How to Start and Advance a Career in Product Management

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Product management is a field that is increasingly lucrative and fascinating, given its relevance for fast-growing and innovative companies that are creating a disruptive digital product.

The term digital product is quite far-ranging and incorporates web or mobile applications, software solutions, and even e-commerce websites. Since digital products are becoming an increasingly large part of our daily lives, it’s easy to see more and more students and tech professionals are interested in pursuing a career in product management.

However, pursuing a career in product management isn’t necessarily a straightforward endeavor. Product managers must possess an extremely diverse range of skills that can require time to learn. Moreover, unlike other technical roles such as software engineering, where specialists are valued highly, great product managers are most often generalists.

That means many product managers embody a particular personality and temperament that is conducive to them learning about several different areas. Product managers are very often curious, industrious, and adaptable professionals that enjoy expanding their expertise. Let’s dive into some tips that individuals interested in pursuing a career in product management should keep in mind.

Develop Software Engineering Expertise

Most product managers today work closely alongside software engineers to bring a digital product to life. While most product managers don’t do hands-on coding work themselves, it’s crucial for them to be familiar with programming concepts, tools, frameworks, and best practices. This knowledge will allow them to have productive conversations with their engineering team, and to translate problems engineers face to other stakeholders in the company.

Often, product managers that don’t have any technical expertise struggle to understand and guide deadlines and timetables for the product, but it’s difficult for them to know how much labor is required to build in a specific feature or update. A lack of technical knowledge can also create interpersonal dilemmas between product managers and engineers, when a product manager sets goals that are inconsistent with the technical requirements for a product.

In other words, as a product manager you’ll gain a lot of credibility and productivity by being able to understand and communicate with your engineering team. Keeping up with recent tech trends can also go a long way in this regard. Product managers must familiarize themselves with the relevant vocabulary and lingo that coders use to refer to specific problems they’re solving.

This illuminating piece by the New York Times gives perspective on why many professionals are pursuing software engineering skills and why they can make a difference for product managers.

Learn About User Experience and User Interface Design

In order to break into the field and move up the ranks, product managers must hone their User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design skills. That’s because designers play a key role in determining the layout, aesthetic, and color scheme of a digital product. As a result, product managers must be closely involved in their efforts, to ensure that design decisions are aligned with creating the best digital product possible.

Moreover, it’s often the product managers role to understand, communicate, and justify design decisions to other stakeholders in a company. Good product managers will also sometimes offer creative ideas or suggestions for the design team to consider. In order to be able to do so productively, they must understand design fundamentals, and the tools the design team will use to implement their suggestions.

Develop your Marketing Skills

In addition to developing their design and technical skills, product managers must also become savvy marketers. Understanding market research is key to making informed decisions for the product. Moreover, getting a handle on the sales and go-to-market strategies for the product will allow product managers to incorporate features into the product that make it more sellable. 

No product can be successful without a dedicated base of users, no matter how well it’s made. Understanding market trends, consumer behavior, human psychology, and analytics tools will enable product managers to make more informed decisions. It will also allow them to understand the context behind suggestions the marketing department makes.

Finally, marketing skills will allow product managers to see the big picture, in terms of the long-term vision and direction of the product by understanding market trends.

Become an Expert Communicator

Although product managers are often known to be jacks of all trades but masters of none, one area in which product managers truly stand out from the rest is in their communication skills. Since product managers are cross-functional leaders that work across organizational and departmental boundaries, it’s crucial for them to be able to communicate with different sorts of professionals. 

Moreover, product managers must make sure different sets of stakeholders are all working in unison towards a common vision for the product, and communicating that vision can be difficult.  This article by Pranjal Bora at Digital Authority gives more details regarding how product managers interact and communicate with different stakeholders within an organization.

Communicating and balancing competing interests across an organization requires nuance and clarity, so it’s crucial that product managers can communicate effectively through all sorts of mediums. That includes in-person, email, phone, instant messaging, and video conferencing communication.

Expand your Network

Networking is an increasingly important part of career success, and research shows that individuals who focus on building a strong network and quality professional relationships have greater success.

Whether it comes to finding a job, or advancing within an organization, knowing the right people is a huge contributing factor to prosperity. Product managers should attend networking events when possible and put an emphasis on providing value to industry insiders. This piece by the Washington Post offers deeper insight into how professionals can maximize the benefit of networking events.

Product managers can also explore various product management certifications that are recognized within the industry including those made available by leading Universities through EdX and Coursera. Certification programs offered through LinkedIn Learning can also be a great way to build your skillset and network simultaneously. 

Finally, institutional bodies such as the Product Management Institute and the Scrum Alliance offer certification courses that are highly regarded in the industry.

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