So you want to be a Product Manager? I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently how I became a product manager. From my experience, every PM I know traversed a different path that took them to where they are. Instead of focusing on emulating a path, I recommend focusing on the traits and mindset that make a successful PM.
The best PMs I know are highly curious about everything. It doesn’t have to pertain to their position or industry as long as it is something new. Don’t get this confused with having ADHD. These PMs like to look at everything as a system, breaking it down into inputs and outputs to understand how it works from a high level and how it can maybe apply to another situation. It is this curiosity that fueled their desire to learn about their industry, competitors, and company ultimately allowing them to become a product expert.
What separates the good PMs from the great PMs that I know is scrappiness – the ability to stay focused on the end goal and the grit to roll one’s sleeves up to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Great PMs constantly are prioritizing the business goals and have the laser focus to drive the projects to fruition that will deliver on the highest value business goal. This often means wearing multiple hats across different departments and using influence to align stakeholders to get things done.
A good PM does everything it takes to deliver the business goals. A great PM empowers others around them by first aligning stakeholders to the prioritized goals and transferring knowledge of the product and industry to stakeholders to help drive the goal. One good PM can get a lot done but one great PM that influences the business to create a cohesive vision can change an industry. A great PM expects the highest level of performance from others and themselves. Ask hard questions and expect to be asked hard questions back.
Now let’s take the above traits and create a sample path to become a PM:
- Whatever position you are currently inn, leverage your curiosity to get on as many projects as possible. Although product people hate being called project managers, having project management skills is a must in any PM role. Get as many successful projects under your belt so that you can speak about how you were able to help take an idea and turn into tangible value for your company.
- Use your scrappiness to show how you get things done. Learn the high level technical aspects of your company’s product. When you can help the product people at your company get things done, they’ll start to see you as a product person. Although you might not get the title of PM, you’ll gain valuable experience that you can leverage when applying for a PM role.
- Learn as much about your company’s product, industry, and competitors as possible and share the knowledge to empower the stakeholders at your company. When you’re able to empower your co-workers using data to help guide their decisions, you will gain valuable experience of gaining and using social capital, the main tool of a PM. PMs are tasked with the objective of coordinating cross-functional team members to get things done without direct authority over them. Examples of experiences where you used domain expertise and social capital to empower co-workers and facilitate a company objective will make a compelling argument to any interviewer that you have the skills necessary to be a product person.
Whether you want to transition to a product role within your company or interview with a new company, it’s important to gain the experience that shows you have what it takes to be a product person. Focus on delivering the above traits and you’ll see that others will begin to position you as a product person.