The role of product manager (PM) is the most fascinating role within tech teams right now. PMs are closest to the center of the action, and often go on to start their own companies. It’s no surprise that product management has begun to show up on lists of the best, hottest, and most promising careers in the U.S. (and not just in tech).
Product Management has been rising in popularity as a career path and created more competition in the job market due to the increased density of candidates. Interested? Keep reading to find out if Product Management is the right career for you.
What is Product Management
A Product Manager serves as the liaison between the client, stakeholders, and the team who develops an app or digital product, including Designers and Developers. They guide the project and product, make decisions, manage a timeline, and analyze every step along the way. Product Managers sometimes serve behind the scenes, but they are an integral part of all SaaS and technology companies.
The road to becoming a PM can often be long and unpredictable — the most interesting things in life often are. Zooming out, you can boil down the job of a PM into four words: “Figure out what’s next.” So, what comes next for your journey into product management? Develop the skills outlined below. Read, process, and put your learnings into action however you can (creativity is part of being a PM). Your job is to be as prepared as possible when an opportunity arises.
You Might be a good fit for Product Management if you are good at:
1. Taking any problem and being able to develop a strategy to resolve it
A good strategy is a set of actions that is credible, coherent, and focused on overcoming the biggest hurdle(s) in achieving a particular objective. — Richard Rumelt
As a product manager, your job is to gather the resources for your team to drive business value, and strategize to solve your company’s problems. A product manager is someone who holds somewhat of a “coping saw” for their company. They are the ones who will ultimately see problems, devise strategies to solve them, and communicate the solutions to the executors. The job can be stressful at times, because ultimately everyone in the company is relying on the product manager to steer the ship in the right direction.
In order to start developing your strategy skills, ask the best PMs you know to talk you through the vision and strategy that they’ve developed on projects. Or you can take a problem your current company (or a company you want to work at) is having and come up with a framework that breaks the problem into solvable chunks
Resources to develop your strategic thinking
Some books to read for developing your strategic thinking:
- Read How to Become a Strategic Leader by Julie Zhuo
- Read Applying Leverage as a Product Manager by Brandon Chu
- Read The Ultimate Product Strategy Guide by Joe Daniels
- Read Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
2. Executing and getting things done.
Executing well is like captaining a tight, smooth-sailing ship. You need to make sure that everyone knows what they need to do and then does it, that the crew hums together in unison, [and] that you estimated the journey well enough to have packed ample supplies.
— Julie Zhuo
The PM role is one of execution and delivery. There is a lot of important and worthy discussion on product, vision, competitive landscape, market dynamics, growth opportunities , etc., but at the end of the day, the PM is responsible for executing.
Tactically this includes things like building a roadmap that everyone on your team is aligned behind, setting and hitting deadlines, and ruthlessly breaking down roadblocks. For new PMs, you should begin practicing this skill immediately. Pay attention to people around you that are good at executing — how do they run meetings, how do they address issues as they arise, what systems do they use to keep their team aligned?
Books to read on execution
- Learn about OKRs and goal setting by reading Measure What Matters by John Doerr
- Read Building Products by Julie Zhuo
- Read A Product Manager’s Job by Josh Elman
- Read about Sheryl Sandberg’s Career Advice
3. Communicating Clearly
Engineers code, designers produce designs, and product managers …communicate. Everything you do as a product manager is done through writing, speaking, and meetings. As Andrew Bosworth puts it, “communication is the job.” You can never be too good at this, and it’s very difficult to over-communicate.
Communication is the most essential of Product Management skills. To be successful, you will need to ‘sell’ your vision of how things should be to your company’s decision-makers (i.e., Marketing, Sales, Developers), then be able to work with each department to execute that vision into a product that customers love. You are the bridge between founders, investors, clients, designers, engineers—everyone in the company who has a stake in the outcome of your product.
Build Communication Skills With These Resources
- Emails: Force yourself to look at your email at least once before sending it. There’s always something you can cut or clarify.
- Docs: Always ask for feedback from at least one person before sharing a doc widely. Focus on clean and consistent formatting. Push yourself to learn to write better.
- Meetings: Include the primary goal of the meeting in your invite, ideally along with an agenda. If you attend a meeting that doesn’t feel productive, call it out. Invite as few people as possible. Leave with clear action items. Follow up over email with the action items and owners.
- Read How to Run a Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting by Gibson Biddle
4. Making decisions, informed by data
The decisions PMs make are the ones that unblock their team so they can continue to build. They don’t need to make every decision, but they are responsible for ensuring a decision gets made — whether by them, their team, or their stakeholders. — Brandon Chu
Teams generally look to the PM to help them reach decisions. Expect to be making dozens of decisions on behalf of the team daily. Your best friend in making decisions is a clear set of principles you aligned on previously, and hard data (both quantitative and qualitative). The less opinions you have to rely on and the more facts you have at your disposal, the easier your life gets. Study how successful companies make decisions through experimentation (Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Pinterest), and find a way to launch an experiment or two where you work today. Watch successful leaders around you make decisions — how quickly are they making decisions, what do they ask about before making a decision, how do they communicate their reasoning?
Books to read to develop decision-making skills
- Read about Type-1 and Type-2 decisions
- Read Making Good Decisions as a Product Manager by Brandon Chu
- Read The Art of Decision Making as a Product Manager by Sachin Rekhi
If you have these skills or are ready to develop them your next step is to find courses on Product management or join a Bootcamp.
Take a product management certification course.
Once you know what you’re missing, you need to educate yourself. You can invest in a product management or product owner course. Alternatively, if you feel you just need a little insight into specific topics, there are many free resources on the internet that can help you, like Google Analytics Academy, and Udemy.
Product Management may seem like a daunting field to jump into but it doesn’t have to be! And if you’re already a Product Manager but looking to take your skills and career to the next level, Product Gym can help you do that and so much more. Get started with Product Gym today!