One of the common questions many Software Engineers dwell upon as to how to transition to Product Management coming from a Technical background. The change to Product Management is a common practice among software engineers. There is a myriad of reasons why many engineers look for a change in their career after working as an individual contributor for 10-15 years:
- Engineers are bored with the technical work and want a change in their career.
- They want more of customer-facing roles & responsibilities in day-to-day tasks.
- Engineers want more control over what features are to be delivered versus how they are to be delivered.
- They want people-oriented roles that require communicating with others than sitting the whole day in front of a computer.
- Their long term goal is to move to the leadership positions than working as individual contributor entire their career.
- Engineers want to get involved in the decision-making process with regards to product, road map, customer, etc.
The product and innovation are ever-changing space. There is a constant need for innovative products that can change the course of a business and turnaround the solutions for customer’s problems. Product Management is a dynamic field that requires constant communication, innovation, out-of-box thinking, and stakeholder management.
Product Management is an individual contributor role, nobody reports to a product manager. As a product manager, you have to influence the decision making on products or features without having the authority.
You must be comfortable wearing different hats, talking to a lot of people, and bringing them on the same page, which engineers are not likely used to. There is a learning curve for engineers especially when they haven’t experienced communicating with various stakeholders and faced customers directly in their prior roles.
What is Product Management:
As the name suggests, product management is about managing every aspect of the product’s lifecycle from product development, forecasting, planning, pricing, to the marketing of a product. Product managers are often referred to as the CEO of the product.
Product managers decide on what features to be built in the current and next releases. They maintain a backlog of the features for future releases. More often than not, product managers identify customer’s pain points and try to solve them by designing innovative solutions.
What are the roles of Product Managers:
The role of a product manager varies from company to company. In small companies, as a product manager, you may be required to work as a product owner, scrum master, project manager, customer evangelist.
In a large organization, the role of a Product Manager is precisely related to the product’s lifecycle and backlog. The designation also varies in various companies.
For instance, in Microsoft, there is no such designation as a product manager. The designation is “Program Manager” there, who does the role of both Product Manager and Project Manager based on the project and business requirements.
Product management is essentially a customer-facing role. Product managers act as an interface between the customer and the engineering team. They have to maintain communication with different stakeholders.
They have to be comfortable with the different perspectives and do context switches as required. They have to deal with the unknowns and may juggle multiple projects at the same time.
The primary goal of a product manager is to make the product better for customers. To improve the product, product managers constantly keep in touch with customers. They collect feedback from customers on product requirements, product functionality, and areas to improve.
Product Managers have cross-functional collaboration skills to increase the speed and finesse of the product to innovate, acquire new customers, capture market share, deliver new features, retain satisfied customers, and increase worker productivity.
What are the core competencies of a product manager:
Product managers are often involved in design thinking, prototyping, stakeholder management, project management, user interviewing, and customer feedback process.
Product managers should be proficient in communicating with engineers, break down the customer requirements into user stories, write PRDs, deliver presentations, empathize with customers, and understand their pain points.
The product management job is at the forefront of the customer, research, UX/UI, project management, engineering team, etc. Product managers are required to be expert at products, know the market and technology trends, business, product design, leadership skills with great communication to influence stakeholders.
How product managers function and decide on what product features to build depends on their core competencies. Following are the core competencies of product managers:
Product managers have to investigate and research market trends, technological trends, and demand for the product. Their job is to constantly update the product with the required features that will likely solve the customer’s problems.
Customer interviews and user testing
Product Manager have to conduct customer interviews to gain insights into customer’s problems, requirements, challenges to translate the same into product features.
Product Managers brainstorm on the different aspects of future products like product design, UX/UI, product development, product execution. They prioritize product features per the customer needs.
Product managers evaluate the feasibility of available resources to build the product. The resolve conflicts and impediments to meet the customer’s requirements.
Product managers have to work on the collection of the resources required to build the product and resolve the challenges as and when required.
Road map and Feature Prioritization
Product managers do the Road map Planning, backlog maintenance, feature prioritization for current and upcoming releases.
Revenue and Pricing
Product managers have to work on revenue models and product pricing based on various factors like market capitalization, competitive analysis, customer feedback, etc.
Execution is about taking actions to meet the goal of the various product aspects. Product Managers have to write requirements, design wireframes, run paper usability tests, collect feedback, and iterate the process.
Steps to become a Product Manager
Before you apply for a product manager role, you need to do the following to gain knowledge and experience of a product manager:
1. Gain experience in Product Management
Try to move to a product manager role in your current company. If that is not feasible, try to find some work that your product managers perform, do stretch assignments, assist them in their responsibilities. Your hands-on experience will give you insights on whether you will like the work in the long run or not.
2. Complete a certification
Certifications are not mandatory, but that helps in highlighting your profile. Certifications like CSPO, PSPO, PMPO helps you gain knowledge of how products are developed in an agile environment.
3. Learn Wireframes/UX design
The wireframes or UX design is one of the core functionality of product management. The design of a product must be user friendly, intuitive, and easy to navigate.
4. Learn to write PRD, BRD, SRS
The Product Managers have to prepare various documents like PRD, BRD, and SRS. You must be proficient in writing such documents.
5. Build a portfolio
Create a portfolio of your projects mentioning about your outcomes, achievements, lessons. Your product portfolio demonstrates your interest in the product management profile.
6. Learn Marketing and Sales
As an Engineer, you may not have the exposure to product marketing and sales. Product Managers have to market the products on various channels. They have to sell their vision and ideas to various stakeholders.
7. Behavioral Skills
In addition to core competencies, product managers have to have social and self-awareness, inter-personal skills, self-management as they have to deal with a lot of uncertainties like resource constraints, customer demands, revenue targets, release deadlines, prioritization conflicts, etc.
8. Enroll in Product Management Course
Enrolling in a product management course on Coursera/LinkedIn can help you gain the required knowledge. The comprehensive course on Product Management is an ideal way to kickstart your PM career.
9. Read Product Management Blogs
The product management blogs are very informative and keep you updated with the latest trends in the product management field. Blogs like Product Talk and Product Coalition offer great resources to develop product management skills.
As a product manager, you will be required to manage a backlog, set priorities, identify distribution channels, explore business models, do a competitive analysis, and everything without actually having a product.
You are required to take additional responsibilities such as understanding the customer and market, suggesting the addition or removal of features, and coordinate across teams.
Ask yourself below questions to gauge your current capabilities and evaluate how they fit for the product manager roles:
- What insights can you bring to the product from your technical background?
- What skills do you have with regards to product management, process, tools, strategies?
- Are you comfortable communicating with and managing various stakeholders?
- Do you understand the end-user experience or the process for how decisions are made to purchase the product?
- Since product managers rarely code, will you be comfortable losing your engineering skills like coding, system design, architecture that you have taken years to build?
- Would you like to be held responsible for the product failure, features delay, bad designs without having faults of your own?
- Will you work without direct authority over most of the things and be responsible for the overall product?
- How will you improve the customer experience of the product?
Evaluate your skills of product management and fill the gaps according to the industry, domain, and products you are interested in. Assess the competition, marketing, and strategic partners of competitive products and gain insights into stunning features or lack thereof.
Improve your skills as to how would you impact the status quo of the organizations. The core Product Management skills coupled with behavioral skills are inevitable for the long term success of a product management career !!