The Guide I Would Have Wanted: Peter Yang on Launching a PM Career

Book Review of the Month

At Product School, we love a good Product Management book. (We might have even written a few…) So when a new one comes along, written by an experienced product person, we leaped at the chance to review it! The Principles of Product Management by Peter Yang is designed to help prospective PMs land a job and launch their product career.

Principles of Product Management

We got to ask Peter some questions about his experience as a Product Manager, common Product Management mistakes, and we took a deeper dive into some of the points covered in the book.

(PS, if you want to enjoy this exclusive interview fully, we highly recommend picking up a copy of the book here.)

Meet Peter Yang

Peter Yang profile photo

Peter Yang is currently a Product Lead at Credit Karma, and wrote this book as a way of giving back to the community. “It wasn’t easy for me to transition to product, and many people gave me advice (and therapy) along the way. I want to pay it forward by helping aspiring PMs land a PM job and launch their careers. That’s why I taught at Product School and why I also wrote my book.”

The path to Product Management isn’t always smooth, and many find their way to it via long and winding paths. Most people come to Product Management after gaining experience in other, related roles.

It was no different for Peter, who started out with a bachelor’s in Applied Mathematics-Economics from Brown University. “I worked in management consulting after Brown. Being a consultant taught me how to understand problems and identify solutions, but I missed being able to execute to bring the solution to life.

By the time I got my MBA from MIT, I knew that I wanted to be a product manager. But it still took me a few years to transition to the field after graduating because I didn’t have relevant experience.”

The book itself is incredibly readable. Rather than being a dense tome that anyone who experienced traditional education will be very familiar with, the anecdotal storytelling style feels like a friendly sit-down. Like you’ve bumped into Peter at a networking event and fallen into easy conversation.

These connections with other people are an integral part of building a PM career, and also of the book, which features interviews with other prominent PMs. “Finding a good PM manager and mentors to learn from was important when I was starting out and is still essential to this day.

For example, one of my managers at Twitch always maintained a positive attitude no matter what went wrong with her product. I saw how she motivated the team with this attitude and tried to emulate her.”

Part I: Principles

The first part of the book deals with the three main principles of Product Management. It can be tough to look at our industries with an analytical eye, and it takes a lot of introspection. Great product philosophies aren’t built overnight.

“I built my PM principles over time from three sources. First, I try to reflect after experiencing successes and failures to understand the underlying principle that led to the event. Second, I observe other PMs and leaders to find behavior that I want to emulate. Third, I read books about leadership.

For example, one of the principles in my book is, “Find the truth.” When I have conflicts at work, I’m much more successful in resolving them if I come in with a goal to “find the truth together” instead of “convincing the other party to do things my way.” I’ve observed and come to respect leaders at different companies who have the same mindset. Finally, I’ve read books that highlight the same principle. All three factors have given me the conviction to have a truth seeker mindset.”

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Learn to prioritize properly

One of the key responsibilities of PM is prioritization. Namely knowing the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ which can be a difficult distinction to make.

“I think it’s a very common mistake, and I make it all the time.

During a typical day, PMs are running from back to back meetings while responding to messages on Slack. It’s really easy to lose focus as a result. You have to decide the top 1-3 things that you want to accomplish each day and ruthlessly prioritize to get them done.

The same principle applies to when you’re building products. It’s easy to try to build too many features instead of just solving one customer problem really well.”

Perhaps the most important chapter for new PMs (and for veteran PMs to revise!) is Start With Why. Not only does the ‘why’ matter for products, it also matters for the Product Manager. “My “why” is simple – I want to build and ship amazing product experiences that solve real customer problems. “Solving real customer problems” is the key part of that phrase.”

Part II: Product Development

Get Customer-Obsessed

Every so often we see products hit the market which aren’t solving a problem. Or products that fail because they don’t focus on the customer. But these two things are absolutely integral to product!

That’s why Part Two is so important for new Product Managers, especially Chapter 10: Understanding the Customer Problem.

“I think it’s tough for PMs and companies to keep the focus on the customer for two reasons. First, when things are going wrong, it’s natural to want to focus on solving the company’s problems. For example, if you’re behind on your goal to grow daily active users by 30%, you’ll be motivated to find any way to increase that number, including spamming users with emails and push notifications.

