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How to get into Product Management
Product management is different in every company and startup. It is a broad role, and some companies may even term it a Program manager. Ask around or Google, and you'll also get different expectations of what a Product Manager should be.
Before answering the 'How', it is important to ask yourself 'Why' you want to be a Product Manager.
Personally, I got into product management by chance (and I am grateful for it). It wasn't a career path I wanted, or even knew existed. I didn't wake up one day saying, "I want to be a Product Manager!" and worked my way there.
My mentor at my previous company had a different plan for me though; he pushed me to the path of being a product manager because he saw that it was a role I could make more impact in. Being a fresh grad and having a passion for the product I was working on, I took up the role. And I absolutely enjoyed it because I am personally motivated by the impact I get to make on our customers and company.
What are your motivations for wanting to try out Product Management?
It is a role where you have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. You have to solve customers' problems through data, design, business and engineering. You are at the intersection of almost all functions within the company (including legal) and you have to learn to manage stakeholders well. Your job is not to make your boss or your stakeholders happy, it is to make the customers happy.
Throughout my PM career, people have asked me, how do you get into product management? Schools don't teach that (though Stanford is already opening its Product Management course). And if you look within the APAC region, it's still a relatively nascent career path, as compared to the US or other parts of the world.
So what does a Product Manager do?
More of this in later posts, but here is my perspective of what a product manager's role is.
First and foremost, we are here to identify, prioritise and solve problems for our customers.
I don't necessarily take the view that PMs need to be the ones who come up with solutions. With us being at the intersection of all functions within the company, it is part of our role to solicit solutions and receive feedback and ideas from the company to form the roadmap. I believe that your fellow team mates are also eager to give their input and ideas. And it is also on us to ensure people within the company are aligned on the problems that we set out to solve.
However, if we prioritise the wrong problems to solve, then the roadmap formed is as good as wasted effort as we would all be rowing towards a wrong direction.
It is the most important job to understand the problems our customers are facing. Even when we speak about problems, it could either be:
Problems with using the product you build
On Burpple, Alex wants to know which restaurant sells 'fish and chips'. However, searching 'fish and chips' on the search bar only gives results for the restaurant name, and not the menu items itself. The problem is that Burpple's search results does not return which restaurants sell Fish and Chips.
Problems they face in their day to day lives
Alex is a foodie. He is always looking out for new and delicious food to try. However, this information is not readily available anywhere. The problem is a lack of a platform that has the most updated information on new places to eat at.
How can you get into Product Management?
If you somehow found out about Product Management, and want to give it a try, here are some ways that you could try a hand at diving into.
Situation A: If you're not in any company / startup:
Work for a company where you are really passionate about the product, even if not within a PM role first. I tend to find that this helps as you can relate to the problems more.
You'll gain a deeper understanding of how the product works, which will help you transition into product management a lot easier. Throughout, you connect with the product managers to better learn what they do, and then eventually move on to request for a transition into the product team.
Identify problems and opportunities for a product that you are really passionate about.
Identify some problems and opportunities on how you think the product should be improved. Post it on your blog, or make it into a podcast. If possible, LinkedIn / Twitter the relevant product managers, and send your work over to them. Make it clear that you'd like to contribute to the product team if the opportunity arises. These exercises will sharpen your product thinking and even invite discussion amongst people.
Join programs and apply for internships that allow you to have exposure to product management. Apply to Google's APM, or Facebook's RPM, and a lot of others in this list. There are many companies out there that are hiring Product interns too, so give those a go.
Situation B: If you are already within a company:
Offer your time and effort to the product team, on top of your usual work.
Sometimes you have to prove yourself and show how much you really want the opportunity. You can start off by asking if they require help to investigate certain user problems, refine product requirements, or evaluate existing AB tests. You can even ask if you could help with delivering a smaller feature end to end.
Request for a transfer into the product team and take on the product challenge.
It is a pretty common transition route into product management. You can apply for open product positions, or make it clear that you want to go into product management. Arrange sessions with your manager to have a discussion about your career development and make sure they are good with the possible transition, as it might come across as uncomfortable for some managers for losing a good team player.
Of course, if you are still unsure, but have been thinking about transitioning for the longest time, the next steps for you is to do something about it to get yourself into Product Management. Be it a 12-weeks stint or just a conversation with your product team, it'll help you decide on what you want to do in your next steps.
Just don't not do something about it.
You can also refer to several resources to gain a better understanding of what it means to go into Product Management.
First Round Review: https://firstround.com/review/
Silicon Valley Product Group: https://svpg.com/articles/
Lenny Rachitsky: https://www.lennyrachitsky.com/
Crystal Widjaja: https://www.crissyw.com/work
Product School : https://www.productschool.com/
Product Management Festival: https://productmanagementfestival.com/
Mind the Product: https://www.mindtheproduct.com/