Product Manager Growth in Career & Management Tips

July 7, 2020

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Anna Pintusevych

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5 of many lessons to remember on the path to becoming the best product manager you can be.

What makes an excellent doctor? What about an excellent engineer? 

Surely, any person would have their own opinion on the matter – after all, there are as many opinions as there are people – but when it comes to long-established professions, the main routes to a successful career have already been trodden, paved and lined with traffic signs along the way.

What about a product manager? What is that very particular set of skills that will allow you to Liam Neeson your way toward success?

Which qualities and decisions can make or break you on a path to becoming a product leader? 

How do you successfully ship your career – a lifelong product, make a difference and keep yourself – your main stakeholder, happy in the process? 

In today’s world, it’s not about working harder. It’s about doing the right work, and when the traditional educational system is only now starting to catch up and roll out structured programs for current and future product management professionals, finding guidance on a path toward professional growth and self-determination can be a challenge, but is now possible thanks to communities like Product League.

The Product League mentoring program not only finds you a mentor, an invaluable partner that can help you become the best product manager you can be, but also connects you to a whole community of talented and inspiring professionals and leaders in the field, all with a common purpose of finding answers to the tough questions together.

One of the ways to connect and spread the knowledge within the community is the new series of Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions where our mentors share their advice and thoughts on questions that have or will preoccupy most product managers at some point in their career. 

In the latest session, ‘How to Interview, Hire and Manage Product Managers’, mentors Denis Somar, Ronit Amitay, Zara Wittirani, and Tolulope Ayeni, have shared their thoughts on the qualities that make effective product managers to recognize others’ qualities and to bring their own to shine, toward success.

Here are some ideas and lessons that I’ve taken away from the session. Listening to insights shared by hiring managers in the PM industry and translating them into actionable items for us all to follow was an interesting experience. 

Always Put Your Customers First

When talking about mastering the art of product management you often hear about the holy trifecta of product manager’s areas of expertise – business, tech, design. Depending on your background, you may not immediately fit into the perfect center of this triangle.

Having to become a master of each of these domains can be a tall order for someone who is just starting out. But even if you are a senior in the field, with so many improvements and changes of methodologies and tools, there is a big investment needed in order to master the developments in all 3 fields. But should that discourage you from pursuing the product management career you want to have?

No, as long you always put your customers’ pains and objectives in the heart of your decisions.

You can know how to write code or a mean business plan and be a guru of prototyping, and even all combined. But if you don’t have customer focus, your expertise does not guarantee that you will ship a successful product. 

You have to want to represent the voice of your customers. Learn to listen and stay empathic, put their needs first and always try to deliver the best possible experience – this is what will make you a truly great product manager.

Get into your customers shoes, keep on learning and think of your prior expertise as an opportunity to bring something new to the table, and every new challenge will only get you closer to that coveted golden center. 

Approach Your Career As a Product And Yourself As The Main Customer 

As a PM, you have the knowledge and the skills to approach anything as a product, including your own career, and think of yourself as its main customer and stakeholder.

Think about your current role, the things you enjoy and the things that you would like to do differently. What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your target and vision for a successful and fulfilling career? What improvements can you make in your career to increase the gains and decrease the pains?

Start building a roadmap and a team that can help you make your dream a reality – it can be your mentor, your manager, your colleagues or your community. If you can inspire people around you to believe in you and your vision, they can become your biggest champions and assets.

Do your research. Learn from success stories of other product leaders. Figure out what your strengths are and how they can help you stand out, then look for opportunities that will serve as a good fit for these strengths.

Prioritize your action items by the core value that they can bring – always remember what is most important to you and consider whether each next step that you’re taking can bring you closer to your goal. 

Take action and be prepared to iterate, refine and polish – remember that not every decision you will make will be the right one, and that’s ok! Try to remain neutral and give yourself objective feedback when evaluating each step that you took and the results it has yielded. Don’t be afraid of failure.

As you continue on your career path, your wants and needs may change, so make sure to continuously revisit your-career-roadmap and make changes when needed. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to pivot if you realize that your strategy no longer aligns with your vision!

Lead by Example

As a PM, you must develop a story and a shared vision and serve as connective tissue that brings teams together and motivates them toward execution of that vision.

To do that, you have got to be a team player and a great communicator. Always be ready to listen, share the knowledge and put the needs of your team ahead of your own. Communicate the why and learn to take a step back to let your teams decide on the how. 

If you want others to follow your lead, you must first learn to become a leader of your own life and career. Build a vision and empower yourself to work toward it. Be decisive, don’t be afraid to embrace change and always be open to new ideas. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of speaking up and seeking advice, support and mentorship when you need it. To learn more about Product League, click here.

Honing your communication and leadership skills in both your professional and personal life will enable you to form strong collaborative teams, which in turn will make you a more effective PM and will allow you to naturally transition to a managerial role in the future. 

Be Honest About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

No matter where your career path takes you, know that you won’t always be the best fit for every opportunity you go for, and not every job opportunity in all companies will be the best fit for you either. Remember that the best results always come to life when the right person is placed in a position that is right for them and that requires the exact skillset and Toolkit that they hold. 

At the same time, if you find an opportunity that is very interesting for you, but it has to do with a field that is new to you and that you are seemingly lacking expertise in, don’t be too quick to disqualify yourself as a valuable asset.

Always do your research, come prepared to demonstrate the skills that would make you the right fit and show that you are someone who can and is willing to go the extra mile and has the interest to succeed. Your problem-solving attitude is your quality rated feature.
Embrace every responsibility as an opportunity to leverage your different resources.

Don’t treat your weaknesses as blockers – with enough determination, you can gradually become a master of any domain, but in order to do so, you have got to put in the time and stay honest with yourself and others. Admitting that you don’t know something or are not yet very good at something but working towards acquiring this missing knowledge will only create more opportunities for professional growth now and in the future. 

No One Is Perfect. So Be Kind to Yourself 

For people who are usually expected to have all the answers, being in a position of uncertainty can be stressful for any PM. Even the most accomplished product managers can sometimes fall victim to the infamous imposter syndrome and start doubting themselves, their work and the position they are in.

In moments of precariousness, it is important to remind ourselves that there can be no wrong turns on the road to a meaningful and successful career because the way itself is often the main destination.

On the path to perfection, it’s easy to let self-doubt and fear of mistakes eat away at your determination. So be kind to yourself – after all, if you would have all the answers, then how could you possibly ever learn anything new?

Written By

  • Mentee in Product League & Data Product Manager at Tenengroup

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