So you want to be a product manager?
So you want to be a product manager but you don’t know where to start. That is a common problem, especially in a field changing as fast as this one. As a team of product managers ourselves, we thought we would put together a few tips to help you get started. This includes some basics, tips, and great resources we follow ourselves.
Learn what a product manager does
No — it’s not all just roadmapping. If you’re a product manager, you’re busy wearing lots of hats: conducting research, managing ideas, spec’ing, and talking to customers. You’ll need to brush up on your communication and listening skills — especially the latter! You will be sitting between commercial, technical and customer-facing teams, and you’re the one responsible for translating all that into a meaningful product vision.
Product and Project management are not the same
The most common mistake we see is people confusing “product managers” and “project managers”. They sound they same — and both do a lot of planning — but that’s about all they have in common. Product managers are responsible for product vision and direction. You plan what gets developed and who you need to get involved to reach each milestone. The product role doesn’t traditionally cover managing budgets, time schedules, or juggling release plans — that’s typically a job for the project manager. (Though in smaller companies and startups, you might find yourself doing all this at once.)
Does your startup need a product manager?
If you work at a startup and are looking to become a full-time product manager (or hire one), first figure out whether your company needs one. Businesses usually hire a product manager as they reach their first growth stage. If you’re not there yet, it may be a role that can be shared among several people.
It’s not all about the money
As Head of Customer Success at ProdPad, I spend a few hours a day researching and answering questions about the field. One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of people asking about how to break into product management, and the conversation always leads into ‘How much money can I make?‘ As the old saying goes, Money isn’t everything!
There are far more important things you need to consider:
- Passion for the product
If you have no passion for the product, you cannot expect to give it vision or direction. You need to believe in it in order for your customers to believe in it, and even more so, your team. Part of being a product manager is being a leader, and you can’t lead without passion.
- Employer support: resources available to you as a product manager
If a company offered you a ton of money to be their product manager, but offered you absolutely no resources or support to do your job, would you want to stick around? Probably not. Make sure that your employer offers you the right infrastructure and allows you to get the right tools.
- Working with the right team
I dislike using the term ‘culture fit’ — but it’s almost a necessary term. Working with like-minded people does make a difference. At the end of the day, it won’t matter how much money a company is paying you if you are unhappy.
There is no official certification!
Anyone trying to sell you a ‘certification in product management’ isn’t offering you anything legit. There is no official certification, training, course, or degree in product management at all. There are, however, a lot of really great resources available. Check out your local ProductTank and ProductCamp meetups. Also be sure to follow and attend the next Mind the Product event!
Read, learn, read some more
Product Management is a fast-changing field of expertise, and we are all learning as we go along. There’s a lot of reading available online! Here’s a few of my favorite ones:
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to Product Management
- Mind the Product blog
- Silicon Valley Product Group (Marty Cagan)
- Ask the Quora community
- Ask the ProdPad Team!
Yes — ask us about anything! We are always happy to answer your questions, learn about what you’re doing, and put you in touch with the right people.
Follow up with Part 2.
This article was originally published in the ProdPad blog