No Experience With PM Products? Teach Yourself With These DIY Projects

Editor’s note: this month we’re talking about the Products for Product Managers, and how to use them to build great digital products! Keep an eye out for blogs, events, podcasts, and more!

So you want to work in Product Management, but you’re concerned about some of your knowledge gaps. Specifically about the most commonly used tools. Perhaps you’re a whizz at wireframes, but you’ve never managed a roadmap. Or maybe you’re a dab hand at using BI tools, but you’re a bit of a rookie when it comes to digital whiteboards.

Luckily, some of the best tools out there come with free trials, or freemium versions that absolutely anyone can download. With a little entrepreneurial thinking, you can teach yourself these tools and give yourself something to talk about in job interviews.

(PS If you’ve never used any PM tools before, teaching yourself all of them will become your new full time job! Product School students get free access to some of the best PM tools on the market, and get hands-on experience with them throughout the course. Check out our certifications if you’re interested in a more comprehensive Product Management education.)

If only it were as simple as playing around with online tools. You still need focus and purpose, and to walk away having achieved a goal. Otherwise you’re just wasting time clicking buttons. You need a project, and we’ve got some ideas to get you started.

Start a Side Hustle

The best way to teach yourself the whole collection of PM tools, and give yourself something really impressive to talk about in an interview, is to have a side hustle. Now, a side hustle is a longer term commitment that requires more effort, time, resources, and planning. But if you’re almost completely lacking in the experience needed to become a Product Manager, this is a great step to take.

Whether you start your own business, or go for something more creative like a podcast or blog, a side hustle can change the trajectory of your career. Learn how to get started and master the art of the side hustle with our Learning Path for Product people. You’ll get all of our favorite tips and resources for making your side hustle successful, as well as ideas for how to get started.

Learn Roadmaps with Coda

A roadmap is one of the most important documents that you, as a Product Manager, will ever work on. All PM jobs are different, but managing the roadmap is universal. It’s easy (ish!) to learn the theory around it, but learning how they physically work is another thing. You need to get your hands on a tool and make one yourself!

There’s a whole host of roadmapping tools out there, (airfocus, Airtable, and Productboard to name a few) but a good place to start for beginners is Coda. It’s very user-friendly as you learn how to build simple roadmaps, and if you’re just using it for yourself it’s completely free. As a member of the Product School community, they’ve even made you this roadmap template to get you started.

That still leaves you with the question of what to make a roadmap for.

Consider creating a roadmap of your job hunt. After all, a roadmap is a plan for how to get a product from A to B. In this case, you are the product, A is where you’re at in your career, and B is landing your dream Product Manager position. You can include the steps you’re going to take to get there, such as courses you’re going to take, versions of your resume you’re going to make, and people you need to get in contact with.

Coda roadmap

This doesn’t have to apply to your career, as you can create roadmaps for almost any personal or professional project, from household renovations to learning how to code. Using roadmaps before you have a product to build will help you to learn the ins and outs of them, and how to make the most of all of Coda’s great features. Coda is a fantastic tool for aligning teams on common goals, and for organizing workloads. It’s a great place to get started on learning roadmaps.

Learn Retrospectives with MURAL

If you’re going to build products with cross-functional teams, you’re going to need to know how to use online collaboration tools. Especially whiteboards. Pretty much everyone who works for a digital-first company has used an online whiteboard by now, but as a Product Manager you can use them to run specific activities. A retrospective, for example, helps you to look back at a sprint or a quarter, and better understand it in order to improve your processes for next time.

Dive right in by using our retrospective template, built specifically for MURAL.

Screenshot of Retrospective template created by Mural

While retrospectives are usually collaborative, there are still plenty of ways you can learn how to make the most of MURAL by performing a solo-retrospective. A retrospective essentially asks you to think about what went well, what didn’t go well, and steps to take to make improvements. There are hundreds of potential scenarios that you can apply a retrospective to.

To test it out, think about the last interview you went to for a PM role. You can define it as anything from sending out your resume to getting that awkward rejection email, or you can focus solely on what happened in the interview itself.

What went well? Maybe you sent out a new version of your resume that caught the recruiter’s attention, or you made the interviewer laugh with some well-timed jokes. What didn’t go well? Perhaps you fudged an answer to a critical Product interview question, or got so nervous that your jokes weren’t so well timed after all!

Doing a personal retrospective may not seem as fun as the ones you’ll do in your Product Management role with a whole team, but they’re a good habit to get into. Looking back and iterating to perfection are key to being a successful PM, and whiteboards like MURAL are a great canvas for getting there.

Learn Competitor Analysis with Notion

Notion entered the tech world zeitgeist and experienced rapid success, quickly becoming a staple of many tech professionals daily lives. With great features that make digital collaboration even easier, PMs in particular love Notion for how user-friendly it is. Anyone, no matter how digitally literate they are, can jump right in and start working with their other tech-savvy coworkers.

Product-market fit is the do or die of Product Management. Without it, your product doesn’t stand a chance of success. Part of understanding product-market fit is performing a competitor analysis. You need to know how others are aiming to solve the same problems or fill the same need as you. Being first to market offers a huge advantage, so unless you’re offering some kind of USP (Unique Selling Point), you’re going to have a tough fight on your hands.

Using Notion, (and this handy template), choose one of your dream companies to work for and pretend that you’ve been tasked with running a competitor analysis for them. This exercise will teach you the ins and outs of Notion as well as give you some experience of running a competitor analysis. Every company needs their Product Managers to understand product-market fit, so this really is a win-win.

Notion Feature Market Analysis template

Learn more about tools

So you’re looking to learn more about tools? You’re in luck! The entire month of November we’re going to be talking about all things #ProductTools! Stay up to date by joining our communities (on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Slack) and by keeping an eye on The Product Management blog.

The Product Analytics Economy

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