Product management has grown from strength to strength in recent years, fast becoming a vital area of any SaaS company. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at how you can become a product manager, even if you have no previous experience.
If you’re looking for a change in career in 2020, then product management might be the perfect role for you.
In the US, product manager roles have grown by 32% over the last two years. It’s clear that it’s a role that’s high in demand. As the SaaS industry continue its rapid growth, the number of product managers is sure to increase further.
We’re going to start by looking at what a product manager actually does. Then we’ll run through the key attributes every successful product manager needs. Finally, we’ll discuss how you can become a product manager, including some must-see resources on product management.
Let’s dive in…
What does a product manager do?
With more and more SaaS companies realizing the value of product-led growth, it’s clear that product management is here to stay.
So, what exactly does a product manager do?
Ultimately, a product manager is responsible for deciding the future direction of the product. They have to decide what to build, and which order to build it in.
They do this by juggling a number of different jobs and responsibilities.
- Analyzing the market and competitors
- Researching and creating user personas
- Prioritizing features
- Aligning relevant teams (development, marketing, etc.)
- Generating and curating ideas
- Developing roadmaps
- Managing customer feedback
- Communicating product strategy and vision
- Updating stakeholders
- And much, much more…
If that sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry. Sure, there’s a lot of different tasks on your to-do list, but it’s not as complex as it might seem.
Having so many different things to do is part of what makes product management such a rewarding career.
What makes a great product manager?
Product management is still a relatively new role, and it’s always developing. As a result, people enter the world of product management from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines.
There are, however, some key traits that are essential if you want to become a product manager.
- Problem solving
Let’s look at each in turn…
Product management is communication
Communication is at the heart of everything you do as a product manager. As we mentioned earlier, product management covers a wide range of different areas, including marketing, development, and leadership.
In order to work effectively as a product manager, you need to be able to manage all of the different teams that have a part to play. The only way to do this successfully is to communicate well.
That means being a team player, developing strong relationships with members of other departments. It means conveying your strategy and thoughts. You need strong skills for both written and oral communication.
Product management is flexibility
No two days are ever the same when you’re a product manager. One day you might be analyzing customer feedback to try and determine what to build, the next you might be discussing how to market a new feature.
If you’re the kind of person that thrives on routine, and having a set number of jobs to do, then product management might not be for you.
You need to be flexible and adaptable, able to turn your hand to all manner of jobs and tasks. For that reason, product management is far more suited to a jack-of-all-trades than a specialist.
Product management is problem solving
Practically every task a product manager is given can be described as one thing: Problem solving. A product manager is essentially tasked with solving one problem after another.
These problems range from the obvious — we need to solve our customers’ problems — to the more subtle — what color is best for this button.
If you love to solve problems, if you spend all your free time on puzzles or finding solutions to things, then product management is the role for you.
Product management is curiosity
They say that curiosity killed the cat. If that’s true, then it seems it doesn’t apply to product managers. The key question at any product manager’s disposal is “Why?”. Why do our users want this feature? Why do users struggle to find this setting? Why is our menu on the right-hand side?
If you want to succeed as a product manager, you need to be curious. You need to have a burning desire to understand the world around you. You want to know what makes your users tick, which bits of your product are working (or not working).
A lot of product management is experimenting and trying new things. Having a curious mind will help you to develop hypotheses and test them.
Product management is empathy
Product managers build products for other people, not for themselves. The best product managers are able to do that by empathizing with their users. You need to be able to get inside their heads, and understand how they think. That’s how you build a successful product.
Not only that, but you need to empathize with the needs of your company, and the people within it. You need to balance company goals with user demand. You need to motivate the people you work with day-to-day.
A good product manager knows how to listen, and how to see things from another person’s point of view.
How to become a product manager
There’s a bit of a paradox when it comes to starting your career as a product manager.
Most product manager roles will require previous product management experience. It’s that old catch-22, where you need experience in order to gain experience. How do you start?
This is further compounded by the fact that product management is still a fairly new role. Therefore it stands to reason that a lot of people won’t have the experience required.
So, what can you do? How can you become a product manager if you have no previous experience? Well, much like a product manager, you’ll have to think outside of the box.
Here are some effective methods you can use to become a product manager…
Solve problems for your current employer
If you already work in SaaS, particularly at an early-stage startup, then you know how often people have to take on extra work.
This provides any would-be product managers with a fantastic opportunity to gain some valuable product management experience.
If you work for a company that doesn’t yet have a product manager — perhaps the work is currently shared between different people — then why not show some initiative and ask to help?
Speak to your current boss about your interest in product management, and suggest that you take on some of the tasks in addition to your current workload. Chances are, they’d love the extra help.
This way you can gain real-life product management experience at a SaaS company. This will look great on your CV. Not only that, but you might end up impressing your current employer if you do a good job. When they finally get round to hiring a full-time product manager, your name may well be first on the list.
Being proactive and curious about problems that exist in your company is a sign that product management is right for you.
Build your own product
If you don’t currently work in SaaS, but you want to get your foot in the door, you’re going to need to find another way of getting relevant experience.
One way is to design and product manage your own SaaS product. Bear in mind, however, that this can be a lot of work and will take up a fair bit of your free time.
If you have a great idea for a product, and it’s relatively simple, then why not build it yourself?
You can start by conducting user research, and creating user personas. Once you have those in place, you can conduct a competitor and market analysis to figure out where your product fits.
Then you can start designing user flows, and planning a roadmap for your product.
