I’ve often wondered how to become a Product Manager, when there are no degrees specific to Product Management. Prior to enrolling in an MBA program, I was in a software engineering role. Post-MBA, I transitioned to a Product Manager role. However, the MBA is just one of the routes to make the switch from a software engineering to a Product role. You can easily make the switch by taking any of the following routes, without losing two years of income and spending a ton of money on earning an MBA.
What is and how to break into Product Management?
Product Management is the discipline of managing the entire product lifecycle, from conception to launch. It is a mix of strategic and tactical tasks.
Let’s say you think of an idea for a new product. You first have to do competitive analysis and customer discovery, to understand what else is out there in the market similar to your idea and what are the gaps. Assuming you have the budget to go ahead with your idea and your research shows that your idea is sound, you then have to work with user design and engineering teams to design and implement your idea. Finally you have to promote your new product with the help of marketing and launch it.
A Product Manager is involved in all these stages, right from conceiving the the idea to the launch of the product. In some cases, if your product lacks features that the competition already has, you have no other option other than implementing a feature to stay competitive. In other cases, you may come up with an entirely new idea that would make your product great.
When I started to look for Product Manager jobs after business school, I had a tough time because most companies wanted experience and I didn’t have any in the PM role. However, if you’re already working in an engineering role, here are some of the ways you can land your first Product Manager role.
1. Take up a side project
You can take up a side project that showcases your Product Management skills. This can be done by volunteering for a start up or by doing Product Management for your own idea.
2. Take up a Business Analyst or a Product Analyst role
Business and Product Analyst roles directly lead to Product Management and you will have the exposure working with stakeholders in various groups and get a taste of whether you actually like the role.
3. Network with Industry peers
You can also land your first role in Product Management by networking with others in the industry who have made the switch. All you have to do is reach out to people in the industry who are working in your dream role and ask them how they got there. If you make your case, they might be willing to forward your resume within their organization.
4. Enroll in a part-time MBA Program
By working on a part-time MBA program you can make the case for the switch to a different function, i.e., Product Management as well as keep working and earn for the two or three years of your study.
5. Look for internal opportunities within your company
It is always easier to make the switch to a different role when you have already established yourself at your current company. You will have access to the recruiters, the hiring managers, and others that can vouch for your skills.
Product Management is a great role, but you have to think long and hard whether you really want to get into Product Management. By having conversations with others in a similar role, you can find out if this role suits your temperament and personality. Not all Product Managers make good engineers and vice versa. If you dislike interacting with people, Product Management may not be for you, since the role itself involves working with different stakeholders such as User experience, Engineering, Marketing, Finance and Sales teams. In Product Management, you are responsible for everything but you control nothing. You should be okay with that.
If you have thought this through and your heart is set on becoming a Product Manager, I hope these tips on how to become a Product Manager help you land your first PM role. Good luck!