How to become a Product Manager: Step-by-step guide

This guide covers all the steps you'd typically need to take, to become a Product Manager. It also contains tons of related content about the role and what is expected from it.

 · 12 min
step-by-step-guide-to-becoming-a-product-manager

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of a well-defined, well-researched product strategy. Why? A study showed that a fully optimized product manager could increase company profits by 34.2%. This has led to the creation of some exciting job opportunities in product management.

The swift growth potential and lucrative pay are also capturing people’s attention, primarily from business and technical background. The number of individuals registered on LinkedIn with a product manager role in the US alone increased from 146,333 in 2014 to 698,945 in August 2020. To become a successful product manager, you need to acquire many industry-relevant skills and consider many things.

This guide will walk you through every aspect of the job from career trajectory and job responsibilities to necessary skills and challenging aspects. Let’s start with what the responsibilities of a product manager look like.

Core Responsibilities of a Product Manager

A product manager’s core responsibilities revolve around managing every aspect of management throughout the product lifecycle. Let’s list out  some of the key responsibilities of the product manager:

  • Product planning, determining the product vision, roadmap, and strategy.
  • Conducting thorough market research and gathering and prioritizing product and customer requirements.
  • Collaborating with various teams such as marketing, sales, development and technology, and customer support to ensure fulfillment of business objectives and customer needs.
  • Competitive research and gauging market competition by comparing similar products in the market with those of the company.
  • Reviewing product design and specifications and conducting product quality audits.
  • Evaluating and planning new product ideas.
  • Ensuring that product features and goals are aligned with the company’s overall strategy and business goals.

These are just a few key responsibilities that are outlined by the product managers’ job description. Aspiring project managers must have various business and technical skills in their quivers, apart from having excellent soft skills to take on these responsibilities.

The career path of a product manager

guide to start career as  product manager

Product management is an exciting career option with huge earning and growth potential. A product manager’s career path has a significant variation in titles, responsibilities, and hiring and promotion criteria. There are several product management roles you will find across different companies. Some organizations have a hierarchy in their product team, while others have a single role with varying levels of responsibility. A company structures its product team depending upon various factors like company size, budget, business goals, etc.

Since day-to-day responsibilities increase with seniority, below here’s how the career and title progress in product management normally looks like:

Associate product manager

  • Entry-level Position
  • Reports to a Product Manager
  • Core responsibilities overlap with the product manager role, but on a smaller scale
  • Additional responsibilities include data analysis, UI design, defining features, making recommendations

Product manager

  • Mid-level Position
  • Oversee the strategy, roadmap, and features of a product
  • A strategic and tactical role that requires strong leadership, collaboration, and product knowledge
  • Requires strong communication and leadership skills to work with cross-functional teams

Senior product manager

  • Senior-level Position
  • Similar responsibilities as the product manager but on a higher scale
  • High experience and a solid background in product management
  • Managing higher-value products and junior product managers

Director of Product

  • Senior-level Position
  • Leading Senior Product Managers
  • Experience of more than 8-10 Years
  • Strong management background

VP of Product

  • Executive-level Position
  • Initiating products with greater business impact
  • High-level responsibilities like strategic alignment
  • Communicating with executives and building leadership buy-in

Chief Product Officer

  • Executive-level Position
  • Reports to the CEO
  • Oversees all product activities of the company
  • Determines long-term product strategies and goals

Key Product Management Skills for Definite Success

The role of a product manager has become increasingly vital over the years, all the more so given the transformation of industries to the digital space.. For a position that sits at the intersection of various functions, you need to be proficient in a variety of skills that cover every aspect of the job. At its core, a product manager’s role is to ensure a seamless creation and implementation of a product that promises product success. Here are the important skills for product management:

1. Understanding business fundamentals

2. Familiarity with Technical Principles

3. A General Understanding of Data and “Street Statistics”

4. Sound Design Ability

As a product manager, you would be expected to determine the actions across three aspects of the product- business, customer support, and technology. This intersection of responsibilities requires product managers to acquire and master skills across various industries and domains. Apart from the product management skills, you should also be well-versed in certain soft skills that help you communicate and collaborate better.

