More than ever, businesses and incubators are in need of smart product managers. It's because of the birth of groundbreaking innovations over the past few decades which has now placed more emphasis on product than ever. These solutions include the computer and iPhone.
It's no wonder so many people want to become a product manager. Because when you think of great product people, you think of people such as Steve Jobs.
Unlike other conventional careers that usually require the completion of formal education, the roadmap for becoming a product manager is somewhat vague.
That’s because product management is more about having the right personality and relevant hands-on experience, and less about technical expertise.
If you’re interested in learning about how to become a product manager, keep reading. In this article, I’ll take you through an 8-step roadmap to kick-starting your product management career.
What Exactly Does a Career in Product Management Entail?
Before laying down the entire roadmap, I’d like to quickly highlight what a career in product management would entail.
You can jump directly to the steps if you’d like, but I recommend leaving nothing out.
If a product manager had to describe what they do in layman’s terms, they would probably say something along the lines of:
“My job is to come up with new products and make sure they (and the existing ones) succeed.”
Obviously, there’s a lot more to the job description than just that.
A product manager is responsible for identifying opportunities by studying the market, coming up with ideas to claim those opportunities, and (possibly) working with multiple teams to transform those ideas into practical solutions with product development – in addition to monitoring the progress of existing products.
Do note that a product manager is different from a product marketing manager, who only deals with the marketing side of things.
Product Manager’s Responsibilities
Here’s a complete breakdown of a product manager’s typical set of responsibilities:
- Conducting Market Research – a typical PM role is to conduct market research. An average product manager spends the greater part of their career studying the market. After all, in order to develop new products, you need to know exactly what the market wants.
- Brainstorming Ideas – by identifying gaps in the market, product managers come up with fresh ideas for new products. Furthermore, they may also focus on finding room for improvement in the existing ones.
- Developing Business Cases – another critical PM role is to create strong cases in the favor of their ideas by leveraging market research data. The goal is to convince C-level executives. However, this doesn’t apply to certain PMs, in which case, they may only focus on creating pitches for investors.
- Designing the Products – based on the needs of the target audience, a PM oversees the designing of the product. This includes determining different elements, such as the main features, the packaging (if applicable), the interface (if it’s a software), and more.
- Develop a Marketing Strategy – this starts off by determining the overall value to deliver. Considering all of the costs and the competition, the PM then comes up with an appropriate pricing strategy. Additionally, they also design smart product marketing strategies to promote their new product.
- Collaborating with Multiple Departments – last, but not least, all successful product managers are great team players. A typical product manager may need to collaborate with engineering, finance, and a bunch of other departments to ensure success.
As you can see, a career in product management is very similar to entrepreneurship.
With the responsibilities of a product manager out of the way, you’re now all set to take the steps needed to pursue this career.
As mentioned earlier, becoming a project manager isn’t so straightforward.
There are multiple paths that you can take.
However, to keep things simple and as clear as possible, I’m going to sketch out one solid (and safe) roadmap consisting of 8 steps.
Let’s jump right in:
1. Invest in Product Management Courses
As mentioned earlier, becoming a product manager doesn’t necessarily require investing in formal education.
However, that is if you have ample prior experience of managing products/ventures of your own.
In case you don’t, you need to start by investing in a solid product management course or two.
These could be about anything, ranging from a beginner’s/101 certification to a more advanced strategy course.
The good news is that most of these courses aren’t that expensive. And you don’t have to physically attend lectures.
Here are some of the many product management courses that you can consider investing in:
- Become a Product Manager | Learn the Skills & Get the Job (Udemy)
- Product Management Fundamentals (PM Loop)
- Transition into Product Management | Become a Product Manager (Skillshare)
- Product Management Foundations (Product Institute)
- Digital Product Management (edX)
- Digital Product Management: Modern Fundamentals (Coursera/University of Virginia)
In addition to equipping you with the basic foundations of product management – such as market research, strategy, designing, pricing, etc. – completing a certification will also strengthen your candidacy when you go after opportunities.
2. Bury Your Head in Books About Product Management
In addition to having actual credentials, you need to consume as much educational content as possible about product management.
This will help you develop both the core competencies and soft skills required for the job (more on that later).
The best way to do so is by reading as many books as possible by leading authors.
Here are some of the best-selling books on product management:
- Product Management For Dummies (by Brian Lawley and Pamela Schure)
- The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback (by Dan Olsen)
- Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams (by Martin Eriksson, Nate Walkingshaw, and Richard Banfield)
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (by Nir Eyal)
- Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers (by Geoffrey Moore)
Also, don’t limit yourself to the books above.
This isn’t limited to product management, but a sure-fire way to succeed in your career is to consistently read as many books as you can: space them out, plan to read 1-2 per week, and never think you know enough.
3. Focus on the Right Core Competencies
Let’s dive into the specifics.
In order to become a product manager, there are a few core competencies that you need to develop.
If you’re just starting out your career, you may need to stick with the bookish concepts for now (this is where the resources listed above can help).
