Skills Do Product Managers Need?

To become a Product Manager, you will need to develop a number of key skills, including:

  • Strategic and creative thinking

  • Empathy and an understanding of user experience

  • Superior communication and collaboration skills

  • Technical expertise (particularly if you are working at a tech company)

  • Business sense in your given industry

From the soft skills of negotiating the dynamics of a team to the hard skills of analytics and prototyping—and quite a few things that fall in between—Product Managers are expected to have a wide range of aptitudes. This speaks to both the involvement Product Managers have in the lifespan of a product, which begins before development and continues even after launch, as well as the breath of responsibilities that it takes to bring all the pieces together across multiple stages. Here are five categories of skills you will need to develop to become a Product Manager.

Strategy and Creativity

So much of Product Management is about ideas: identifying pain points and brainstorming solutions for them, inventing new products or features to deliver those solutions, preparing for and responding to the problems that might arise along the way, devising a roadmap to bring your product to market, and knowing how to position it once it launches. All of these require problem solving and critical-thinking skills—and there’s very seldom a template you can follow, so creativity and innovation are key. Many of these abilities stem from a familiarity with the digital landscape and the process of developing a product itself, so while they can’t really be taught per se, they can be learned, simply through exposure and experience. Curiosity will get you far—just remember to keep an eye on your organization’s larger business goals.

Empathy and UX

While empathy might seem like an odd requirement for someone working in tech, it’s at the heart of a Product Manager’s obsession with understanding the way users think. In that way, it’s much like the discipline of user experience (UX) design itself, which begins with interviews and research to lay the foundation for knowing the user’s wants and needs at an intuitive level. There’s a certain level of abstraction here, of course; what might begin with face-to-face interviews evolves into analytics and models that synthesize user feedback into usable prototypes, which are then expanded and refined through design thinking.

Communication and Collaboration

As the leader of a team of people quite likely spread across multiple departments or locations—and as a primary liaison between these departments, company leadership, and external stakeholders—Product Manager is a highly collaborative role. It is also, ultimately, a supportive role, which means making connections and fostering understanding across different departments. On any given day, you might be called upon to mediate issues between team members, help renegotiate a project’s priorities, or offer leadership during an all-hands meeting, so your diplomacy and interpersonal skills will need to be well-developed. And, of course, as with any role that involves direct and indirect human interaction and collaboration, this draws on excellent communication (and listening) skills.

Technical Expertise

A Product Manager needs to have a clear bird’s-eye view of a product’s future course—but much of the time, that high-level oversight depends on expertise with all the minute technical details that go into product development. These include the ability to write user scenarios and flowcharts, delve into product analytics to trace user issues back to their underlying causes, create and utilize wireframes and prototypes, maximize SEO, conduct A/B tests, build out the product’s technical specifications, and understand software development lifecycle methodologies and how the product works at the level of code itself (while you may not necessarily need to know how to code, you’ll definitely need to know about code). Even if a Product Manager doesn’t perform all these tasks personally, without a good sense of how the technical elements come together in the final result, their overall vision will quickly steer off-course.

Business Administration Skills

All of the above skills come together when a Product Manager knows how to prioritize tasks and lead a team effectively and efficiently—which is where top-level administrative skills come in. A Product Manager must be exceptionally detail-oriented and organized. This will ensure that complex project phases like user testing and quality assurance go smoothly, that the functional specifications the Project Manager puts together are clear and effective, and that the entire team delivers on time and on budget.

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Is Product Management A Good Career?

The salaries are generous, the perks are good, the work is rewarding, and the position is in high demand; if that sounds good to you then, yes, Product Manager is a good career. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that Product Manager was the most coveted job title among MBA graduates. The following year, according to Hired’s Global State of Tech Salaries, Product Managers brought home the highest average salaries of any tech role, averaging $138,000 and growing (in the U.S., that number was up 5.9 percent over the year before). And in 2018, CBS News listed it among the nine best jobs in America, noting the abundance of openings.

One of the reasons for both the high demand and high salaries Product Managers enjoy is that the combination of hard and soft skills makes it especially hard to find candidates that are a good fit. The perspective about what makes for a good Product Manager is slowly shifting, and as a result, the attributes a Hiring Manager will prioritize over others—such as team management and leadership—are shifting as well.

“I’m often asked: how do I hire Product Managers?” writes Author and Product Management Consultant Matt LeMay of the challenge inherent in finding Product Managers with all the right strengths. “Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that many high-profile and high-tech products have publicly failed to live up to their expectations. The idea that shipping software—any software—is itself a holistic end goal is much harder to support now than it was five years ago. And as venture capital becomes more interested in companies that are revenue-focused and truly understand their market, there is an appreciable shift away from ‘just ship software’ and towards ‘ship the right software.’”

In other words, successful product management doesn’t begin with a product; it begins with a deep understanding of the marketplace and its trends—and of the fact that, increasingly, a product’s life-cycle never ends.

As a result, one of the primary benefits of being a Product Manager is also one of its primary challenges: broad knowledge of the tech sector and its trends is difficult to acquire, but for those who do, this knowledge becomes a valuable asset. And while experience working in tech is a plus, experience alone isn’t enough to hone this skill. A good certificate course will help develop that experience into high-level thinking by teaching you how to identify market opportunities, user needs, and which products customers will actually buy.