Let us dive into the key skills that you need to be a successful product manager.

1. Understanding Business Fundamentals

Business is the most critical aspect of product management. Even though the product manager’s position doesn’t require you to have a degree in business or finance, you still need to be well-versed in business basics. Knowing basic business competencies helps you design and manage products in a way that guarantees business success.

Your product’s success does not depend solely on how well it is planned, developed, and managed. Product management is also affected by other things happening in the company, making it imperative for the product manager to know the company and have a firm grip over your product’s ins and outs.

Mastering basic business skills helps you collaborate better with your business team and suggest changes to your product to ensure business success. It also widens your network within the company and helps you with your future products and ideas.

2. Familiarity with Technical  Principles

Whether the product managers need to come from a technical background such as engineering or not, especially for technical products, has been here since the advent of product management roles. The answer isn’t black and white. It depends primarily  on the user base of the product. Although product managers should be equipped with a basic understanding of code and basic development principles, it truly becomes necessary only to manage products designed for technical users, such as engineers.

On the other hand, many product managers from technical backgrounds also believe that having a technical side can push the technical conversations longer than necessary and cause inefficiency. In other words, having a deep technical background may cause you to digress as a product manager and focus more on solving technical issues rather than focusing on business and strategic issues. Therefore it’s also important to balance your understanding and remain aware that ultimately, you’re there to ensure business perspective within technical decisions, but the final calls should be taken by the experts in their domains.

3. A General Understanding of Data and “Street Statistics”

Reading and interpreting data is slowly becoming a necessary skill for most job profiles out there, especially the roles that are even distantly related to business. As a product manager, you would be expected to make informed decisions about your products based on carefully processed data. A solid understanding of data interpretation and visualization techniques allows you to have productive discussions about your product with your team.

You should also be well-versed in using robust data analysis and visualization tools such as Tableau, Microsoft PowerBI, etc. As a product manager, you also need to enable various in-product and external data sources that help you derive actionable insights about your product and user base.

4. Sound Design Ability

Product design is one of the most crucial aspects of your product. As a product manager, you need to have excellent design sense and a decent understanding of UX design. Although you wouldn’t be expected to fully design or determine your product’s UI/UX, you should have enough product design and user experience knowledge to review and challenge decisions.

Providing a customer experience superior to your competitors is one of the key ingredients that determine your product’s success, especially for SaaS companies. A product’s design is as good as it reflects its users’ needs. So, having a basic knowledge of UX and a firm grip over your customer’s needs and expectations will ensure your success as a product manager.

5. Other Common Skills

Beyond the hard skills mentioned above, there are a lot of intangible/soft skills that matter nearly as much for fulfilling their day-to-day responsibilities seamlessly. Above all, the product manager needs to have strong communication skills. It acts as a great resource to ensure seamless collaboration between cross-functional teams, a challenging responsibility of a product manager.

Strategic thinking is also one of the most important skills for a product manager. It helps them define the product’s vision and align it with the company’s vision and business objectives. You need to have good forecasting skills, critical, rational, logical thinking, reasoning skills, good delegation skills, etc. Time management and leadership skills are also non-negotiable if you want to be a successful product manager.

Keeping all of these skills in your quiver will guarantee your success as a product manager. Even after having all of these impressive skills, landing your first job as a product manager can be challenging.

How to Land Your First Job as a Product Manager

Making the transition from a technical or business background to being a product manager is not as easy as it would be for any other profile. Even after acquiring all the necessary skills for the pivot, you still need to study the key hiring trends to ensure maximum success.

