What is Product Management and is it For Me?

There is a lot of interest in Product Management roles right now. Because Product Management roles cover many different areas and skills, people may idealize this position without realizing what it really entails. To help you learn about what Product Management roles involve and if it’s truly a good fit for you, we hosted an open conversation with Clement Kao, founder of Product Teacher, to answer the following question—what is product management and is it for you? Did you miss the event? Don’t sweat it! You can check out the recorded event at the end here!

Keep reading for some major insight into the world of product management so you can determine whether or not this role is what you’re looking for. We’re sharing some of Clement’s insight and you won’t want to miss it if you’re interested in pursuing this path.

What is product management?

First things first, let’s walk through the basics of product management. 

When you work in a Product Management role, it’s your job to manage your company’s product line on a day-to-day basis. You’ll assist with new product development, pricing, marketing, and all other stages of the product life cycle. Product Managers are involved every step of the way from conceptualizing, to creating, to advertising the product. Last but not least, it’s their responsibility to deliver the product to the target market.  

How does Clement describe the role of Product Management? “The way that I think about product managers, it's really kind of summarized in a single sentence,” Clement explained,

“Product managers work with customers to prioritize what pain to solve, then work with makers to identify solutions that will work, and then work with the business to then figure out how to scale that at impact. So that way, the business can stay profitable, keep folks employed, and really serve customers. So that's really the core role of the product manager.”

What would your day-to-day look like?

Thanks to Clement, you can have an insider look at what your day-to-day in a Product Management role would look like if you took on this role. He explained that product managers work with three main groups—customers, makers, and the business. Who you work with each day will depend on that day’s specific needs. “Day by day, you're actually going to find that every single day is really different,” Clement said, “And that's one of the funnest things about product is that you get to dictate how do I want to thoughtfully spend my day to day. What are my priorities? What are the things that really matter?”

Clement broke down what a day as a Product Manager might look like further. There are three main ways you'll likely spend your time in Product Management.

  • Meetings. “At the end of the day, people really resonate with other people, you can write as many documents as you want, but people just really learn a lot from meetings to kind of get on board with meetings,” Clement said.
  • Execution. By execution, what Clement means, is you're taking an idea and you're turning it into actual features or products. 
  • Strategy. “We're looking into the future, we're considering strategy, we're considering trade offs,” Clement shared.

The experience and skills requirements for Project Management

We’re a big fan of pursuing any career pivot that you feel passionate about, but there are certain roles that prepare you for success in Product Management. Experience in one of these roles will help you make a really natural pivot. 

  • ​​Customer Experience
  • Consulting
  • Innovation Strategy
  • Data Analysis
  • Retail Planning and Buying
  • Project and Product Management
  • Design
  • Marketing

These are just a few examples for you to mull over, as there are many other roles that help build the skills required to thrive in a Product Management role. Clement urges job seekers not to get too hung up on what their previous roles were, “No matter where you’re coming from...there are lots of really key strengths that you can bring with you into the next role, and there will be things you’re not quite as ready for yet.”

These are some of the top skills that hiring managers are looking for when filling Product Management roles. We have a feeling you already have a decent amount of these transferable skills already under your belt. 

  • User empathy
  • Strategic communication
  • Influential relationship building
  • Data analysis and reporting
  • Strategic thinking
  • Business acumen
  • User research
  • Creative idea generation
  • Product execution
  • Strategic prioritization
  • UX sensibilities
  • Evangelizing engineers
  • Agile project management

If you don’t see your current skill set lining up with these skills, don’t let that dissuade you, “There will just be some things, that you're just not quite as ready for yet,” Clement noted, “And that is completely okay, as long as you can lean into your strengths and as long as you can find ways to mitigate the weaknesses.” 

When it comes to making a pivot into any role or industry, one big piece of advice from Clement is to master your mindset. “Your mindset matters so much more than any specific initiative that you've done in the past,” Clement shared, “The skill actually doesn't matter, what matters is that you bring the right mindset to the problem.”

It’s worth noting that different types of Product Management roles can require different skill sets. Clement explained that even though Product Management roles look very similar on the surface, the root pain point that you're trying to solve can be very different. Depending on what type of product you’re working with, the knowledge you need and the skills that will help you thrive can be different. For example, some product managers are focused on user experience for apps and others focus on technical integrations for high tech products. 

If you have the skills you need to master a role in Product Management, but are unsure of how to translate your existing skill set during your job search, Zeit’s Positioning Program will help you master your pitch through guided workshops and one on one coaching. From working with our cohorts who pivoted into Product Management roles, we’ve found that soft skills are more important than hard skills and that tech inexperience isn't a requirement, so don’t sweat it if you have never worked in tech before. We’ll help you translate the soft skills that make you a perfect fit for the job. 

How to pivot internally to a Product Management role

You don’t have to necessarily change companies to make a pivot. In many companies, it’s possible to pivot internally, which can feel a lot less scary than starting over at a new company. If you’re looking to make an internal pivot into Product Management, Clement recommends gaining the trust of stakeholders at your company by stepping up to the plate and doing more than what you’re just asked to do. 

“That gives you so much more control over what you want to do next,” Clement said, “It gives you that kind of proactive say, in what do I want my next chapter to look like?”

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