 
 

How to Get a Job as a Product Manager

Product Managers are increasingly important to the product development process and have been called the “unsung heroes of the tech world," the “glue that binds user experience with technical and business requirements,” and the new dream job for MBA students. In fact, a Product Manager was most likely involved in the creation of your favorite product. Some jobs require a specific, tailored education path (read: you’re not becoming a brain surgeon without going to medical school).

Product management is the opposite. Across North America, Product Managers come from a variety of backgrounds, including degrees in communications, marketing, and engineering, among others.

"There's no undergrad degree you take, and then you become a Product Manager,” notes Nahla Salem, a Senior Product Manager at Loopio, an RFP response software. “You need to be strategic and plan out your career in a way that leads to it." Increasingly, this strategic plan involves continuing education. According to a survey of 2,500 Product Managers, 71 percent of respondents held at least one professional certification in addition to an undergrad degree, and 76 percent considered continuing education very or somewhat important to their career.

There are good reasons for this focus on continuous learning: the best Product Managers often have to know more about their industry than anybody else in the company. On top of that, they’ll need to be able to speak the language of Developers, Engineers, Designers, Marketers, and more. “They wear many hats, using a broad knowledge base to make trade-off decisions, and bring together cross-functional teams, ensuring alignment between diverse functions,” management consulting firm McKinsey once wrote, adding that “product management is emerging as the new training ground for future tech CEOs.”

Most PMs agree on one thing: It’s not an entry-level job. Many of the skills a good PM requires — management abilities, problem-solving, cross-functional teamwork, and decision-making — come from experience in the workplace. Fittingly, according to the 2019 BrainStation Digital Skills Survey, over 80 percent of product respondents are working in an intermediate or higher position level. What's more, 88 percent of product management professionals started their careers in a different field.

“You'll hear a lot of PMs say they were doing the job of a PM long before they had the job title,” notes Phillip Gornicki, a Senior Technical Product Manager at Rubikloud. “That's because leadership and interpersonal skills play such a vital role in product management.”

Brian Yee, Head of Product at Rangle, a Digital Transformation Consultancy, says landing a role in product management involves gaining a sense of several main areas: Business, technology, and customers. “A Product Manager is trying to understand where those three intersect... to build a really great product,” he says. This is good news for those looking to make a career change; the role requires a number of transferable skills, with being able to work cross-functionally among the most important. “You need to be able to understand how to work with technical people, how to work with internal stakeholders, to really be able to move a product along,” says Kim Phelan, VP of Product at ChefHero, an app that allows businesses to easily order wholesale restaurant supplies.

It’s also helpful to have a solid sense of industry trends and customer needs, Phelan adds — along with the problem-solving savvy to develop something people will want to buy, use, and support. But just like education, the skill set needed for PM roles vary widely company by company, says Gornicki. “It's important to be very deliberate about your search and the types of companies you're applying for,” he says. Sure, you’ll find Product Manager roles all over online job boards — they’re a dime a dozen on LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and even a quick Google search. But PMs say networking inside or outside of your own company, be it inviting a colleague you admire out for coffee or attending a mentorship event, can be a better bet than applying cold to a job posting.

“Networking is, to me, the number one thing to do ... if you don't go to the meetups, if you don't actively find the right mentor and get critical advice on where your resume or job experience is weak, you'll find it hard,” says Jack Sadler, Director of Product Management at Rangle. Phelan agrees, saying there are lots of solid meetups for budding PMs — like the Toronto Product Management Association meetup or Product Management New York. “Generally, when I've hired before, it's been internally or people with experience,” she adds. The bottom line is that while making industry connections and diversifying your skill set will help set you apart, there’s no singular route to landing a job. “You don't need a cookie-cutter path to product management to be a successful Product Manager,” says Gornicki.

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Job Opportunities In Product Management

Highly qualified project managers are needed in all industries more than ever before.

The global talent gap between employers’ needs for project management professionals and the availability of experts to fill those roles is growing rapidly. Several factors driving this gap include an increase in the number of jobs requiring project management skills, higher attrition rates, and a significant uptick in demand for project talent in developing economies.

According to the Project Management Institute’s Job Growth and Talent Gap report, employers will need to fill 2.2 million new project management-oriented roles annually through the year 2027. In particular, the Indian healthcare sector has experienced the most substantial increase in project-oriented jobs, followed by industries such as manufacturing and construction, information services and publishing, and finance and insurance.

If you are considering starting a career in project management, there has never been a better time to do so. 

Additionally, a project manager’s salary is expected to increase as they advance along their career path. While there is no typical progression of job titles (most advance from Project Manager I to Project Manager II, for instance), there are opportunities for skilled workers to advance from project to program to portfolio management throughout their careers if desired.

According to a report from the Product Management Institute, “Demand over the next 10 years for project managers is growing faster than demand for workers in other occupations.” The report projects that there will be almost 214,000 new project management-related jobs per year in India. 

 

Learn Product Management With Our Meme Based Learning Path 

TechieGen's Meme-based Learning Path is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in product management. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the data skills you should learn, the best data training options, career paths in product management, how to become a product manager, and more.

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