So You Want to Be a Product Manager… Read This First

so you want to be a product manager

So you want to be a product manager? I can understand why. It is an exciting path for ambitious folks who want to make a real impact. If I was starting my career over, I would choose product management again and get to it faster. And I would do it with more confidence knowing what I know now. 

There is no better time to get into product management. Major industry analysts and research firms including Gartner and McKinsey are releasing reports on the cool tools and forward-thinking skills that tomorrow’s product managers will need. And Harvard Business School, Cornell University, and Northwestern University have all added programs in product management to meet the growing demand.

While you do not have to follow a singular career track to become a product manager, there are a few qualities you really need if it is where you want to end up.

The good news is that you do not have to wait until you are a product manager to begin building these qualities. You can start right now — no matter what your current role is.

Product managers need to be able to:

Can you consider the company’s goals and initiatives as your own? It is important to understand what the company hopes to accomplish, and then channel your energy towards aligning the product and product team to make sure you are serving that purpose. And guess what — sometimes there is no higher level company strategy — so you need to be able to think strategically at the product and company level. 

You need to be a logical thinker, someone who can pick out the most important tasks to work on first. This is the same type of work you will need to do when you are a product manager and are prioritizing what features the team should build first. Learn how to think about priorities from your strategic standpoint — what work gets you closest to the goal.

You need to convince others that your ideas are worthwhile — which means working hard to develop them, having the confidence to share them, and having the skills to clearly explain them. And don’t look now, but when you help others see your point of view and they come to agree with your priorities, you need to act.

You must act even under uncertainty. This is true no matter what role you are in. You never have all the data you need to make the “perfect” decision. This is even more true for product managers who are exposed to a constant stream of varied information and feedback. 

If developing these skills looks tough, that is because it is. And it’s a career-long journey. But it is also the journey that every great product manager takes!

You will wear many hats (visionary, strategist, cross-team leader, and salesperson, to name a few) and be challenged in more ways than ever before. But a career in product management is a worthy pursuit if you are eager to develop and use the skills defined above.

No time to waste. If you cultivate these qualities wherever you are right now, you will be well-positioned to succeed in a future product management role.

What other qualities do you think product managers need?

About Melissa and Aha!

Melissa loves using technology to help people solve their problems. She is the VP of Customer Success at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software. Melissa has more than 20 years of business and software experience. Previously, she managed teams at Citrix [CTXS] across consulting, education, supply chain operations, and IT.

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  1. Rachel @ BuiltforTeams

    I think product managers can be undervalued at times. They do have to play so many roles in their positions and it takes a lot of hard work! But I think having major universities add programs specifically tailored to the craft shows how vital these players are in the workforce.

  2. Wendy G

    Great article and all valid points. I would also say successful product managers need to embrace change and pivoting strategies as business conditions can change quickly. However, the payoff is great when you are part of a team that can over deliver and leave a lasting impression on a business or industry.

  3. Shashi

    These kinds of articles are really limiting. You can’t ‘be a product manager’ and decide that you only do certain things and not others. The reality of any workplace is that there is no shortage of possibilities and you have to be willing to do whatever you can within the time, resources and scope of responsibility/authority you have. The skills listed are important whether you are a developer, product manager or even if you are just volunteering at your food bank – the ability to strategize, prioritize, persuade and act is essential for every human being.

    These kinds of artificial divisions are only serving to make our world full of people who claim to be specialists but in reality are just waving their disability and disempowerment as a virtue. I expect every one at the workplace to be able to strategize, prioritize, persuade and act at least within their area of influence and expand that area as time goes. A little more responsibility on everyone’s part would only serve to make things better for everyone.


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