If you’re determined to make the transition, here are some tips that will help you land your first Product Manager job:

1. Highlight Side Projects in your Resume

We all know how impressive a resume looks when it is decorated with relevant projects, no matter the position it is being examined for. Landing your first job as a product manager will be a lot easier with side projects communicating your interest and talent in project management for you. Side projects you have led and prototypes you have built help you stand out in the eyes of recruiters. Use the space of one page in your resume wisely and focus on listing relevant side projects.

2. Acquire a Technical Skillset

Landing your first job product manager job can be a lot closer than you’d think if you build a technical background. Building a technical background doesn’t mean you need to have enough development skills to carry out a product’s development all on your own. You just need to be familiar with basic development principles and basics of various coding languages such as HTML, CSS, Javascript.

It needs to be reiterated that you don’t need to master all of these languages. You just need to learn enough to efficiently convey the marketing and design teams’ requests to the development team. Gaining basic technical knowledge also gives you an edge over other applicants and helps you land your dream product management job.

3. Participate in the Product Community

Becoming an active contributor and member of your local product community gives you a huge headstart in making a wide network among product managers, product designers, and project managers. Building strong relationships within the local product communities can open doors to endless opportunities in product management for you.

You can find local product events online easily, such as product meetups, product breakfasts, and product conferences. Attending these events increases your popularity within the local product community and drives you to be an active contributor. These product events are also attended by many senior product managers whose referral on your resume can ensure your first job as a senior product manager.

Following these three steps gives you a competitive edge over other candidates who have applied for the job and maximizes the chances of success.

Challenging Aspects of the Product Manager role

A career as a product manager comes with its challenges and speed bumps. As an aspiring product manager, it is better to prepare for these challenges beforehand and create coping mechanisms for these challenges. This is why it is advised by expert product managers to gain relevant experience before making a permanent shift to the field.

Here are the challenges that trouble product managers the most:

1. Lack of Control

Since product management is an intersection of many functions, you must work through others to accomplish your goals. Having profit and loss responsibilities helps product managers to optimize their effectiveness by giving them greater control. But even if your company gives you P&L, your efficiency is still dependent on others.

2. Overwhelming Time Constraints

This is a challenge that most entry-level product managers experience, the first week into the job. It is overwhelming for product managers to see multiple demands from various teams pulling on their time which never seems to clear up. Time-management is more a survival skill for product managers than an efficiency skill.

As a product manager, you are expected to understand the product and market in-and-out as soon as you sit on your desk for the first time. So, conduct thorough research of the product, identify market opportunities, and create a vision for the product’s future aligned with business objectives beforehand.

3. Changing Market Dynamics

The challenges mentioned above can be solved to some extent by taking various measures. But the challenge of changing market dynamics impacting product management cannot be solved. You’ll have to make changes in your strategies and long-term goals for various reasons such as new competitors, product advancements from new sources, change in customers’ needs, etc. The only thing you can do as a product manager with shifting market dynamics is understanding the trends and identifying potential risks and opportunities.

4. Internal Misalignment

As a product manager, you will be working with people from various teams such as business, marketing, design, technology, etc. This causes the problem of internal misalignment about the direction and strategies related to the product. Everyone on your team will have a different opinion about the best way to build the product and launch it. While various views might give you a different perspective on things, they can also confuse and derail your team.

Some of the best product managers use data and facts as a rescue here. These keep decisions as well as their team aligned with the facts and data they have. This allows them to make informed divisions and ensures maximum efficiency because of alignment in opinions.

Conclusion

To sum up, product management is a great career option. A product manager’s primary job responsibilities are to oversee the product planning and ensure seamless management of its implementation throughout the product lifecycle. To carry out these responsibilities, a product manager needs to have various business and technical. Other soft skills  like communication, leadership, and time management are also equally important for landing a job as a product manager. Side projects and a solid technical background gives you a competitive edge over other applicants for the job. A few challenging aspects of the product manager role are: lack of control over cross-functional teams, overwhelming time constraints, changing market dynamics, and internal misalignment.