Second, it’s hard to think long-term if you’re being measured by short-term results. Spamming users with emails and notifications will lead to people losing trust with your product long-term, but in the short-term, it could help you meet your daily active user goal.

I think customer obsession needs to be baked into the culture of the company (like Amazon) for PMs to really focus on the customer.”

Amazon Kindle

You might also be interested in: How to Get a Product Management Job at Amazon

On Metrics and ‘Being Great’

Part 2 takes you through all parts of product development, including Building a Product Roadmap, Effective Communication, and Making Good Decisions.

It also takes you through Selecting a Goal Metric. For Peter, one of the easiest pitfalls for a new PM to fall into is focusing too much on metrics. “Metrics give you an easy way to measure progress, but you also have to balance that with just going out there and talking to customers. As Jeff Bezos said: “When the [customer] anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There is probably something wrong with the way that you measure the data.” So while your instinct on picking up this book might be to rush to the chapter on metrics, be sure to make your way through everything.

We asked Peter if he thought there was ever a moment when a PM could feel like they were ‘great’ at their job:

“I think it’s essential for PMs to have a growth mindset – to be constantly looking for ways to improve. The very nature of the job means that you can’t get too comfortable. You have to be paranoid about experiments not performing well, competitors eating your lunch, people on your team not bought into your vision, etc. Always looking for ways to improve is what makes the job both stressful and fun.”

Thinking of leveling up as a Product Manager? Take a look at our upcoming cohorts.

Part III: Getting the Job

One of the biggest hurdles for prospective Product Managers, or those looking to get their next PM role, is the interview. If you’ve made it that far, they already like your resume and they see your potential. So what you really have to wow them with is your attitude.

“You have to be confident but humble when you go into interviews. The best way to be confident is to practice PM interview questions and to understand the mission, strategy, and products of the company that you’re interviewing for.

At the same time, you have to be humble. When you’re working through a product case with your interviewer, you have to be open to their feedback (remember the principle, “find the truth”). When answering behavior questions about past failures or conflicts, you have to take ownership of how you contributed to the problem and what you learned from the experience.”

Interview

Luckily, the book doesn’t just talk about the interview stage, as there’s a lot more to getting the job than flawless interview techniques! Part III also takes you through everything from Finding the Right Company to Your First 30 Days. This section of the book gives you clear, no-nonsense advice with actionable steps to make job-hunting easy.

Make The Transition

Another key part of the book focuses on transitioning to PM from another field, including how to work on a side project, and finding your why. You even get tips on network building, a typical pain point for graduates.

You might also be interested in: How to Transition from Data to Product by Google PM

Making the Transition is particularly useful for those who are designers, engineers, and marketers who are looking to move to Product Management. It can be nerve-wracking to try making the transition within your own company, but it is often the easiest. Getting a “no” from a boss you have to see every day isn’t an attractive prospect.

Peter’s advice? “Don’t give up, and go after what you want. Even if you fail, you’ll have learned from the experience and be one step closer to your goal.”

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Final Thoughts

Breaking into a brand new career path is daunting and confusing, but endlessly exciting. The need to keep learning and keep improving must drive aspiring PMs forward in order to reach goals.

While Product Management is a fantastic career path, with unlimited potential, it’s easy to feel stuck. Whether you want to transition to PM at your current company, or are getting a completely new start. Everyone feels lost sometimes.

Peter told us what people can do when they don’t know which direction to take on the path to landing a PM job.

Direction

“Make a one year plan for what milestones you need to achieve to get to where you want to go. At the same time, be flexible and adjust your plan when new opportunities appear. Two tips for finding new opportunities:

1. Write a blog and publish your thoughts online. Talk about an industry you’re passionate about or a product that you love.
2. Build a network by reaching out to people who have the role that you aspire to get. Make sure that you’re giving people some value in your outreach.”

If that sounds like the plan you need, The Principles of Product Management has all of the juicy details and expert advice you’ll need to make it happen.

It’s a new must-read for Product Managers who want to maximize their chances of building a successful career. Pick up your copy here.

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