Emerging from the surge of the Internet and the fast growth of mobile technologies, it’s been only around 13 years since the role of product manager came onto the stage. Born in the digital age, there is no particular major or degree established in delivering comprehensive product management courses within higher education institutions. In other words, product management studies are still quite new in the scientific research area. In reality, when it comes to product management practices, product managers are inclined to gain solid experience and skillsets on their day-to-day operations and BAU activities, rather than purely rely on the various framework, guidelines and standard operating procedures. Given the dynamic nature of product management and the ever-changing technologies, the career path of the product managers also becomes diversified.
A typical skill matrix for a product manager includes business analysis and management skills, data analysis and data presentation skills, project management skills, leadership, commercial awareness, interpersonal and team skills. These skills are fairly transferrable and can be shared across roles. According to a trend survey published by Product Management Festival in 2019, project managers, business analysts, product owner and software developers are a major starting point before turning into a product manager. Having managed the development of an E-learning experience platform for two years, my product management journey also started with being a project manager initially. Even though switching to a product manager was not a big career leap as most essential skills I developed in project management are transferrable and sharable, there are still some fundamental differences here.
Lessons Learned When I switched from Project Management to a Product Manager Role
Understand the gaps between project manager skillsets and product manager skillsets
According to PMBOK, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. With the assistance of appropriate application and integration of project management process, project management aims to help organisations meet business objectives, satisfy stakeholder expectation, deliver the right products, optimise the use of resources and resolve problems and issues. Therefore, a project manager involves in day-to-day execution significantly and ensures that the project is delivered on budget at the right time. Essential skills a project manager is supposed to have are, project integration management, project scope management, project schedule management, project cost management, project quality management, project resource management, project risk management, project communications management, project procurement management, project stakeholder management. Whilst these skillsets should be transferred into product management, a product manager thinks more strategically rather than operationally from the product management perspective. With a strong focus on end-users and product performance, a product manager needs to be data-driven and also develop research skills, documentation skills, design-thinking, great communication skills, stakeholder engagement skills and decision-making skills.
Keep learning and developing new skills constantly
Being a product manager means you have to keep up with the latest industry trend, keeping key product stakeholders engaged and finding creative solutions to address end-user needs. In particular, during the first three to five years, you will have significant achievements if you keep learning all the time. I know for most product managers, building a product being “hooked” and loved by a wealth number of users is an ultimate objective. However, as far as I am concerned, a successful product manager intends to look alike an entrepreneur who is forward-thinking and has strong product expertise, commercial awareness, leadership as well as soft skills, working for herself. Therefore, to further enhance your skillsets, participating in industry conference to learn more about the emerging technologies, your competitors and the future of the industry is necessary. Taking cross-function related courses, such as coding, data analysis, design and even business writing would be of merit. You don’t have to reach a professional level, but these courses are very helpful in smoothing your BAU activities.
My e-learning learning experience platform has been used by more than 50,000 people, not too many though, my team and I keep enhancing the platform by bringing in nice features to meet the exact needs of the end-user. The progress I have made in the past two years is absolutely phenomenal, despite the fact that I am still trying to find my feet in becoming an excellent product manager.