At this point, you can even go ahead and find a developer to code it for you. This is optional, however, as potential employers would only need to see the relevant product management skills.
Product managing your own product can be extremely rewarding in itself, but it also helps you show that you have what it takes to become a product manager. And who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a SaaS startup of your own!
Learn about product management
If you know you want to be a product manager, but don’t actually know the first thing about doing it, then it’s probably best to educate yourself.
Fortunately, there are loads of resources at your fingertips, including online courses, books, blogs and podcasts.
Product management courses
Courses will generally provide you with the most knowledge. Some even contain hands-on coursework projects that will help you demonstrate your new-found product management skills.
Here are some of our favorites…
Product Management 101 by Todd Birzer
Todd Birzer has years of product management experience. He currently works as a consultant, helping product teams to improve their processes and understanding. He’s distilled all of his knowledge into this course.
It’s aimed at people with 0-5 years of experience in product management, so it’s perfect for beginners and slightly more advanced people alike.
It covers everything you need to know, from market intelligence to lifecycle management.
Get it 👉 here.
Product Management Course Bundle by PM Loop
Taught by Keela Robinson, currently VP of Product Innovation at Netflix, this bundle contains absolutely everything a budding product manager needs to know.
Not only does Keela teach you about all the different aspects of being a product manager, but she also teaches you how to be hired.
If you’re looking to become a product manager as quickly as possible, then this course will help you get there.
Get it 👉 here.
Become A Product Manager by Cole Mercer and Evan Kimbrell
Cole Mercer has been a senior product manager at Soundcloud, Bonobos, and Mass Relevance. Evan Kimbrell is a top-rated instructor on Udemy. Together, they’ve created a fantastic product management course.
Like the other courses, you’ll learn all the different things that product managers needs to know. The course ends with helping you to find your dream product management role.
Course-takers have gone on to work at companies like Google and Airbnb.
Get it 👉 here.
Product management books
If you aren’t quite ready to shell out on a product management course, there’s a whole range of books on the subject that will help get you started.
Here are three of our faves…
The Lean Product Playbook
You may be familiar with the concept of the “lean startup”. It’s an approach that many SaaS startups take, with an emphasis on growing with as few resources as possible.
This lean approach is also often applied to product management. In this book by Dan Olsen, you’ll learn how to apply the lean methodology to product management.
This is useful knowledge for any would-be product manager, and will definitely serve you well when you finally make the move.
Get it 👉 here.
Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products
How do companies create products that people become addicted to? That’s the central question of Nir Eyal’s book. It focuses on the “Hook Model” — a four-stage framework for building products that make people keep coming back for more.
Packed full of useful insights and practical advice, this book will show you how to use psychology and behavioral science to create products that stick.
It’s a must-read for any future product managers, and contains numerous real-world examples for you to learn from and be inspired by.
Get it 👉 here.
Cracking The PM Interview
Of course, if you want to become a product manager, you’ll need to interview. If you’re new to the world of product management, this can be a tricky prospect.
This book by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro practically walks you into your first product management role. It covers the day-to-day aspects of being a product manager, and then explains how to apply for jobs and what to expect when you interview.
It also features advice from product managers at companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo.
Get it 👉 here.
Product management blogs
If reading the odd article in your spare time is more your sort of thing, then there are loads of great blogs to help you learn more about product management.
Here are some stand-out examples…
Product Coalition claims to be the biggest product management community, with over 1 million readers.
It offers a wide range of articles, covering every part of product management. Contributors to the blog are often product managers at successful SaaS startups, so you know there’s some great information to be gleaned.
Find it 👉 here.
Mind The Product
Mind The Product is a large community of product managers. The blog is packed full of useful insights and thought leadership from product managers from around the world. There’s also a jobs page, handy for when you start applying.
Find it 👉 here.
Hitenism by Hiten Shah
Hiten has founded three really successful SaaS companies: Crazy Egg, KISSmetrics, and Quick Sprout.
His blog posts are crammed with unique insights into product management, and the SaaS world in general. He also runs a must-read weekly newsletter with all the best reads.
Find it 👉here.
Product management podcasts
If you’re more of a listener than a reader, then perhaps podcasts will be more useful to you.
Here are some must-listens…
This Is Product Management
With over 20,000 weekly listeners, This Is Product Management is a podcast that any budding product managers can’t miss out on. The best and brightest product managers from around the world speak about their approach and share valuable lessons.
Listen 👉 here.
100 Product Managers
Host Suzanne Abate had a mission: Interview 100 of the best product managers to learn their stories, and their advice for those interested in the topic. It’s now a great podcast and community for anyone wanting to become a product manager.
Product To Product
Our friends at Roadmunk produce this compelling podcast. Each season (currently on number 5) covers a different area of product management, so each episode is able to go into really minute detail. It’s full of tips and tricks for aspiring product managers.
Listen 👉 here.
So, you want to be a product manager?
If, after reading all this, you still have your heart set on becoming a product manager, then good for you!
Here’s a quick recap of what you need to know:
- Product managers are responsible for building and improving a product, and ultimately making their users’ lives easier.
- The five key traits every product manager should have are communication, flexibility, problem-solving, curiosity, and empathy.
- To gain product management experience, you can solve problems for your current employer, and gradually move into the role. Alternatively, you could build your own product.
- There are loads and loads of great resources out there to help you learn about product management. Devour as much as you can.
Hopefully you’re now ready to embark on your new career as a product manager. We wish you all the best on your journey!