Are you considering a career in product management? Or has someone told you that you’d make a great product manager, perhaps even seemingly out of the blue? If so, you are likely curious where product managers come from. And what is this emerging craft called product management, anyway?
I recently asked a colleague how he became a product manager. The answer surprised me. He said he actually did not become a product manager at all. Several years back, his CEO told him he would make a great product manager — before the function even existed at the company.
The reality is that product managers transition from all aspects of business, from engineering to marketing to sales and services.
Most product managers did not actually set out to be one — but rather discovered their path by learning about themselves and understanding what their company needed along the way. Usually these folks have been part of a product process in another department and felt a longing to contribute more meaningfully. Sometimes they were the victims of bad product management and knew there was a better way.
Regardless of where they started, most product managers answered an often unexpected calling to get where they were today. It is a path borne of intrinsic motivation and a driven personality.
To dig into some of these personality traits, I asked the Customer Success team at Aha! — who are all former product managers — to share the key indicators that revealed they were on the path to product management. Most of them did not start in product management, but each journey was a little bit different.
However, along the way many of them saw similar signs and were excited to share those revelations. Here are key signs you should be a product manager, according to five former product managers:
You are a great translator — Karen
This skill has nothing to do with languages. You know that between how something is said and how something is heard can lie a chasm full of good intentions (and many bad products). We’ve all seen the amusing memes about what the business wants versus what the engineers build. A great product manager is the precious link in that translation process, with a patient understanding of both market and engineering perspectives.
You choose conviction over control — Scott
You’re the one at the party with the crowd of nodding heads surrounding you. Great product managers know how to influence without commanding. You may be so good at convincing folks that they come away thinking they felt that way in the first place!
You aren’t satisfied with what people think they want — Donna
You might be a great product manager when you do more than listen, but rather help people actually hear themselves. You get to the heart of the matter and break out what is driving them. Instead of implementing exactly what has been requested, great product managers go beyond what people say and uncover the core pain someone is trying to solve — enabling elegant, game-changing products in the process.
You have real empathy for others — Austin
That old saying “walk a mile in their shoes” isn’t a cliche to you. If everyone in your life is a customer with a perspective you strive to understand first-hand, you might be a product manager. Empathy is palpable, genuine, and it resonates when you’re present. Others feel it and trust you as a partner in understanding their perspective and solving what’s lacking.
You do not have “9 to 5” in your vocabulary — Justin
You joke about bank hours. Do you find yourself mulling over a particularly tricky product issue during dinner… and breakfast the next morning? “I’ll get to it later” is not in a product leader’s vocabulary. Anyone in need of a product has a problem to solve — and will keep looking if your product can’t solve it. Product managers are dedicated to customers and are almost haunted until great solutions arise.
That’s how product managers are made — from an unstoppable need to translate technical requirements to endless energy to keep working to make products great.
Did you feel like you were reading about yourself when you read the signs above? You just might be a product manager in the making.
What do you think are the signs of a great product manager?