blog Product Management

How could I become a Tech Product Manager without University?

It’s a tacky notion to generalize, so I’ll focus on my own experience and my own journey. It would be great if it helps anyone else.

This one is easy – you do the same thing you would have done after University – only without it. Let me elaborate. One thing I have learned through my 25+ years of different careers in IT and around is that university degree, diplomas, and certifications have very little – if anything – to do with actual performance on a job. At least once in my past 10 years, I was hired against the rule of “everyone should have at least a Bachelor degree in this company”. I also was officially denied a consideration for employment at another company once because of lack of Bachelors degree. That was after I’ve got a solid 10 years of experience in the industry. I guess those two cases cancel each other out.

What defines me as a “knowledge worker” is not a degree or a certificate. It’s the actual knowledge. Granted – given a good education (and by “good” I mean – as close to a real deal as possible, not just expensive one) a lot of things get easier or more transparent. A lot of other things, however, become invisible. You need a special knack to “uncover” things, persistence to do this all the time and actual intelligence to recognize the “AHA!” moment to be able to succeed.

A degree may (or, rather, should) supply you with a set of tools – the quality of them would vary based on your teachers and their methods, but at least you’ll get the basics. Without a degree, you’ll end up developing your own set of tools that may or may not be better than those imposed by education. The upside is that they will be yours, so – ultimately much more convenient to use more often.

The way I have become a Product Manager was through working in various roles in IT – tech support, software engineering, technical leadership, project management. At each stage, you can see various pieces of the puzzle, but usually until the level of manager of “development” or project manager the whole picture will be obscured. This, however, allowed me to build my own set of tools to determine and paint that big picture without having direct access to assets (people or systems) that can define it for me.

Once I was able to get to the big picture for existing systems – it became a lot easier to create my own big picture where there was none before. Because a product isn’t just a piece of software that does A, B and X. A true product is a solution to someone else’s problem. I’ve used this line in one of my other Quora answers, but I’ll repeat it again: “Don’t think about how to make your product better. Think about how you can make a life of your customer easier”. Any successful product would be one that resolves a customer issue or takes away or eases the pain.

Ultimately, to become a Product Manager to start thinking about yourself as a product. What kind of problems will you be able to solve? How do you go to the market? Where is your audience? What are the definitions of your own success?

Well, the last one is easy – once you have solved a couple of real-world problems with a product of your own – you can start thinking that one day you will be a successful Product Manager. I certainly think I will.

blog Product Management

What does a product manager do?

When planning a product range for what are the most important considerations a product manager will take into account?

Product manager, as the name implies, is one who “manages” the “product”.

As you can see I put quotes around two words – “manage” and “product”. The reason is you need to be very careful when defining those two. Some companies, when referring to product manager, assume it’s the same role as Project Manager, with a single caveat of managing projects for a single product. In a classic sense of Product Management – this isn’t entirely correct.

A Product Manager is, in a way, a CEO of a particular product. A product manager has to be involved in all aspects of developing a product. Since I am most familiar with software products please assume the rest of this answer is related to software products only. I am not speaking of any other products since I don’t have any experience managing those.

A Product Manager is a person responsible for all aspects of his or her product – from roadmap to choosing the technology and building a team that develops the product, to marketing to sales. In the ideal world the Product Manager is working across all departments in the company towards success of his product.

For example – I have an idea of a certain product, I go to C-level executives to get their blessings to continue, get the resources and then go to line/department managers to procure said resources. In this scenario I have to sell the idea to C-office and VPs, show them where ROI will be coming from, show them projections on what it’s going to cost, etc. In other words – you have to present the business plan for your product – same way you have to have a business plan when opening your own business. So you do your homework, your marketing research, your estimates, see what the competition is doing, how fast are they going to catch up once you release your product to the market, and so on. Once you’ve sold Cs and VPs on your idea – you have to go and negotiate your product into other people’s agendas (unless you’re hiring a brand new team). In many cases you will need to allocate resources from existing teams, rearranging their existing plans/sprints/scopes/roadmaps. This is in addition to whatever else you’re working on at the moment. You may get a chance to offload some of your stuff to a colleague because your product seem very promising. In most cases, however, you get to add that product’s responsibility to everything else you already doing.

In a real world it’s not all that well defined. Depending on the company and structure – you may be running a few projects here, help with a process there and someone from C- or VP-level hands you down some stuff that you now are responsible for. So it all really depends on the particular company structure, their way of doing business, etc.

So when you’re planning a product range – you have to take into account common and different elements of your products, make sure you’re driving your customers to the product in range that both solves their problems to the fullest extend and maximizes your ROI. I’ve seen some product lines where the offer was so complex that potential customers gave up on analyzing the feature set of each product in line up and simply signed up for either the cheapest (which wasn’t doing all they needed and, therefore, left them unsatisfied and seeking replacement) or the most expensive (which might have been overkill, again, pushing them to seek cheaper replacement). You do want to maintain as much of common core (code/features/etc) as possible so that your product lineup is cheap to maintain. Additionally, you want to make sure you can retain customers as their business grows, so you make your upgrade/downgrade path easy and simple.

To wrap up in a TL;DR:

product manager – CEO of the particular product. In the ideal world – person responsible for entire product life cycle, from idea to prototype to go-to-market.
planning product range – focus on fast go-to-market strategy, maintainability of the product and customer retention within your product line.