How do people get started in product management?
Despite what you get led to believe if you listen to the ‘product experts’, you do not need to get a degree in computer science and then get hired by Facebook, Google or Apple in order to become a product manager.
Product Managers come from all walks of life, and wherever people are in their careers now, there are routes into product management.
I was a recruiter, before moving across in the same organization to work as a project manager overseeing the building of recruitment websites.
From here I then worked with people to support them in developing the strategy for their websites which sold their products, and eventually I was approached to come and oversee a product of my own.
I’ve been speaking to product people about their journeys into product management and there are some common threads on how they go about getting their first role.
Luke Frayling is a Senior Product Manager for a healthcare software provider and he managed to get his first product management role by working closely with the existing product team.
“In my support roles I worked very closely with the product team, which gave me the opportunity to learn more and more from them, until an opening came up in their team, which I applied for and got.”
And it’s this approach of working within an existing organization and transitioning across departments that is a common thread in stories of people getting started. It was similar for Andrea Hon as she moved across from Business Analysis, Amit Manchanda as he moved from being a researcher into product, and Ryan Burgoon who was in a systems operations role.
When it comes to moving across in your own organization:
- Determine who is responsible for product hires
- Speak to them about working alongside their team, perhaps by shadowing or supporting on a project
- Speak to members the team and learn all you can from them about how your organization approach product management
- Speak to your HR or training team about what you’d need to do in order to get a product role
Once you’ve got your name known, then should opportunities arise then it becomes easier to find yourself on the list of potential hires.
Once in a product role for the first time, there will always be challenges, but again, there are often common threads as to what these challenges are. Knowing this then allows you to prepare for the day when you walk into a role as a product manager.
Ryan Burgoon says “I didn’t know how they organized work, Scrum/Agile, how to get useful feedback from customers, how to gather data and use it to make decisions, but the biggest surprise was my lack of business acumen.”, whilst Alfonso Fiore, who is now Head of Product at AirAsia said “I started when I was much older (30+) so I was a weird mix of senior and junior. Initially nobody explained to me how to write user stories or run a standup or run any other agile meetings, so I had to figure out all these things by myself.”
Some find time management a challenge due to the sheer breadth of work required in product management (Ravi Sandhu), whilst others found the need to focus on the customer rather than the solution a challenging change in mindset (John Dunn).
When it comes to preparing for the challenges ahead:
- Research before hand on the role, team and organization
- Identify where you might have skills gaps, and read up as much as you can
- Attend product meetups and start getting familiar with the challenges faced by other product managers
More stories about how people get started in product management appear weekly in the Medium publication Getting Started in Product.
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I’ve been looking after products and hiring product teams for 20+ years. I’m currently product owner at luxury watch retailer Watchfinder and I write about how those who want to get into product can go about doing so, as well as how to do the job when they get there.