People who are interested in transitioning to Product Management often ask me for tips on how to go about it.
Before we proceed, let me say that I will park the question of what is Product Management. Let me point you to one of my favourite posts on what is Product Management that you can check out here.
Below are some ideas which may help your transition into a Product freak!
1. Change your thinking
I think Product Management is about how you think as much as it is about the work you do. PMs think from the user perspective, they think in terms of features as seen from the user or customer point of view. Depending on the profession you are coming from, this may require a huge shift in mentality for you.
Here is a description of a feature from a Product and non-Product person’s perspective to give you an idea of what I mean:
Non product: “We want to showcase our top 200 list of preferred suppliers to people who come to our landing page”
Product : “Users are going to see 200 suppliers listed in alphabetical order on the landing page so they can find the service they are looking for”
Changing your thinking is harder than it sounds. Newbie Product Managers will describe a feature or requirement in terms of data flows, engineering changes, marketing goals or in terms of business requirements. If you are serious about Product this has to stop.
You can begin to change your thinking by asking yourself: What’s changing for the user or customer? If I am experiencing this change as the user, what do I see, feel, learn? Why are we making this change? How can we validate this is what customers want? How will we know we have been successful in giving the customer what they want?
2. View the product through the “User Lens”
Roles such as Business Analyst may include requirements gathering, technical documentation, user/customer facing problem definition and are a great stepping stone to Product Management . So is engineering, UX, design and marketing. I have met Product people from various professional backgrounds so I wouldn’t say any particular background is exceptionally bad.
There is a challenge in transition from your previous role which takes changing your thinking a step further. I call this the “User Lens”. It’s the ability of the Product Manager to impartially represent the voice of the user – to utilise the User Lens. The Product Manager must do this despite pressure from stakeholders, their own interests, executive teams or other internal/external business factors.
For example Product Managers have to speak many languages: sales, marketing, tech, design, UX, marketing, finance, analytics, project management. The lens through which they see the Product cannot be skewed by any of these perspectives.
A design professional who is new to Product may be viewing the Product through a design lens in the beginning. They may prioritise features based on what looks balanced on the page, how consistent the user flows are and focus on enhancing the visual elements of the experience. You can see that they are focusing on the user as you would expect an experienced Product Manager to do, however their focus is through a design lens.
Purely visual enhancements can be powerful and valid areas (depending on the state of the product) to address. However if this is all you did, chances are the Product will lack vision and major new features which solve big user problems would not be discovered.
A good way to check your lens is to acknowledge your default lens (eg. Design) and then decide you are going to think outside it when prioritising your roadmap or creating your Product strategy.
3. Get Training
There are many tools available to Product Managers for day to day use. You can learn a great deal from blogs like SVPM or try out tools from mountaingoatsoftware.com.
There are great courses such as the General Assembly Product management courses (I taught the PM course and the material was great) or you can complete a course for Product Owner certification.
Another way to learn is to meet other Product Managers regularly by attending meetups. A strong PM will have a toolkit of great Product tools such as prioritisation methodologies, story mapping techniques or customer validation approaches that they use alongside the new tools they are constantly learning and adding to their toolkit. Meeting folks at a meet-up will be hugely beneficial in sharing tools and tips.
4. Set up a Side Project
You may already be in a junior Product role or you may be in a non-Product role hoping to get into product. In either scenario it is likely that you won’t get to try all the new techniques you are learning in your day job.
This is where side projects come in handy. You can become the Product Manager for your own idea. For example you may want to learn about and experiment on a Product using pirate metrics
(Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referrals) however you don’t have access to do this in your current role. You can easily start up a blog or an e-commerce site to optimise the pirate metrics funnel and get some hands on experience.
Your own personal side project Product will allow you flexibility to go beyond your day job in your learning. You will always learn more than you expected and your employer will benefit from your broader insight.
5. Collect examples of your learnings – get runs on the board
If you are new to product, start collecting your side project learnings into a list you can talk about with other PMs or at job interviews.
A strong PM has specific examples of what they have recently shipped that worked well or didn’t work well and what they learnt from it.
Start collecting examples of what works and what doesn’t work on your side project. Be prepared to share the outcomes you have seen as well as what you learnt.
As you get into Product Management roles, look to work in places which allow you opportunities to ship features often. The more you ship, the more you will learn, the more you can share with other Product people or talk about at job interviews.
Product is the place to be (yes, I am biased!). There are many ways to get there and some of those ways are described above. It isn’t an exhaustive list but it should be enough to get you started on self lead learning.