Updated: March 28, 2023 - 9 min read
You may already have an idea of how awesome a job in Product Management can be. With the average salary in the USA sitting pretty at $108,992 according to Glassdoor (average PM salaries at top tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are closer to $174,000), it’s certainly an appealing move for many people.
Of course, money isn’t the only driving force behind a career in Product Management. There’s the opportunity to impact millions of customers, enact the change you want to see in the world, and enter into an exciting and fast-paced career.
Perhaps you’ve been looking for a sign that Product Management is the career move for you in 2021…this just might be it!
Rather than spending all your time finding, collecting, vetting and analyzing a bunch of random internet opinions, we’ve put together some quick facts for you that will help you find out if you should make the PM transition.
Product Manager Job Overview
The role of a Product Manager is to have a handle on all of the teams involved in developing a product. They are the keepers of the overall product vision, in charge of building a roadmap and making sure everyone is on the same page.
There’s also no other job in the tech industry where you get to be as creative as a product manager. Because you’re tasked with coming up with new ideas and turning those ideas into actual products that have never existed before, you need to be creative.
Every company, even every product is different and has unique requirements, so when you start job searching it’s important to read the individual postings very closely.
Day to Day Responsibilities:
The day-to-day of a PM will change depending on where the product is in the lifecycle, which can usually be broken down into 3 main stages:
In this stage, you’ll be spending time getting to know both the data and your customers. This stage is all about answering the question: “What is the problem, and how do we solve it?” You’ll be working mostly with data scientists as well as spending time getting customer feedback.
To learn more about product discovery (which many Product Managers cite as their favorite part of product development) check out our guide to Product Discovery 101 for Product Managers.
Ahh planning. A time for meetings, meetings, and more meetings! This is when you’ll use the data you’ve collected to present your roadmap to management. You’ll spend most of your time away from the teams as they continue to work on the product, and you’ll be strategising with management and the stakeholders.
This is the most hands-on stage. You’ll be working very closely with engineers, designers, and eventually also the marketing team to launch your product out into the world. You’ll also be troubleshooting bugs, and making sure everything is running smoothly for the user.
Other Product Manager’s Experiences
It’s often best to hear what it’s like on the inside from someone who has been there. Like Mark Dunkley who was the very first product manager at Shopify, one of the fastest growing and hottest e-commerce startup. Mark gave a talk at Product School about his experiences, providing valuable insight for soon-to-be PMs.
Check out many more videos like this on our YouTube channel.
Is It Right for You?
Have you got a deep obsession with the startup world? Or maybe you’ve got an amazing idea for a new app that you just know needs to be built. Perhaps you’re already working on a product, and you’ve realised that you don’t actually have a Product Management person.
What we also see often, are people who work in tech and/or at startups in other fields (like engineering, data, or Project Management) and they realise they identify very closely with a Product Management M.O. Transitions from these fields are incredibly common, and much easier to achieve than you may think.
It takes a lot of career personality types to build a product team. There’s no one way to be a Product Manager. Just because you’re not 100% like other Product Managers you know, doesn’t mean you won’t be a great one too!
Anyone can look at a list of tasks and think “I could do that”, or lust after the amazing photos of Google’s offices. But what makes a real PM are a set of core values.
An obsession with how things work
A need to understand customers
A desire to help build things, innovate, and make an impact
Does this sound like you? Dip your toes into the water with our Slack community, where you can meet 40,000 product managers and start your PM journey.
Transitioning to Product Management
It’s very common for people to come to Product Management as seasoned professionals in other disciplines, looking for a change. While each background comes with it’s own challenges, as a general rule you should prepare for:
Going from depth to breadth. Unlike other roles where you are expected to know one things in great details, as a PM you’ll have a more general knowledge of a lot of things.
Letting your teams do their thing. There are few managers harder to work with than micromanagers. While your team will no doubt value your experience in their area of expertise, you have to leave it just that: their area of expertise.
Leading a team. While you’ve undoubtedly been part of a team before, perhaps this would be your first time leading a time. The best way to prepare is start honing the
soft skills needed to become a great leader.
Stakeholders. You may have heard this word whispered in the darkest corners of the office, but as a PM this is your reality. Read up on how best to deal with stakeholders.
No matter your background, a great way to prepare to transition is to talk to other Product Managers. You can also talk to other people involved in product development, UX designers, marketers, engineers…finding out how they operate will give you more insight when it’s your turn to lead them.
UX and Product Management have some similar traits, which is why it’s not uncommon to see a transition from one to the other. Both are heavily involved in customer problem identification, product validation, and of course, experimentation. Use these links to your advantage. The focus of both UX and PM is the customer, so start by learning about things like customer feedback gathering, and customer insights. After that you can branch out to areas you are less familiar with like roadmaps.
Data is a Product Manager’s best friend, so if you’re already well-versed in data, you’ll hit the ground running as a PM. In product, all of your decisions need to be backed up my data, otherwise, you are just making guesses. As someone in tech, you may have to adjust your mindset away from strictly hard skills towards soft skills. In an interview, emphasize your ability to look at things from both a micro and macro level. The ability to zoom in and out is crucial for Product Management.
Much like UX and Data, Marketing already mimics many of the key qualities needed for a PM. Both require creativity based on facts. If you’ve managed a multi-channel campaign you’ve already got the ability to have a handle on many controls at once. Your focus should be on getting more technical. Things like learning a bit of code or sitting down with the UX team to understand how they work will help to broaden your experience.
One of the things many Engineers-turned-PMs advise is to let go of perfectionism if you plan on transitioning to Product Management. Some things which seem very important (flawless features, the smoothest possible processes etc) may have to be sacrificed in the name of time and money. As a PM, you’ll be the one doing the sacrificing!
You’ll also need to prepare to have a more flexible schedule. Rather than being told what to do and when you’ll be the one deciding what you do based on what needs to be done. This newfound freedom is a boon to many, but it may take an adjustment period.
Nikil Ramanathan, Senior PM at WeWork recently spoke to Product School about how he transitioned from Business Analyst to Product Manager. In his talk, he went into details about how he set himself up for success by mimicking the way PMs do things in his own work as an analyst (eg, A/B testing) which helped him decide if the switch would be right for him.
It’s also a good idea to talk to other PMs about how they do things, and sit in on a few meetings run by PMs if you can. Getting as much exposure to the role as possible will be greatly beneficial.
This one may be less common, but tech companies need lawyers versed in tech…is it such a surprise that these tech-enthusiastic lawyers might want a more hands-on role? You might find yourself filling gaps other PMs couldn’t, thanks to a legal background. Success in transitions is all about playing to your strengths. Part of being a good PM is having skills of persuasion, being a good orator, and someone who is able to sell a story. Focus on these skills, whilst doing your research on other skills you may currently be missing.
How To Make The Transition in 2021
While these are some of the more common backgrounds for Product Managers to have, the truth is that many paths lead to product! Nina Foroutan started out in journalism, before making the transition and eventually becoming the Head of Product at Forbes. In our product community we have former landscape gardeners, musicians, ballroom dancers…you name it!
Diverse backgrounds are a cornerstone of good Product Management. Products are built for everyone which means they need to be built by everyone.
To make the transition in 2021, here are the first few things you can do:
Updated: March 28, 2023