Student Handbook for Product Management

Looks easy enough.

I am fortunate enough to lead (alongside Timothy Ko) Hack4Impact UIUC, an organization that builds technological solutions for challenges that nonprofits face.

Here, I get to satisfy my ego and lead something, build solutions for some incredibly impactful nonprofits, and, most unique for me, recruit four other Product Managers and help to develop their thought processes and problem-solving skills.

What I’ve noticed is that the existence of college students who understand what exactly Product Management entails (three circles and some labels) are few and far between. However, there is an abundance of interest in the field, as indicated by the number of candidates who apply to our Product position.

Unfortunately, this means that a large number of PM candidates are cut before even getting to the first round of our interviews. Even fewer are able to get through an industry-standard interview and structure their answers in an effective and efficient manner.

The signal we are looking for regarding a candidate’s product sense, user empathy, and problem-solving ability is incredibly difficult to dig up if the candidate isn’t aware of how to approach answering that kind of question in the first place.

Consequently, it is nearly impossible to identify qualified external Product Managers, resulting in most of our Product Managers developing internally. When there is a surplus of people who want to be PM’s, but no way to learn about becoming a PM, something is probably wrong.

This lack of experience on campus means that UIUC is not the school where companies look to recruit Product Managers. We lose to Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Penn, and others 99/100 times. UIUC might be the place to find some genius thinkers, or to cultivate some really intelligent engineers, or even to find a snake or two, but UIUC is completely off the map for Product.*

I need a job, ya’ll.

Therefore, I put together some resources about Product Management — with the intention to spark curiosity and give even one person the foundation to start having conversations about what “Product” is, how we do “Product”, and how to get better at “Product”.

*Personal anecdote: I’ve spoken to one Product Manager at an engineering career fair in my four years here.


Let’s start with what in the world product management even is. I’ve come across too many engineers who think Product is sitting in meetings, and too many business majors who think Product is sitting in meetings and smiling. To make myself feel better, I will argue that Product is a little more than that.

Product is building an experience that delights a particular user.

What that also entails is being able to empathize with users and unearth a great solution for them. Drive design towards what a great user experience looks and feels like, and avoid what it doesn’t. Evaluate technical trade offs with engineers and scope out the complexity of a product. And of course, deliver a business outcome. Amongst a million other things.

Here’s a better high level explanation of: What a PM must understand and what they must do. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, what they can achieve.

For the rest of this article, I will primarily not be giving my personal thoughts on any of the topics discussed — maybe I’ll do that some other time.

Instead, to get the conversation started today, I’ll be linking resources I find helpful in my own PM journey, which cover a few main sections of Product Management better than I can. I’ll tag these with the kinds of content the resources are, such as [Book] or [Article], and if I think anything is particularly valuable out of these already valuable resources, I’ll tell you it’s a [Duh!] for me.

We’ll start with the topic that is likely most relevant to you: How to Crush a PM Interview.

Next up, we’ll cover general topics that will give you the basic, bare context you’ll need to get started thinking like a PM: Product Design, User Experience, Behavioral Psychology, Technology, Business Strategy, Defining Success and Metrics, and Prioritizing and Evaluating Tradeoffs, in that order.

That will probably be a large enough chunk to chew for now. In the future, I’ll hopefully be able to provide some more resources on Leadership, Culture, Communication, Feedback, Asking Questions, Managing a PM, the PM Career Path, and maybe a million other things I haven’t thought of yet.

Hopefully this helps! Let me know if you have any other awesome resources, think this is shit, or want a part two.

Let’s jump right into it.

You’re in for it.

Crushing A PM Interview

Interviews are hard. Especially if you don’t know where to start. If only someone compiled a few great resources to help get you started.

[Book] [Duh!] Cracking The Product Management Interview

  • Commonly referred to as the Bible for those who are interviewing for PM
  • Shows you how to communicate your qualifications and thought process to at least seem like you think like a “Product Manager”
  • Potentially the read that will give you the most knowledge in the least amount of time for someone with little to no prior experience

[Article] Intro to the Circles Method Product Design Framework

  • Framework to structure your response for most Product questions during your interviews

[Blog] [Duh!] StellarPeers

  • Collection of incredibly high quality Product Design, Business Strategy, and other PM interview questions and answers that will show you how little you know

[Article] How To Learn Product Sense

  • One way to begin training your brain to think about the world around you differently, and practice for a PM Product Design interview

[Article] How to do a Product Critique

  • Step by step process of how you can break a product down and understand another team’s thought process as they build something to get your Product juices flowing

Product Design

Product Design is solving a particular problem for a particular user. It is not just making something pretty, or something functional. It is a mindset and process of how you approach building something which fundamentally and elegantly solves a pain point.

Time to change your mindset!

[Article] Intro To Product Design

  • Great beginning piece on product design — covering everything from what design is, why it’s important, and a case study on how the hell you even do “Product Design”

[Article] Design Thinking

  • Stanford’s design thinking process, optimized to discover the right problem and build (test) something to find the most effective solution

[Article] [Adv.] Design Thinking, Human Centered Design, User Experience

  • Combines Design Thinking, HCD, and the Double Diamond methods to give you the ultimate problem solving framework — a meaty read

[Article] Are You Solving The Right Problems?

  • Highlights the benefits of reframing problems and methods to do so effectively; solving problems is great — but solving the right problems is even better
  • You don’t want to miss out on these case studies, so go into incognito mode and get your free Harvard Business School article reads

[Book] [Duh!] Sprint

  • How you can break down a challenging, real-world product design problem and solve it with a straightforward and (relatively) quick process

[Article] Objects & Design

  • Touches on a few examples of the parallel between the design of physical products and software

[Article] Finding Clarity And Energy

  • The design process during Asana’s redesign a few years back, following one designer’s thought process throughout

User Experience

Product Design involves a lot of things. Finding the right users. Finding the right problems. Finding the right solutions. But, the right solution isn’t just defined functionally.

The right solution is much more than that. The right solution gives the user a sense of control, mastery, and satisfaction or pride when used. The right solution is as much functional is it is a beautiful user experience.

But what the hell does “user experience” even mean?

[Article] User Experience Mapping For Dummies

  • How to develop and analyze a user experience map (or journey) and build something delightful

[Book] The Design Of Everyday Things

  • Commonly referred to as the Bible for those who care about design/UX
  • Fundamentally explains the importance of good UX, and how to achieve UX, and affordances

[Q&A] Good VS Bad Product

  • An interview prep question and answer, touches on concrete examples of good user experience and product design in Grammarly VS MS Word

[Article] The Right Way To Ask Users For Mobile Permissions

  • Great example of how UI and UX function together, leading to a more engaging product for the user and a more engaged user for the business

Behavioral Psychology

Products control our lives nowadays. Wake up; check social media. Hungry; order food online. Exhausted; meditation app. Bored; Netflix. Tired of watching Netflix alone; Tinder.

Why the hell is my first intuitive thought to check my phone for 99% of things that come up?

[Book] The Power Of Habit

  • Psychology behind what habits are made of, what habits are capable of, and how habits are formed

[Book] Hooked

  • Takes the Habit loop and applies it to building products
  • Tons of case studies on various products and how each products’ features works to build user habits

[Article] Internal Triggers

  • Instagram example on how a user first gets hooked in, then gets molded into a habitual user from interacting with the application

[Website] Coglode

  • Easy to digest behavioral insights that can make your product even more enticing and engaging for a user

Technology

If you’re a business major like me, the utterance of the word technology makes you shudder. Or, if you’re particularly business major-y, smile and think the words Machine Learning and Cryptocurrency.

Technology and most product management roles seem to coexist in two main ways. One, to work with engineers and build something. That means evaluating the tradeoffs and effort a feature might take, or to be able to communicate about and eliminate engineering roadblocks.

Two, technology means understanding what is currently possible to achieve with the current realm of technology, and understanding what will be possible in the future. Then, actually integrating that knowledge into the products you design and build.

