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Yet Another Guide for Embarking on Your PM Journeyby@klochook
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Yet Another Guide for Embarking on Your PM Journey

by Olga KlochkovaMay 2nd, 2024
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Learn how to break into product management by embracing continuous learning, reflecting on your skills, and engaging in practical exercises. This guide provides insights on cultivating a product manager mindset and navigating the complexities of the industry to achieve work as a PM.
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Breaking into product management may seem daunting, but with the right approach and mindset, you can pave your path to success. As someone who transitioned into product management after consultancy work, I've come to understand that the journey is not about following a predetermined checklist but rather about embracing a mindset of continuous learning and adaptability.


There are no precise and transparent ways how to become a PM. There is no conventional paths which may stem directly from education, which often prioritize formal education over hands-on experience.


Many aspiring PMs often find themselves lost in a sea of advice, courses, and certifications, struggling to find the right path forward. However, true success in product management isn't about following a prescribed checklist or ticking off boxes—it's about embracing a mindset of uncertainty, continuous learning, adaptation, and genuine passion for the craft.

So I‘ve decided to cover the overall approach so you may create your own strategy. By the way, it is what actually PMs usually do!

But first start with a reflection

Take a moment to ponder your motivation for pursuing a career as a product manager.

  • What elements of your past and current roles have brought you satisfaction or dissatisfaction?

  • What strengths and qualities do you possess, and which ones do you aspire to enhance?

  • How would stepping into the role of a product manager align with your aspirations?


This introspection not only aids in clarifying your suitability for product management but also underscores how your existing skills are applicable and transferrable to this domain.

Identifying Your Product Management Skills and Areas for Growth

In the realm of product management, a diverse skill set is essential. Chances are, you already possess skills and experiences that can seamlessly transition into this field. Consider the following scenarios:

  • If you've held a customer-facing role, you likely grasp the nuances of diverse user needs, their journeys, and the core objectives they seek to fulfil with your product or service. This understanding forms the bedrock of effective product management.

  • For those with a technical background, navigating teams through technical constraints and opportunities equips you with insights crucial for product management. Your ability to navigate trade-offs and manage expectations is invaluable in this arena.

  • Individuals in analytical roles often excel at uncovering unique insights, understanding market dynamics, and tracking performance metrics. These skills are indispensable for product teams, facilitating informed decision-making, continuous improvement, and ensuring impactful outcomes.


By discerning your existing product management skills, you can pinpoint areas of growth and development necessary for your journey toward becoming a proficient product manager.

Dispelling the Myths: What Breaking into Product Management is NOT About

And now just let's cover the basics of biases and beliefs.


Having mentored several individuals with a strong desire to become a PM from analytics backgrounds and design, I have noticed how the reflection of ‘first have an education, only then you have a chance to work’ still affects us. There are always questions like «What would you recommend to learn? To read? To watch?


Breaking into product management isn't achieved by strictly following the next:

  • Chasing after product management certificates or courses

  • Read bestsellers PM and business books.

  • Having and pursuing a friend whose job seems obvious

  • Blindly following industry influencers without critical thinking.


Many believe that acquiring certificates or following influencers is the key to becoming a PM. Based on the idea that as the time was spent and the individual was already even qualified, so work would be given immediately.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work so.

Simply put, these approaches offer only an illusion of progress, leaving aspiring PMs feeling overwhelmed and directionless.

Product management is about market awareness, flexible analytical thinking, strategy approaches and soft-skills. While courses give you an overall framework, it is still unearthed, context and real power internal problems are hidden as well.

The whole strategy

Breaking into PM work requires a shift in perspective towards embracing uncertainty and actively seeking opportunities to practice PM skills in real-world scenarios. By all means you must think about how to apply PMs skills.


First, you need to develop a product mindset and use it in your daily tasks.

Then, in all means you need to get some real experience after mimicking PM tasks. It may be within your current job, or within side-projects, part-time contributions. You may also try to go on a market, but usually, there is only a little chance of getting a job in big tech corporation, just keep it in mind. But startups or opensource, less profiled in tech companies — more chances!

Mimic PM responsibilities

So, the reality is different. Learning is essential, but a clear mind about actual work and legacy or poor start-up processes is essential. But how to learn it if there is no chance of getting a junior PM position?


Shifting Perspectives: Practice PM Skills in Everyday Tasks

You don't necessarily need a formal education to excel in product management. Look around your current role and identify opportunities to develop PM skills. For example, analyze the rationale behind your tasks, speculate on future strategies, and take initiative in proposing improvements. By integrating PM thinking into your daily routine, you'll gradually hone essential skills like decision-making and problem-solving.


Get Hands-On Experience through your current work

While side projects are beneficial, consider starting small by taking on PM-like tasks within your current job scope. For instance, suggest feature enhancements, conduct user surveys, or draft product requirements. By immersing yourself in these activities, you'll gain valuable hands-on experience and demonstrate your capability to potential employers.


Get Hands-On Experience through exercise

You have probably heard a brilliant idea to create a side-project and learn from it. It is cool, but massive. Here is another option to sit in PM’s skin: try to create a feature in your favourite app, and create an RnD and product specs.

To truly think like a product manager, start by dissecting your favourite products. Ask probing questions about their vision, users, metrics, and growth potential. Be curious, be patient.

Decompose research in the feature list by creating user stories and arguing each hypothesis. Suppose an effect and risks, estimate the metrics, and think about how to test it. Make this all preliminary work for building new features. While being stopped you will find your blind holes in knowledge.

Set clear goals for its development. Try to describe technical tasks at least on the frontend.


Elaborate on features and hypotheses to broaden your PM horizons

If you see that company roll out a new feature, try to suppose what stands behind it. What were the premises? How do they influence key metrics of the whole business? What is a success metric for this feature?


Go bigger. Elaborate on whole new steins of features or projects

Suppose that the feature exercises were made, try to make a step further and make a lift to a higher layer.

What is a aha-moment of this project? What is a north-star metric? What business models are hidden? What is inside this product? Is it an innovation internally or does it just work on a primitive technic solution?


Do not border yourself — speak with cross-functional people about this project. Ask their expertise to learn from their standpoint and background.

The Key to Success: Cultivating a Product Manager Mindset

Market Practises

Additionally, analyze successful products to understand their underlying strategies and apply those insights to your own projects. By cultivating a product manager mindset, you'll become better equipped to tackle the complexities of the role.


Practicing with people

As a PM you will work with people. Obvious. But what is behind these words?

  • Audacity
  • Leadership
  • Initiatives
  • argumentative

While being at work, speak with others about tasks, approaches and goals. Speculate with them. Try to speak with PM and ask deductive questions. Show a strong desire and practise thoughtful questions.


Network

Essential and necessary. Try to make connections through meetups, friend acquaintances, and hackathons. Be just yours and practise connecting with different people.

Just a little conclusion

Breaking into the dynamic field of product management demands more than just following a prescribed checklist or pursuing traditional educational paths. Instead, it requires a mindset of adaptability, continuous learning, and proactive engagement with real-world challenges. By reflecting on your motivations, identifying your existing skills, and actively seeking opportunities to practice PM tasks, you can pave your own path to success.


Remember, product management isn't solely about acquiring certificates or mimicking influencers—it's about cultivating a deep understanding of market dynamics, honing analytical thinking, and fostering strong interpersonal skills. Embrace uncertainty, seek practical experiences, and immerse yourself in the intricacies of product development.