Just as the product management role can differ depending on the organization, the path to becoming a product manager can also vary greatly. Some were former engineers; others had a business background. Some went through a formalized program (or were involved with a more structured team); others were thrown in the deep end and learned as they went.
Not all of us have a mentor who can help guide us in the beginning. So a question that often gets asked to more senior PMs is, “What is one thing you wished you’d known when you first started?” There are so many lessons learned that what’s hard is trying to choose or distill it down to one. For me, I wished I had realized at the beginning that “I was not the only one going through ‘this’” (whatever “this” was).
I had jumped over to the product management role after a few years in various other roles, including operations, marketing, strategy, and training. All these hats I previously wore helped me immensely in understanding different teams’ perspectives, but I still had much to learn on-the-job about the bigger picture of managing a product. Armed with my “Product Manager’s Handbook” and “Crossing the Chasm” books, I eagerly jumped into my new role. I wished I had read more books/references about product management, but not to learn about more frameworks and theories (not that I’m discounting them; many have been very helpful for me), but to learn about real-world success, mistakes, and lessons learned.
Due to a variety of factors, I finally got my first formalized training (through Pragmatic Marketing) a year later. It was the first time I was in a setting with other PMs of different career stages, and it was wonderful. I remembered thinking, “Wow, this course would have been so helpful to me if I’d taken it a year ago. Yet, I’m not sure I would have gotten as much out of it then as I am now because I wouldn’t have had much experience to draw from before.” And In business school, one of the assigned readings had been “Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days.” I had found it a fascinating read, and a few years later, as I was getting into product management, I continuously returned to that book.
In hindsight, what I was starving for were stories on what worked for people in the “real world.” I needed stories that allowed me to see that I was not the only one going through a certain situation – be it designing a new product, dealing with unpredictable alpha/beta clients, launching in a new market, managing new and ever-constantly changing team structures, and many other situations.
These days, with social networking, online forums/groups, etc, we are all much more connected than ever before. There are also many more books, videos, and courses available. Ironically, with so many resources at our disposal now, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and what resources to use. But know this: whatever situation you are facing as a product manager, it’s likely someone else has already gone through it. You are not alone!