Transition into Product Management with Tasktop’s Sr. PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Tasktop Technologies’ Senior Product Manager, Trevor Bruner!

Meet Trevor Bruner

Trevor Bruner has quite a varied background that has helped him to reach great success in his Product Management role. Trevor has over 6 years of PM experience, 4 of which have been with Tasktop Technologies, and was a Finacial Advisor for both Merril Lynch and Morgan Stanley. Curious about how Product Managers have broken into and mastered their roles? Then join our Product Management Slack Community and ask them!


Trevor Bruner has been in engineering, sales, the military, software, and then he made the transition into Product Management!! He has experience leading diverse groups of people from software developers a couple time zones away to sailors 500 feet underwater. Trevor loves learning and gets excited about learning a new skill. That’s why he likes Product Management so much. There are always new things to learn, especially when he gets to work with customers, sales, business partners and engineering. Trevor loves the fact that he gets to see the business in a way few others do.

Transition into Product Management

I’m currently a Technical Program Manager doubling as Product Manager for a few projects. Any suggestion on how I can transition into Product Management full-time? I have around a decade of software engineering as well.

If it’s any consolation, no one I’ve ever met got into a PM role in a “typical” manner. Everyone slides in and has a unique path. If I were you, I’d cozy up to whoever is currently doing the PM work in your company. Ask to help design a feature. Ask to understand their prioritization process and where they see the product going.

We have some people in my company that I go to (that are not PM’s) to validate designs and prioritization decisions. While they’re not PM’s, I trust their judgment, and if they wanted to either 1) move to my team or 2) move to another company as a PM, they would have some of the experience.


Which field is better to transition into a Product Management or Project Management career? 

These are two completely different jobs that just so happen to sound the same. It’s really unfortunate. It’s like saying “I want to play football and I don’t know if I should be a Quarterback or a Cornerback. It really depends on whether you like owning a product for the long term, prioritizing features, designing features, etc. Or if you like managing a project with start/end dates and lots of Gantt Charts.

What were your toughest learning challenges during your first 3-6 months as Product Manager?

Understanding the whole product we deliver. We build a tool that integrates other tools together. So, not only did I have to learn OUR tool, but I had to understand many other 3rd party tools to know how our customers use those tools so that I could understand how those tools can work together…with my tool in the middle.

What role, similar to Product Management, would you suggest to someone trying to break into Product Management? In other words, what role would lead to a PM role or help me develop my PM toolkit? 

Product Analyst (also known as Business Analyst). We have this role here. These analysts are able to go into a deep analysis of specific features. We may know we need to solve a problem, but there’s a lot of research needed before beginning the design.

We also have a Product Content Specialist who does a lot of our documentation and user docs. That’s a bit bigger of a jump than the Analyst, but is still part of our Product team. Not sure how many other companies have something like this.


The Product Management Role

Has the role of Product Manager only recently emerged? Or has it been around for a while under a different “title”?

It has been around in some fashion for a while but in other names. Often, other roles just accepted the responsibilities and were ‘acting’ as a Product Manager before the role was formally adopted.

How do you differentiate between a Product Manager role that involves product design versus a Product Manager role that involves solely marketing?

Different companies deal with this differently. How’s that for an answer? 😉 But you’re right, PM’s at some companies are primarily responsible for Marketing needs, whereas, at other companies (like mine), the PM is responsible for the roadmap, prioritization & feature design. We have another person on the Product Team that is the Product Marketing Manager. We split this out and it seems to work well.

How does an Associate or Junior PM level up to become a Senior PM? What are some of the key differences when it comes to seniority?

If you’re in a company that has both those roles, then time & experience will help you progress.

Some of this depends on how ‘big’ or important the product is that you’re working on. Some of this is the experience. If you’ve been doing the same job for 3, 4, or even 5 years, then you may get a promotion based on the extra responsibilities that you’ve already taken on.

A lot of the difference between these roles is how much decision power you have, as well as, the customers and partners you get in front of.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

There’s no one size fits all way to get into Product Management. You’re not unique… or better stated… everyone in Product Management is unique.

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