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Career Guide

How to Become a Product Manager

BrainStation's Product Manager career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in product management. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the design skills you should learn, the best available product management training options, career paths in product management, and more.

How to Become a Product Manager
Ready to start your career in Product? Find out more about BrainStation's Product Management Course

How Do I Become a Product Manager?

To become a Product Manager, and especially, to become a good Product Manager requires a firm grasp of several hard skills, including customer research, the ability to identify market opportunities, modeling, roadmapping, and more.

These hard skills can be rather straightforward to learn, but will require dedicated study. The best Product Managers, however, combine these with a variety of soft skills, which may take time to hone, but can be practiced across a range of disciplines.

Here are six steps you can take today to help you become a Product Manager:

  • Enroll in a product management course to learn product management fundamentals.
  • Build key soft skills, including self-management, communication, creative problem solving, and more.
  • Study your line of business and industry to truly understand the market and potential opportunities and obstacles.
  • Develop a familiarity with key product management tools, including tools for roadmapping, flowcharting, analysis, and more.
  • Work on developing your own projects to build product management skills and experience.
  • Develop a portfolio of projects to showcase your work.

How Do I Become a Product Manager With No Experience?

You can still become a Product Manager if you currently do not have any relevant experience. The key is in developing a number of hard skills—the techniques and methodologies specific to product development, user experience, and design thinking.

These hard skills include:

  • How to conduct customer research, interviews, and testing
  • Pricing and revenue modeling
  • Design sprints
  • Roadmapping and ranking your features list
  • Assessing market conditions and opportunities
  • Translating between business and technical requirements
  • Quantifying and measuring your success using clear metrics

You don’t, however, need to be a Product Manager to develop these skills. In fact, 86 percent of Product Managers started their careers in a different field.

What Does It Take to Become a Great Product Manager?

To become a great Product Manager, you must look past core competencies to develop a series of interpersonal skills, which can affect individual project success, as well as your long-term career prospects.

Here are some characteristics all great Product Managers possess:

Empathy

You can call it social awareness, emotional intelligence, or “good people skills,” but there’s no way around it: whether you’re conducting an interview with a customer, maximizing the user experience, or building authentic relationships within your own team, empathy is vital to the role of Product Manager. Product development is ultimately about real human beings—your coworkers, your users, your company’s leadership—and being in tune with all their needs and desires is the foundation of successfully bringing a product to market.

Leadership

For Product Managers, vision is a big part of the job. But it’s not enough to have a clear sense of what needs to be done—you’ll also have to share that vision with your teams and motivate them to reach it. And often, because they work cross-departmentally, Product Managers don’t have direct authority over the teams they need to inspire. In these cases, they need to rely on influence, persuasion, and even charisma, and lead by example to keep everyone focused on achieving a common goal.

Curiosity

This underlies all the things a Product Manager needs to know—the technical aspects of their field, the changing landscape of their marketplace—and the constant learning required to stay up to date. Curiosity also drives Product Managers’ interactions with users at the early phase of development, when open questions are under discussion. In a sense, it’s like a Scientist’s love of learning—what motivates research, in-depth analysis and A/B testing, and the experimentation with new ideas if not curiosity?

Creative Problem-Solving

It goes without saying that Product Managers solve problems—in fact, that’s a good shorthand for the entire job description. But especially as it applies to the design thinking method, problem-solving isn’t just a knack for sorting out practical issues; it’s also an important step in product development, making the leap from identifying and defining a need within the marketplace and being the first to innovate a product or feature to address it.

Triaging

Virtually nobody works with unlimited time and resources—and even if you were lucky enough to find yourself in such a position, you’d still need to weigh zero-sum options within the product itself. That is, not only does a Product Manager need to prioritize which problems the team will attempt to solve (and in which order), they also need to prioritize the features of the product itself. The first consideration comes down to product flowcharting and an ability to make appropriate business decisions and allocate resources where they’re needed most—while the second comes down to understanding the user’s needs and how the product features will function in the real world. In both cases, you’ll be facing tradeoffs, and it will be up to you to decide which course will lead to the best results.

Systematization

Product management typically comprises multiple projects running in parallel, all of them following a given process to see them through, whether that’s design thinking for UX or Agile for feature rollout. A Product Manager’s ability to effectively build processes like these, devising and administering the systems that will guide the different stages of development, requires a high level of organization and a great deal of familiarity with each step of the process.

Communication

Product management is collaborative by nature. You’ll be leading a team, or possibly several teams, as well as liaising with company leadership, presenting to investors and other stakeholders, and even sitting down with test users and clients to gain a better understanding of their needs. In fact, as a Product Manager, you’ll be connected to virtually everything the company does, from sales and marketing to product implementation, essentially acting as the hub between market, development team, and business—and routing information between all three. Obviously, an ability to listen, understand, and convey what’s important back and forth is paramount.

Self-Management

As if it wasn’t hard enough to manage a product’s journey, you’ll also have to manage your own, both on and off the job. You’ll need a cool head, an ability to work under pressure, and a clear sense of both your own priorities and your company’s. This isn’t just about short-term performance, or even self-care; it’s also the skill that will guide the trajectory of your career as a whole. Nobody else is going to motivate you to keep learning and growing—you’ll need to be a self-starter outside the office in much the same way you’re leading your own team members inside of it.

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