Product Management is a gratifying career, but you won’t find a “product management degree,” so what’s the clearest path to becoming a product manager? BrainStation Founder & CEO, Jason Field, is answering all of our questions about how a product manager fits into a tech company, which technical skills a PM needs to learn, trends to expect in 2022, and so much more.
One way to start your journey to PM? BrainStation’s part-time, online Product Management course!
Meet the Expert: Jason Field
At the highest level, product management is the process that organizations use to prepare for a product launch and product marketing. That can involve planning, research, forecasting, pricing, product development, and much more. It’s also ongoing – once a product gets to market, Product Managers (also known as PMs) will continue to refine it after its launch.
In short, product management works across departments and functions to define the strategy, roadmap, and features of entire product lines. Because of that, Product Managers have been called “mini-CEOs.” They are responsible for setting the plan in motion, getting the necessary resources, and then ensuring that the plan is executed smoothly.
How does a product manager operate within a technical team?
In the digital sphere, Product Managers are focused on digital products that are built alongside Software Engineers and Product Designers. This can be a consumer-facing website like BrainStation.io, or an internal application for processing private banking information, or so many things in between.
Product Managers might not always have all of the digital skills needed to produce those products on their own – you don’t necessarily need to be a Web Developer, for example, to manage a website’s development – but a successful PM understands the vision of what needs to be built and why, incorporates the needs and experiences of the end-user and how to build and motivate the team required the ship on time. Much like a Head Chef at a restaurant, who might not do much actual cooking on any given night, a Product Manager has to make sure his “kitchen” is appropriately staffed, stocked, and prepared to meet the deadlines ahead.
Within a technical team, and particularly for a digital product, a Product Manager would also be focusing on how the product they’re building contributes to the full user experience. Consider Netflix, which users access not only through a website, but also through apps for Android and iOS, as well as versions for gaming consoles, smart TVs, and more. Each of these represents a separate product or touchpoint – a different way for a user to access the service – and each one had to be developed with different functionality and features in mind. This is where a Product Manager comes into play.
What are some of the key traits of a product manager?
Product Managers are expected to have a wide range of abilities, from soft skills like communication and negotiation to more technical skills like prototyping and analytics.
Generally speaking, PMs need to have a good sense of strategy and business administration. They also need to understand the way users think, which involves a lot of empathy and customer understanding. And they must be strong communicators who are capable of collaborating with a variety of professionals and teams. As the leader of a team often spread across multiple departments or locations, a Product Manager has to be highly collaborative and supportive, fostering understanding across departments and communicating ideas to executives, Designers, Developers, and more. For these reasons, the most successful Product Managers tend to have excellent communication and listening skills.
Finally, they do need to have some technical expertise, particularly when it comes to user scenarios and flowcharts, product and user analytics, wireframes and prototypes, A/B tests, and more. Even if a Product Manager doesn’t personally perform all these tasks, without a good sense of how the technical elements come together, the overall vision will be hard to realize.
Do product managers need to know how to code?
It isn’t essential for Product Managers to know how to code, but certainly, the more they know, the easier it will be to communicate ideas to Developers and Designers and to understand the work that goes into digital product development.
Some PMs will be focused on growth products, so a background in marketing, communication, and sales can be beneficial. Other PMs are working on back end systems that are really complex technically and it is likely expected that their proficiency with programming is pretty good.
What are the typical tools and technologies that product managers rely on?
A Product Manager will need to use a number of tools, including:
Product Managers come from a variety of backgrounds. There are no four-year product management college degrees, nor a clear, cookie-cutter path to starting a career in this field. The professionals that have succeeded are those that have mastered the technical and soft skills we’ve discussed, and fortunately, these can be developed while working in a wide range of fields.
Taking that a step further, I would note that, in most cases, product management is not an entry-level job. Many of the skills a good PM requires — management abilities, problem-solving, cross-functional teamwork, and decision-making — come from experience in the workplace. In our BrainStation Digital Skills Survey, we saw that over 80 percent of product respondents are working in an intermediate or higher position level.
That said, I think theory is an incredibly important first step. Courses like BrainStation’s Product Management Certificate Course can help you learn key fundamentals as well as the product management process – while you also ship your first product with the rest of your class! We’ve had thousands of professionals complete our Product Management course, with many now working at some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Google, Shopify, and lululemon, among others.
To underscore the importance of theoretical training, I recently came across a survey of 2,500 Product Managers, which found that 71 percent of respondents had at least one professional certification, and 76 percent considered continuing education important to their career.
Are there certain previous career paths that translate well into a career in product management?
Anyone with professional experience in UX design, web or software development, data analysis, or business would have transferable skills that would be a major asset in a product management role. But given the multidisciplinary nature of a Product Manager’s work, there are many career paths that can lead to a smooth transition into product management. In fact, our BrainStation Digital Skills Survey showed that 88 percent of product management professionals started their careers in a different field – including marketing, engineering, business analysis, or general management.
What does it take to become a product manager at a huge company like Google? Do you need to specialize in a particular field?
When hiring Product Managers, Google typically will look for professionals that have a
degree in a technical field of some kind. Generally speaking, though, successful Product Managers at the most innovative companies tend to be professionals with an extensive cross-section of experience. They also need to have a very strong understanding of business, technology, and customer needs, and more importantly, how all three intersect to build a really great product.
BrainStation’s Product Management course is a part-time course designed to introduce key product management skills, processes, and tools. All of BrainStation’s courses and bootcamps are project-based, giving Learners the opportunity to immediately apply the skills and knowledge they learn. This way when they complete the course, they’ll have experience identifying market opportunities and user needs, developing a go-to-market product launch strategy, and using an agile management methodology, among other areas.
Is there an ideal candidate for BrainStation’s Product Management course?
While in-depth, the Product Management course can be considered beginner-friendly and is open to anyone looking to learn more about product management or take steps toward a product management career. It has been designed to provide aspiring Product Managers real hands-on experience, giving them the chance to study real-world case studies and then apply that knowledge to actual project work. Since the course is offered part-time, professionals can absolutely upskill while working their job.
Who are the instructors for the Product Management course?
BrainStation’s Instructors are the best of the best and you can expect to see subject matter experts from digital-first brands such as Google, Amazon, Shopify, and Facebook in our classrooms. Our immersive interviewing process and scoring system ensure that our learners are only taught by elite industry experts who are also passionate about helping others.
The biggest trend could be the continued rise of data in product management. Most companies are still sitting on a wealth of data that they haven’t necessarily figured out how to properly leverage. Making data-driven decisions and figuring out how to use that data to create memorable, personalized experiences for users will only become more crucial for Product Managers in 2022.
At the same time, data privacy will also be a major focus in product management for 2022. With the growing discussion around Zero Party Data — which is the data that customers intentionally share with brands — product management professionals should be thinking about their approach for building relationships with customers and using their data in an ethical and effective way.
Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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