Product management is a hot, hot profession right now. It’s one of the most important roles in a product company, especially in high tech. But is it right for you?
If you’re wondering about this, or want to scope yourself against a basic set of guidelines for product managers, this post is for you.
There are definitely some skills you should have – technical, communication, decision-making. And you should have a flexible mind, love uncertainty, crave a fast pace, and enjoy working with people.
But what I look for most is that you’ve made something, that you worked with people to do it, and that it solved someone’s problem.
One way to check if you’re ready: reflect on what you’ve already done in your career, or in school, or perhaps as a volunteer or in a high school job.
For example, I worked with a graduating college student once whose resume said this about his senior project:
We spent some time talking about what he did, and it turned out he was underselling a bit.
He’d led a team. He had to validate the problem he was asked to solve was significant and worth solving. He had to test that the solution he and his team designed and implemented actually solved the problem effectively. And he had to ensure that his design could be manufactured on the customer’s existing machines.
The point is that he had done a limited version of product management in this project. He’d led a team, to create a solution, for someone else, that had market value. It didn’t show up that way on his original resume, but it was there.
I felt comfortable recommending product management to him as a potential career path.
When I’m talking to someone who wants to get into product management – like when I coach young people on their resumes during their job search – I always explore these stories. How they built something, or worked with others to build something. How they made sure the thing they were building was worth building. How they got people to work with them. How they took the solution to market, perhaps. And how they validated the solution worked – that it solved the problem.
If a person doesn’t have some stories like this, I am suspicious they want to get into product management for the wrong reasons.
And after you’ve been a product manager for a while we assume you have proven to yourself and others that you should be a product manager, that it’s the appropriate job for you. And at that point I start asking a whole different set of questions, of course!
Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.
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