You too can be a Product Manager

Don’t think too much about it… Just jump in.

I got an interesting reaction from some people with whom I shared “The Blackbox of Product Management”.

They were overwhelmed. Even scared I would say. I heard things like “its impossible to bring in someone unexperienced directly to Product Management”, “it is so hard and so important, I could never do it, don’t have that kind of experience”.

Have similar thoughts crossed your mind? Ever wondered “Could I actually be a Product Manager? What do I need?”

I’m moving a bit away from all the complex frameworks that support a Product Management body of knowledge — they only appeared recently and I know great PMs that don’t even know them. I’ll instead get more into a “let’s help a new guy be a Product Manager” mode.

It boils down to a super simple set of arguments that will openly invite someone to consider being a PM.

What do I need to start in Product Management?

As with every other change in your career, ramping up in Product Management may be scary…. But how hard it gets, depends only on how broad is the scope of your responsibilities as a newcomer.

You can quickly become a great PM if you have one of the two following characteristics:

  • Some domain knowledge and being a data-porn lover — domain experience in the scope of the product gives you a good head start; fetching data like crazy proves you (may) have a point. For enterprise software this “domain knowledge” usually means understanding the industry or the particular technology. For B2C that may simply mean deeply feeling the problem. After all, you’re a consumer yourself. This combination helps you describe the details of that problem to the organization with Authority — why it is important (or why not) — and understand whether it is the Right Problem you’re solving first.
  • Leadership and getting shit done — you can clearly define a goal, communicate it (and fine tune it) to exhaustion, move people, organize everyone around that goal, create consensus (or support a good passionate discussion). You can Answer Why. 23 times. To 40 different people. Every day. An average leader is a great listener. Being a true listener allows you to understand the market, honestly, unbiased, with no preconceptions, and then Communicate those insights — the problem — to the rest of the organization. And when everything gets tough… you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty.

I see these characteristics all around in people I work with; in rookies and experts; some stronger, others lighter.But all have a good mix.

How can others help you start in Product Management?

The responsibility is not totally yours. You’re not starting alone. So how can we, being already part of a PM team, help you get started?

Ramping up in PM can be done in a specific section of the product, a smaller set of use cases — a smaller, more focused problem.

This makes the transition and your own cost-of-change smaller. Makes it easier for you to feel your own progress and measure it.

  • Focusing on some concrete tasks — competitive analysis, designing demos, creating S&M collateral, capturing and organizing customer feedback — consolidates domain expertise.
  • Owning a specific part of the product — a small section of the roadmap, a detailed part of the offer — will support your ability to answer Why. And that focus will give you the space to grow those leadership skills even more in that specific area.

Deep understanding of the Problem scope (rather than the solution) is what defines a PM. To understand a problem you don’t need experience. You need unlimited curiosity.

Its a continuous learning experience, that never ends. And every human being was crafted to learn… so, yes, you too would make a great Product Manager.

PS: By the way… we’re hiring Product Managers. What a great opportunity to become one!

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