You can probably learn all of that from like 5 reads… right?

[Book] [Duh!] Swipe to Unlock

  • Introductory read on how technology can be utilized to guide business strategy, influence the decisions we make, and add functionality to products

[Article] [Duh!] How The Web Works

  • Explains how the web works in one short series
  • Simultaneously the most basic and the most advanced shit you’ll ever read if you’ve never been exposed to the inner workings of the interwebs

[Video] [Duh!] The World Through An API

  • Summary of what an API is, and what the implications of API’s as a service (AaaS?) has on the future of technology and software

[Article] [Duh!] Ways To Think About Machine Learning

  • Great reads from the entire A16Z team (obviously), but this one in particular really dumbs down what ML can and can’t do at a high level — I love analogies

[Article] 10-Step Plan For Working With Engineers

  • Enlightening piece — read AYSAP

[Article] Developing Great PM/Engineering Relationships

  • Less sarcastic version of the above — read ASAP

Business Strategy

Building a product involves your users, the internal teams you work with, and, of course, involves your business. The products you build should somehow align with or further the business mission, while providing positive returns.

These reads will provide you some positive returns.

[Book] [Duh!] Swipe to Unlock

  • So good it showed up again —introductory read on how technology can be utilized to guide business strategy, influence the decisions we make, and add functionality to products

[Article] After Product-Market Fit

  • How to achieve success and scale as a company, even after your initial product has proven itself

[Article] The Power User Curve

  • How to analyze data on users and apply that analysis to where you might focus the engagement efforts of your product

Defining Success and Metrics

What’s the point of building something if no one uses it? How do you know if a product is good? As a Product Manager, you need to be able to determine which metrics are most important to measure.

Otherwise, how will you determine how successful your product is?

[Article] How Do You Set Metrics

  • How to set meaningful metrics, and other “rules” to keep in mind when setting metrics

[Article] The Only Metric That Matters

  • Simple explanation of how to think about setting metrics

[Article] [Duh!] A Mile Wide An Inch Deep

  • PREACH IT Ev Williams!
  • How Medium itself defined success, contrary to how most currently think about success in the Media industry

[Article] Myspace: Unstoppable Force Or Unnecessary Click Factory

  • Similar to the above, but this article clearly articulates how defining a metric that is neither conducive to a great user experience nor synergistic to the business model can lead to a product that just doesn’t make much sense
  • Kind of sort of called the downfall of Myspace in 2006… wild…

[Article] Where DAU/MAU Fails

  • Highlights one of the most common metrics, the Daily Average User, and points out the numerous use cases where it doesn’t quite correlate to success
  • How you might look at data, identify your power users, and grow your hardcore user base

[Q&A] What Metrics Would You Use For Airbnb’s Experiences Feature

  • Solid interview response to a metric design question that you can follow along with — a little bit crazy, but incredibly thorough

[Article] Product Deep Dive

  • How to: Product Deep Dive, and use your metrics to model your costs and revenues to pinpoint where you can focus to increase the bottom line

Prioritizing and Evaluating Tradeoffs

There will probably always be a million different features to build next in a product. Or even a million different products to build next for the organization.

How do you figure out which one to build first?

[Article] How To Prioritize Product Features and Improvements

  • Why alignment on vision and goals are fundamental to prioritization, and a few criteria and constraints you should consider while prioritizing

[Article] RICE Framework

  • Simple prioritization framework with simple algebraic examples, too!

[Q&A] Amazon Echo Interview Question

  • How you might go about designing a few new features for Amazon Echo, as well as a quick prioritization on which one to commit to and build

That about wraps things up! If you made it all the way through, you now know a bit more about Product Design, User Experience, Behavioral Psychology, Technology, Business Strategy, Defining Success and Metrics, and Prioritizing and Evaluating Tradeoffs.

Feel free to reach out to me at mediumdchang@gmail.com for any questions or concerns, or to just let me know if all of these resources were useless.

Hope this helped, and thanks for reading!

This article has been published on www.productschool.com communities.