12 Skills You Need to Unlock a Product Management Career

So you want to become a product manager? You’ve worked in sales and/or technical support for tech startups, but you want to be part of the magic in creating the product.

I can see why you’d be drawn to the role of product manager. It’s a really fun job within a startup. I would argue it’s the best position in a startup, but I’m biased.

The role of product manager in a startup is rewarding. In most companies, the position of product manager sits at the very center of all departments acting as the hub between sales, operations, engineering, marketing, and the customers.

When people ask what it’s like to be a product manager, I usually reply with one of a few snarky responses.

I’m a professional translator. I speaking the languages of business, technology, marketing, and customer pain.

I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. I do a little bit of everything.

Of course, these responses are in jest.

I can’t even count the number of times I have had colleagues approach me with the same exact question.

What resources would you recommend to become a product manager?

Honest moment here… Every single time someone has asked me this question, I wonder why they are asking me. I have never viewed myself as the expert. I have just tried, and failed, and tried again. Repeatedly. I guess that’s what makes me qualified to help someone get started in doing the same thing.

I often refer people to a similar set of resources to begin learning. I refer them to the standard faire of authors like Marty Cagan, Eric Reiss, Steve Blank, or Steve Krug. All of these authors do an excellent job teaching things that a product manager must know.

The major failure in this is that none of these resources really prepare anyone for the day to day responsibilities of being a product manager. It’s all about the hard skills when the soft skills are equally as important for success.

Being a product manager requires you to sit at the nexus of three important things. The business, the technology, and the customers. You’ll literally speak to people in all three categories on a daily basis. Often communication the same information in different ways.

 

HARK!

Business

Every business is different, so I recommend you focus on general business concepts when learning about business. When you take on your first role as a business analyst or product manager, you’ll get the opportunity to learn about a specific business.

Key things to understand when learning about the business are:

  1. Understand different business models. We use money in exchange for solving a problem. Study and understand how startup business models work. Follow the flow of money exchange between an individual and business.
  2. Learn all about customer service. Learn how customer service teams work and how to best support your customers.
  3. Understand how to craft a marketing message. Part of the role of a product manager is to guide the company in understanding the unique value proposition for your product. You’ll need to learn to communicate this effectively.
  4. Learn how to identify, track, and analyze business metrics. Data is your best friend as a product manager. How will you know your product is successful? How will you report back to the business the metrics that show that you’ve been successful.

Technology

If you’ve been working in a technical role, this may be easy. I recommend trying to round out your skills in this area. Don’t focus on being an expert, focus on being conversational on technical topics. Be able to ask questions that help you better understand the technology of your product.

Key things to understand when learning about the business are:

  1. Learn about data relationships. This doesn’t mean you have to build a database or know how to write a SQL query (bonus points if you do!). You do need to know how data is stored, accessed, and related.
  2. Understand web usability concepts. Usability concepts will help you to guide and inform the overall product design. There are plenty of basic intro courses for UX design on the web. I suggest you take one of the intro courses.
  3. Take an introductory programming course. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it will propel you forward working with a highly technical team. You’ll earn respect of the team by knowing basic fundamentals.

Customers

This is probably the most commonly overlooked parts of product management. Every startup product manager will tell you they’ve done this well, myself included. I suck at this part of product management. It’s easy to get sucked into the day-to-day of the design, build, ship routine and forget to do the necessary customer research.

Here’s the concepts you need to know to best understand your customer:

  1. Know how to build a journey line. I wrote an article explaining step by step how to build a customer journey line. Practice this process by picking any industry or job role you find.
  2. Grow a thick skin. The best kind of feedback you’ll get as a product manager will be seemingly negative. It will come as an enraged customer, an upset technical support rep, or even a screaming CEO. You’ll need to have a thick skin to take this feedback, deconstruct it, and turn it into actionable pieces of information to build your product.
  3. Build your level of empathy. Empathy is a must have skill for product managers. Empathy allows you to look beyond your own ego to understand the pain of your user.
  4. Learn how to conduct customer research. By conducting effective customer research, you’ll be able to best understand who your users deeply. You will be required to get to the root of their pain. If you find a pain they are willing to pay to fix, you will have created a winning product.

So do you still want to become a product manager? If you’re anything like me, you’ll look at this list of contrasting fields of study and get excited about all the things you can learn. I’ll be writing here about how to build up some of these skills.

If this article helped you in any way, would you mind doing two things for me?

  1. Leave a comment below telling me what single thing his holding you back from starting your career in product management?
  2. Sign up to receive lessons, tips, and guidance on becoming a product manager.

 

Free guide to your first job in product management

Download my free step-by-step checklist for landing your first product management job.




2 thoughts on “12 Skills You Need to Unlock a Product Management Career

  1. I am currently working as a Business Analyst. I have many years of experience in that area, at least eight. I work in a Scrum Agile environment. I am a CSPO. I do not have any experience yet as a Product Owner/Manager. I’m in the Metro Atlanta area.

    1. Hi Mark! The fact that you have experience as a business analyst and CSPO certification should help your job prospects tremendously.

      If you’re looking to move over into a Product Onwer/Manager role, I would suggest one of two things:

      1. If you’re already working for a company that employs Product Managers, I would go talk to them and see if there’s anything you can take on to help them. By doing the job of PM, even unofficially, you’ll learn more about the role and what it entails. You’re also likely to get noticed here and given an opportunity to do more of this work.

      2. You can also seek out companies looking for associate product managers. I would also look for some jobs that may be called business analyst or product analyst but have more product management requirements.

      Hope this helps! Good luck on your journey!

      Don’t forget to signup for my mailing list. I’ll be sending out content that’ll help you grow a career in product management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *