Product Management

Driving the planning, development, and implementation of digital products and services

Product management is one of the most challenging yet rewarding careers possible. Sometimes referred to as the “CEO of the product,” you get to work with everyone in the company, define the very essence of a product, design solutions to your customers’ problems and play a massive part in your company’s success. 

A product management role will challenge your organizational leadership abilities. It requires a blend of technical knowledge and interpersonal skills that will be the driving force behind building products and services that positively impact people's lives. 

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to fully understand the career and overall role of a product manager. In simple terms (or as simple as this rather complicated job allows us to go), product management is the meeting point of business, technology, and user experience. A product manager essentially leads a team through the lifecycle of a digital product, from understanding the problem the user faces, the conception of the vision, the development, to the rollout of the product. With so much coordination and goals to achieve, project management capabilities are naturally required for this position.

A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. Bad product managers have lots of excuses.
- Ben Horowitz, Andreesen Horowitz

What do Product Managers do?

Boiled down to its fundamentals, a product manager position has mainly three functions: 

Beginning with market and industry research, they gather information on competitors, customers, and the market. With this research in hand, they pick the consumer or business problem to solve and dream up a possible product or software solution. By consolidating their knowledge of customer analytics, engineering, marketing, and company resources, they develop a vision and plan of action for development.

Next, and probably the most time-consuming stage, is the development of the product. This can include but is certainly not limited to, developing a timeline for completion, assigning specific tasks to teammates, and working with a team of developers to build the product.

Finally, a product manager will also need to assist in the release and rollout of the product. This could include steps to market the product, explaining the product, and gathering feedback.  

Jobs within Product Management

1. Product Manager

A product manager is a person who identifies the customers' needs and the broader business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill. They then rally a team together that will turn this product vision into a reality, this, in essence, is what a successful product manager should be able to accomplish.

2. Product Owner

Traced back to the Scrum framework for effective team collaboration, product owners have a more tactical approach and work with the development team daily. Mainly, they convert their product's vision into explicit specifications and manage the development throughout the process. 

How To Get Into Product Management

If you’re hoping to break into the product management scene, there’s good news: Product managers tend to come from a variety of educational backgrounds and represent a broad spectrum of work experience. There’s no distinct trajectory or definite career path to follow if you want to secure a product manager role. In fact, only recently has product management become a career path young talents want to pursue. Before it was something engineers, marketers or designers would “fall into.” While there’s no definitive path, here is some advice: 

Education

While product managers come from a variety of educational backgrounds, a degree in computer science is helpful. It will help you understand the technology stack and the level of effort required by the members of the tech team. This is especially important if the company works in an agile environment (e.g., Scrum), where the product manager/owner works with the technical team on a daily basis. If you did not study computer science, you could learn the basics through a coding bootcamp or online courses. Many individuals who did not study a business-related field might opt for a Master of Business Administration. In business school, you will learn leadership, organizational development, and many other skills that can apply to management in various industries. 

Work Experience

It's the typical catch-22 situation you're going to find yourself in, you need the experience to clinch the job, but to do so, you need a job that'll give you the background. You won't be able to go straight from the classroom to the position of a product manager; often, it's about working from a beginner position and steadily climbing into more leadership responsibilities.

Ideally, you should be looking for a position that works directly with the development team (e.g., software engineering, user experience, project management), where you will be working under (either directly or indirectly) a product manager. This will give you first-hand experience in product management, what challenges are faced by a product manager, and how top-quality leaders overcome these challenges every day.

Volunteer to lead a design meeting or oversee a small component of the development. At first, you may just be leading two or three people. Still, this number will start to grow, and soon you will be seen, by company leaders and other organizations, as a viable candidate for a product management position.

Important Qualities

Besides the soft qualities that you need for this career, many hard skills are required for product management.

 

1. Understand code

You don’t necessarily have to be an advanced engineer, but you should understand how digital products are created and have some experience in coding. Knowing code will help you “speak the language” of your colleagues, understand the scope of the task and their challenges, and even assist in the actual development of the product.

2. User-centric mindset

Basic education or experience with UX (user experience) design will be beneficial. This skill will allow you to see a product from the end user’s perspective, and it will help you create products that meet the needs, all while foreseeing potential problems or demand from end-users.

3. Project management skills

If you’re the type of person who’s well-organized and keeps a detailed personal schedule, you likely have the necessary organizational skills that will be required for this career. Tracking and delegating tasks, managing your team, and keeping to deadlines are crucial. 

4. Aptitude for prioritization

A lot of what you’ll do as a product manager will force you to weigh and make the trade-offs in the name of building a great product. With an onslaught of ideas from your team, inputs from stakeholders, instructions from higher-ups, and an ever-increasing set of tasks to complete, being able to prioritize will help you make the best decision for the business and product. 

Salary

Product Management is a highly lucrative position. A junior product manager in Berlin can expect around 39.000€ as a starting salary, while a more senior product manager can expect to be paid 70.000€. The Head of Product at a Berlin-based startup will be paid around 85.000€.

Tips & Tricks

Expand your frame of reference

Inspiration can strike from anywhere. Stay informed on the ins and outs of the industry via online publications or blogs such as Gizmodo and TechCrunch. Research new-to-market products whenever you can (Google alerts and platforms like producthunt.com are a great resource).

Build a product sense 

Got a few favorite gadgets? Great. Take the time to evaluate how they work and why they fill a customer problem the way they do. Why do you think these products are popular? How would you propose them to a hypothetical team? Develop an understanding of what makes a product great. 

Scope out a side hustle

Day jobs are essential, sure, but you may want to look into startups, projects, or products that could use your talents to help them get to the next level. Reach out to startups and offer your help in building their product. 

 

Most Important Skills of a Product Manager

Besides the soft qualities that you need for this career, there are also many hard skills that will be required for product management.

1. Understand code

You don’t necessarily have to be an advanced engineer, but you should understand how digital products are created and have some experience in coding. Knowing code will help you “speak the language” of your colleagues, understand the scope of the task and their challenges, and even assist in the actual development of the product.

2. User-centric mindest

Basic education or experience with UX (user experience) design will be beneficial. This skill will allow you to see a product from the end user’s perspective, and it will help you create products that meet the needs, all while foreseeing potential problems or demand from end-users.

3. Project management skills

If you’re the type of person who’s well-organized and keeps a detailed personal schedule, you likely have the necessary organizational skills that will be required for this career. Tracking and delegating tasks, managing your team, and keeping to deadlines are crucial. 

4. Aptitude for prioritization

A lot of what you’ll do as a product manager will force you to weigh and make the trade-offs in the name of building a great product. With an onslaught of ideas from your team, inputs from stakeholders, instructions from higher-ups, and an ever-increasing set of tasks to complete, being able to prioritize will help you make the best decision for the business and product. 

Salaries

Product Management is a highly lucrative position. A junior product manager in Berlin can expect around 39.000€ as a starting salary, while a more senior product manager can expect to be paid 70.000€. The Head of Product at a Berlin-based startup will be paid around 85.000€.

Tips & Tricks

Expand your frame of reference

Inspiration can strike from anywhere. Stay informed on the ins and outs of the industry via online publications or blogs such as Gizmodo and TechCrunch. Research new-to-market products whenever you can (Google alerts and platforms like producthunt.com are a great resource).

 

Build a product sense 

Got a few favorite gadgets? Great. Take the time to evaluate how they work and why they fill a customer problem the way they do. Why do you think these products are popular? How would you propose them to a hypothetical team? Develop an understanding of what makes a product great. 

 

Scope out a side hustle

Day jobs are essential, sure, but you may want to look into startups, projects, or products that could use your talents to help them get to the next level. Reach out to startups and offer your help in building their product. 

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