Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

How can a QA / tester become a product manager?

Posted on July 1, 2008 · 2 Comments

Question: How can I move from QA to product management?

I am a Quality Assurance (QA) professional with Bachelors in Engineering and Operations, and I have a good exposure to the software industry. I am planning to switch to product management and would like to know the necessary skills I need to develop to get into this role and what would be the approach I need to follow. I would also like to know is it possible to switch from QA to product management or not. It has been my long cherished dream to get into this role.

Answer from Jeff Lash of How To Be a Good Product Manager: First, to put you and other readers at ease — I think it is possible to switch from nearly any role to product management. With the right attitude, mindset, and passion, anything is possible. Now, some roles may lend themselves better to making the switch than others. Luckily, a lot of the skills of good QA/testers are ones which product managers need to possess as well.

Before going into the specifics related to switching from QA to product managemement, I should mention that there are a number of other Questions and Answers posted here which relate to moving into product management, including:

Much of the advice provided for these questions would be applicable to anyone interested in becoming a product manager, regardless of their background.

Now, for testers specifically, most QA people are extremely conscious of details. They have to, of course, because it’s their job. It’s that perfectionist quality that can be very beneficial in a product manager. Especially for technology products, the way a user interacts with the product, the different variations in how it can be used, and the details around how different functionality is implemented is extremely important. QA usually has a great ability to analyze the functionality of a product and identify problems, confusion, or ways to make improvements.

Often, product managers will be good at the high-level strategy yet fail when it comes down to the details. With QA, the opposite is more likely to be the case, since testing is all about the details and less about the overall vision. QA people looking to transition to product management need to make sure that they see the forest” and “the trees” and “the leaves,” to borrow from a popular expression.

Also, QA is usually focused on making sure a product has no defects, or at least as few as possible. As a product manager, however, you will often need to make the choice between releasing a product with a defect or delaying launch or reprioritizing to fix the defect. The natural QA instinct will likely be to fix the problem. As a product manager, you will need to analyze the severity of the defect, the likelihood of a user encountering it, the impact of the defect on the user, whether there are alternative methods the user can go through to get around the defect, and other factors in deciding the overall priority of fixing the problem. While a product manager from a different background may have no problem releasing a product with a few defects, this decision may be much more difficult for someone coming from QA.

These are generalizations and may not apply to all testers. However, anyone moving from QA to product management needs to be aware of these differences before making the switch and work hard to take the appropriate actions once becoming a product manager.

As far as how exactly to switch from QA to product management, the tactic would be similar to How can I become a product manager without any experience? It is much easier to switch from QA to product management within your current company than to try to get a PM position with a new company when you don’t have any experience with the title of Product Manager.

Try to spend as much time with the product managers within your organization and learn from them. Find people who are willing to help and ask questions as much as possible. Express your interest in moving from QA to PM and see if they have any advice — good product managers (and especially managers of product managers) are often on the lookout to recruit people from other departments.

If you are on a project without a product manager or without strong leadership, take the opportunity to step into the product manager role by volunteering to prioritize development work, refine the strategy and goals, or whatever else is needed to show people you are capiable of acting as a product manager. Use this experience as an example when interviewing within or outside your organization — you can sell your skills whether or not you officially had the title of Product Manager.

If you are looking to stay in your current industry (e.g. security software), learn as much as you can about the market and your customers. A solid understanding of customer needs and market opportunities, combined with your experience in the product development process, should make you an excellent candidate for a product management role.

2 other answers so far ↓

  • Gopal Shenoy // Jul 2, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Jeff,
    Great post and advice. One thing I would add to your suggestion about talking to the current product managers, is to ask the product managers if you can tag along with them on local customer visits (start with local ones since it does not add to the cost if you tag along). Get to know your customers well.

    I would sell this to your current manager in QA by telling him that understanding how your current customers use your product and getting to talk to them directly would help you have a better perspective on how to test the product. Don’t tell your manager that you want to do this because you want to move into the role of a product manager.

    Second, take the initiative of identifying a common usability issue or a feature enhancement and spec out a possible solution and sell it to the PM head honcho – show that you have what it will take to be a product manager. Two things will come out of this, you will get to know what PMs have to do – you may just hate it or love it – rather try it out first before you jump head first into the PM world and then find out that it is not your cup of tea.

    Many times, the grass looks greener the other side, you may want to make sure that your strengths do what PM has to do. In the worst case, you may find out that QA is what suits you more than being a PM. Would’nt that be awesome to find out what you enjoy?

    Good luck.

    Gopal
    http://productmanagementtips.com

  • Marek Soukup // Jul 7, 2008 at 1:37 am

    It is very hard to describe such general activity like testing (or QA) and pm and try to find universal solution or advice.

    I hope every tester knows the principle of good enough quality and critical to quality so he/she is able to make the decision to ship or not the product.

    I see the main issue in mind-set – technician are mainly oriented to task solving but in management are more important the visions, control and so on…

What do you think?