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Product Manager – How to get started

The product manager defines the scope of the project and identifies deliverables for the rest of the development teams. They’re responsible for outlining a product vision and creating an actionable strategy for bringing it to production. It’s their job to coordinate each engineering team and lead them from initial planning to the final product release.

Product management lies at the intersection of business, technology, and design, combining strategy, marketing, leadership, and other skills with the end goal of launching an amazing product. It’s all about solving problems with technology and how people use that technology. Product management very close to roles like brand management or project management. But, product managers often address more technical products, like; industrial goods, online services, software products or books, which fall under one particular name. As a product manager, you will be developing pricing, distributing and promoting a particular product or line of products. As a PM, you are the voice of the users.

 

How product managers differ in startups and mature companies?

Startups

Product managers in startups are responsible for discovery and definition issues, pricing, support, marketing, and sales.

It is crucial here to be always ready for frequent changes in direction as the company works towards product-market fit and learns to operate at scale.

  • Advantages: product managers in startups can be more involved in the company strategy. They are able to make a bigger impact and to take more risks. PMs in small companies have enough influence and authority.
  • Disadvantages: Startups usually do not mean any mentorship, great practices or role models. You’ll not have huge budgets to succeed at some of the things they’re tasked to do.

Mature companies

Here product managers may have a narrower scope and have some coworkers to delegate. PMs in big companies are likely to be part of a big team of managers.

  • Advantages: big companies will probably provide product managers with mentoring, best company’s practices and role models. You’ll have an established customer base to work not from scratch.
  • Disadvantages: product managers in mature companies have less exposure to the global strategy. They can be lost in the organizational system and policy.

Many PM newcomers learn the role but then unluckily struggle to put their knowledge into action. So, what are the ways for new product managers to become real leaders and gain stakeholders’ confidence?

Becoming a product manager can be tricky, because most PM roles require prior experience as a product manager. However, opportunities that offer valuable preparation and that strengthen your candidacy can be found even if you don’t work in product yet.

Find a project you can own end-to-end

You don’t have to build a mobile app to get the experience. Start a side hustle. Build a business. Work on a problem set that affords you the opportunity to try things and fail. It’s all helpful learnings on your path to becoming a product manager.

Do as much research as you can

This is the first strategic step that you must take before the first interview on the way of becoming a product manager. The detailed study of the industry, the product, its history, competitors and the target audience, will help you easily deal with the interview questions for product managers.

The more you study the product at the very beginning, the easier it will be for you to overcome the stages of the product manager career path afterward.

Ask questions

Ask your friends to introduce you to anyone who’s worked as a PM or on products in general. You can even divide your acquaintances and colleagues into 2 categories:

– Ones you are not at all interested in working with but need advice from

– People whose organization you’d love to work with

You can contact these people (especially any PMs you know) and ask them career questions like:

  1. What do you look for when you interview PMs?
  2. Here’s my honest experience, what parts do you think I should highlight in my CV & interview?
  3. How did you get to where you are?

You will be able to develop an understanding of the “ideal” PM: analytical, technically savvy, consumer-driven, critical thinker, strategic, and able to work with many different types of people and motivate them.

Know your competitors

Before going to an interview with the company’s leaders, be sure to track the current state of two or three competitors. Look at the latest updates that were released by them and which features distinguish them from the product you are going to work with. This will add expertise and self-awareness to your current state.

The other popular way that we have seen is internal transfer. So people who are at a company and have one job — they’re an engineer, or maybe they’re in customer support or technical documentation — and they keep doing that job really well, but they pick up side projects more like what a product manager would do. So they take over ownership of an internal tool or maybe they in addition to answering customer support questions, they start suggesting to the product team and coming up with designs for how we might avoid those questions in the first place. And after doing this for a while, they’re able to internally transfer to a position with the title of product manager

Are you passionate about the product or field you’ll be working in?

You can narrow your job search down significantly if you focus on products you’re passionate about. Remember that as a product manager, you’re responsible for setting the product’s vision and direction. Good luck doing that for a product you don’t care about.

What’s your passion? Healthcare? Fintech? Travel? Beauty? There are tons of products out there that you can make your mark on. Take the time to think about what you really want to do and where you really want to make an impact.

Sure, you can think of it as just a job. But being passionate about your product will really make the difference for both your career and the people you work with.

Make those long hours worth it

Make yourself visible

If you’re new to the world of product management, I have good news for you. The online product management community is both active and incredibly welcoming to newbies.

Here are the first steps you should take:

👉🏽Get yourself set up on Quora and Medium where there’s already a lot of chatter.

👉🏽Join any of these online communities for product managers

👉🏽Follow these top product management people on Twitter

You can get plugged into the conversation on Twitter right away: get started by following #prodmgmt and #productmanagement.

Feeling shy? Get yourself started by leaving comments on other people’s work. Not only will that be highly appreciated, but the more you write and tweet, the more visibility you get. All this will go a long way in helping you break into the network.

Blogs and podcasts you should check out

Oh, where do we start? These are a few of our favorites, but again – there’s no end to this list!

You can find an extensive list of product management blogs here.

The exciting thing about product management is that there’s no one road to becoming a product manager. There’s no official certification you need to enter this field. There are no barriers to entry – and it’s a role where you can make a real tangible impact at your organization.

The truth is, the best product managers are self-taught.

If you’re serious about product management, the best way to prepare is by getting out there, listening and learning from other people’s experiences.