These product management skills will not only help you land your dream job, but will help you succeed in the long-run:
- Market Research – first and foremost, you need to have a good command over market research. Naturally, this would also require having good knowledge of statistics. Having hands-on experience with tools, such as Survey Monkey, SPSS, Tableau, Stats iQ, etc. is a plus point.
- Resource Allocation/Management – this isn’t a “single” skill, per se, but a combo of accumulated experience and multiple skills. Knowing how to manage resources, be it budget, human capital, raw material, or machines/facilities, is vital for a project manager. Prioritization is key.
- Design Sprints/Testing – as a product manager, you’ll be required to run design sprints. A traditional sprint is divided into 5 agile phases (or days), where the new product is designed from scratch. In the end, it’s tested on real subjects, in a safe environment.
- Price & Revenue Modelling – two other important areas to master include formulating pricing strategies and determining revenue modeling.
Depending on your industry, having technical expertise, such as coding skills, can also give you an added advantage. However, in most cases, they’re not necessary.
4. Polish Up the Key Soft Skills
Having the right soft skills is just as important as having the core/technical skills.
You need both if you want to make it big as a product manager.
Here are the 3 most crucial qualities that most companies look for while hiring a product manager:
- Team Player – as mentioned earlier, being a product manager entails collaborating with multiple departments at once. At times, you’ll find yourself with the engineering team, bouncing ideas. On other days, you’ll find yourself stuck in a mind-numbing meeting with the folks in finance. However, at the end of the day, remember that teamwork makes the dream work.
- Leadership – this is a no-brainer. Product management requires leading the whole team towards success. If you don’t take charge and have the right leadership skills, you’ll get nowhere.
- Emotional Intelligence – although, a facet of leadership, EQ deserves to be highlighted separately. Collaborating with hundreds of individuals every week can take its toll on your emotions - being strong in this area can help significantly.
Other soft skills include communication, creative thinking/problem solving skills, and time management.
My advice is to consciously try to practice all of the above in your day-to-day tasks and routines. I also recommend reading books that can help you polish those skills.
5. Actively Seek Out Problem-Solving Opportunities within Your Current Role
If you’re currently employed somewhere, you should try to actively seek out opportunities that will allow you to contribute to developing new products.
Here’s how you can go about doing that:
- Volunteer to do tasks that aren’t necessarily related to your job, but are relevant to product management (like researching, pricing, etc.).
- Ask your supervisor about cross-departmental opportunities (preferably engineering).
- Meet up with colleagues from other teams and ask them about their day-to-day challenges. Learn from their experiences and offer your two-cents.
- Figure out how you can go beyond your existing role, and what you can do to help develop new solutions in your organization.
Remember, courses, books, and relevant skills can only take you so far.
Ultimately, it’s your actual experience that’s going to help you succeed in your career.
6. Help a Startup Grow/Look for Opportunities to Manage Projects
Apart from seeking opportunities within your existing role and organization, seek external opportunities to build experience.
You can actively seek out founders or reach out to business incubators, and offer to lend them a hand.
In this case, you don’t necessarily have to “volunteer.”
Exposure is good, but unless it’s an opportunity to be a part of something truly groundbreaking, you should prioritize compensation.
7. Look for a Relevant Job (Or Launch Your Own Solution)
Once you've completed a few certifications, tried out some tools, and (hopefully) worked on a few actual projects - get out there.
Start actively looking for product management jobs.
Go on Glassdoor, Indeed, Google, and LinkedIn to see who’s hiring.
Or better yet, start planning your own product/venture.
You don’t necessarily have to work for someone else to call yourself a product manager, either.
If you feel that you’re ready to start your own venture, have the budget for it, and have identified a void in the market you could capitalize on - start developing your own product.
8. Improve Your Networking Game
Last, but not least, to become a successful product manager, you need to be brilliant at networking.
To conduct research, go after investors, and execute marketing strategies, you’ll need a good amount of connections.
Here are some quick networking tips to help you get started:
- Join LinkedIn, if you already haven’t. Connect with founders, marketers, growth managers, investors, hiring managers, and of course, other product managers. Don’t just connect – build relationships.
- Attend different conferences and exchange your information with the panel and other participants. A few conferences that I recommend attending include Hustle Con, SaaStr Annual, Collision Conference, and FinCon.
You can also turn to your network to find a suitable product management job and kick-start your career.
(Optional) Attain a Product Manager Certification
Though not a prerequisite according to most modern organizations, a Product Manager certification can certainly give you a significant competitive edge.
This is especially true if you attend well-networked program such as Product School's Product Manager course.
Enrolling in such a program can help build strong foundations in areas such as marketing, organizational management, supply chain, finance, development relations, and project management.
A program like this, combined with a technical background, could take your career to the next level.
Remember: Good Product Managers are Problem Solvers
In the end, the role of a product manager boils down to one thing: solving problems.
With the right set of skills, experience, and mindset, you can easily become a brilliant product manager and enjoy a rewarding career path.