Getting started on Product Management
7 min read
People often ask me for advice on how to get into Product Management and how to land their first job as a PM. I used to send them a document with some pieces of advice and valuable resources to get started.
Now I've decided to evolve it and make it public, so it may hopefully help other people start their journeys on Product Management.
This will be a short guide to help beginners get started. The PM role may change a lot depending on the context, so I'll try to give more high-level advice for simplicity's sake.
What Product Management Really Is?
I love this definition of Product Management tweeted by Shreyas Doshi. Let's deep dive into his tweet.
The role: Define the product & coordinate actions across the org to enable its success
Every company has its own variations of a PM job description. Still, in essence, most of them converge on Shreyas's statement.
As PM, you'll be responsible for defining the product (or features of it) the company needs to build to solve customers' problems while driving business results.
You'll also be responsible for prioritizing the proper sequence/steps to tackle these outcomes/opportunities (product roadmap) and constantly adapt the plan given new context and strategic changes.
Defining success: User adoption & Business impact
You will know if you solved a significant problem if:
- User adoption: Your customers start using your solution (adoption) and keep using it (retention) long enough to sustain your business model.
- Business impact: The user adoption/retention positively impacts key metrics of the business (quantitative data) or enhances the user's perceived value from your product (qualitative analysis).
Of course, there is a lot more to it, but this is the essence.
Find meaningful customer problems that can benefit both the customer and the company and lead domain experts (engineers, designers, and others) with context to build the right solution.
Is Product Management Right For You?
Here is just a quick sanity check of some factors that you need to consider when considering a PM career. This is definitively not an absolute truth, but in my experience, I've seen these factors having a strong correlation with great product managers.
A PM career may be a good fit if you...
- Care deeply for users problems;
- Have a strong sense of ownership and high agency;
- Wants to drive business growth;
- Have influential communication;
- Copes well with uncertainty;
- Are a curious person, like to constantly learn new things;
- Are self-motivated and a rational optimist.
A PM career may not be a good fit if you...
- Don't like to work as a team player;
- Is not a flexible person – don't handle ambiguous situations very well;
- Have strong opinions and don't like to change your mind;
- Don't like to make hard choices – uncomfortable with saying no;
- Don't like to manage other people's expectations.
Product Management Skills
Ok, now that you have passed the sanity check, you're probably wondering what it takes to get there.
There are many ways to frame Product Management skills. I've found this "Product Competency Toolkit" created by Ravi Mehta to be a simple and straightforward way to understand what you need to develop as a PM.
It also makes it easier to quickly assess your strengths and areas of improvement to create your learning roadmap.
It's divided into four main areas:
- Product Execution – the ability to build exceptional products
- Feature Specification
- Product Delivery
- Quality Assurance
- Customer Insight – the ability to understand and deliver on customer needs
- Fluency with Data
- Voice of the Customer
- User Experience Design
- Product Strategy – the ability to drive business impact via product innovation
- Strategic Impact
- Product Vision & Roadmapping
- Business Outcome Ownership
- Influencing People – the ability to rally people around the team's work
- Managing up
- Team Leadership
- Stakeholder Management
I strongly recommend you check out his article to get an in-depth explanation of all the skills.
How to Land Your First PM Job
There is no single way to become a PM.
Most career transitions to PM roles I've seen usually comes from Engineering, Design, Business Administration, and Marketing roles.
But don't worry if it's not your case. I firmly believe that many areas of knowledge can be leveraged as a differentiation when transitioning to a PM role.
Here are some common ways to get to your first job:
Search for APM Programs
APM (Associate Product Manager) programs are designed to train young talents to become product leaders. They are a great way to start because it doesn't require you to have previous PM experience, and it is designed to give you the guidance and coaching need to help you get there. Here is a list of some APM programs available out there.
Migrating inside your current company
This is a very effective way to carve your path into product management. If your current company has product teams, you have an excellent opportunity to start a smooth transition inside your current company. Here is a great article that could give you some insights.
There is also an entire book focused on helping you to land your first job as a PM. It's called "Cracking the PM Interview" by Gayle McDowell and Jackie Bavaro.
For any of the alternatives above, I consider Product Execution and Customer Insights the essential skills you must invest time in to learn the fundamentals.
Developing a solid sense of your customer's problems, combined with a basic knowledge of product execution to address these problems, is the key to shorten your way to your first job.
Of course, it's tough to gather this knowledge without previous experience, so I tried to compile some meaningful and actionable content to help you on this journey.
Resources To Get Started
Here is a small set of meaningful content to help you connect the dots and navigate all the complexity around Product Management during your career transition.
First of all, here is a list of some influential thinkers in the Product Management space that you should definitely follow.
- Merci Victoria Grace
- Julie Zhuo
- Teresa Torres
- Melissa Pery
- Jackie Bavaro
- Erin Teague
- Sara Tavel
- Bo Ren
- Shreyas Doshi
- Benjamin Evans
- Lenny Rachitsky
- John Cuttler
- Don Richard
- Sean Rose
- Ken Norton
- Ben Thompson
- Andrew Chen
- Paul Graham
- Marty Cagan
- Kate Dill
- Shivani Berry
- Not Boring
- Cracking the PM Interview
- Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
- Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster
- Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters
- Continuous Discovery Habits: Discover Products that Create Customer Value and Business Value
Other cool stuff
I'll do my best to keep this list updated as I find new meaningful content.
If you have any content suggestions to add to the list, please reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll be glad to consider adding to the list.