Ask A Good Product Manager

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What is the best product manager career path?

Posted on August 18, 2008 · 86 Comments

Question: What is the career progression for a product manager?

I am a young engineer trying to plan out my career. I want to know what is the typical career progression (director, VP) of a product manager and how do the job responsibilities change along the way. Is product management a feeder career for CEO since it is entrepreneurial in nature?

Answer from Adam Bullied of Write That Down: This is a great question — one that I’ve personally spent a lot of time thinking about, and helping others I’ve managed think through as well.

Quite honestly, there isn’t a very “fixed” path to get to the CEO role. But, rising through the ranks of product management is pretty well understood and defined. I’ll walk through each stage of this progression, but keep in mind, this isn’t the only way to advance in a career, in product management, or to the CEO role.

But to kick this off, I will say that yes, product management is very good path to CEO. Especially within start-ups. Why? Well, because in a start-up you really need to know how to define, build, and ship products. And build the best team possible to help you. Being exposed to all different functions and disciplines early in your career (and regularly within product management) is a sure bet to be the type of individual VCs and start-ups covet.

With an engineering background, you are well-suited to be working in organizations that ship technical products. I’ve found folks with marketing backgrounds or sales backgrounds don’t usually excel in product management within companies that have highly technical products being released to market.

However, a common pitfall is spending too much time within engineering trying to solve their problems. Many individuals starting out in the role tend to want to dictate *how* something should be built, when really a product manager’s job is all about *what* should be built and *why*.

OK, so with that being said…on to the roles.

Junior Product Manager / Product Analyst / Associate Product Manager

This is really where it all starts – at least in my mind. You need to get your feet wet within the role doing small projects. This may be owning features within a release and managing them through, or doing bits and pieces here and there.

I’ve started folks out here before that I felt were very well suited to the PdM role and they are now exceeding – it’s all about making sure they have the skill set and the foundation to take that next step.

The bottom line: get some solid wins under your belt, and try to find a spot within a company that has a great product management organization. The best way to learn the role is to work for someone that really understands it.

Product Manager

So, after you gained some knowledge and had some solid wins within a more junior role, you are prepared to take over a complete product. You need to be comfortable with setting direction, developing strategy, executing, and delivering.

You should be pretty familiar with all stages of the product lifecycle and have successfully taken a product from inception through to market. It’s key you also know and understand how to gather and analyze market research (user/customer feedback and competitive intelligence, etc…).

The bottom line: ship a product. Understand, conceptually, how all cross-functions work together and use the knowledge gained from the time spent in a more junior role as a foundation to expand.

Senior Product Manager / Product Director

OK, at this point you are managing 1 large product or maybe 2-3 smaller / mid-size products so you are probably responsible for a product team, or looking to build one. Since you’ve seen this done in the past (and been a part of successful product teams before) you know how this is done.

Really, the crux here is quite similar to the product manager role. However, you will need to apply more glue. For example, if you are managing a line (as opposed to an individual product) you will need to ensure everything stays consistent and standardized.

Your team may include junior product managers, maybe a business analyst, other product managers, designers, writers, etc… It really is up for you to determine and fight for, based on what you have seen work in the past and what you require in order to ship products successfully.

The bottom line: While similar to the product management role, you really are more accountable for putting a successful product team in place and managing that team – and making sure (if you are managing multiple products or a line) that your products stick together and are cohesive and standardized.

Director, Product Management

Just like how a senior product manager is similar to a product manager, the director of the team is very similar to the role that proceeds it. You probably are managing even more products. As such, the level of detail you can handle is limited — you will require either additional product managers to take care of individual product detail or senior PMs to manage PMs, etc… This is entirely based on the size and scope of your organization.

This level really requires you to ensure there is strong cohesion and performance amongst the products you manage. Maybe you are still managing a product yourself. And really, that your PM is measured and performing accordingly.

You should be feeding your team market data as as much as you can, and working with other management-level peers within your organization to deliver things in a consistently strong fashion and always on-time and perform well in the marketplace.

The bottom line: More team management, product performance, and working with management to absorb some of the internal overhead so your team doesn’t have to. You may still be managing a product yourself depending on the size of your organization, but you are responsible for your team executing and delivering so you need a very strong knowledge of product management and how to manage those individuals.

VP, Product Management

I would say at this point, you are no longer managing a product yourself. Again, depending on the size / scope of the company you find yourself a part of. For example, in GE this is probably the case, but in a start-up – not so much.

Really, your focus is here is making sure there is strong cohesion and product standardization, product planning a delivery processes are working, and everyone is being held accountable.

Additional effort is expended absorbing internal politics and overhead to ensure your team can execute effectively, and you make yourself available for assistance wherever they need it – whether that’s a customer visit, or helping shape requirements, etc… Remember – you are still there to coach and grow other PdMs.

At this point, you should probably also be thinking, “What’s my next step?” As I managed at the outset, maybe it’s an operations role – maybe it’s CEO – maybe it’s CTO, who knows? It really does depend on what you want to do. If you’ve made it to this point, it’s probably quiet clear you are prepared and poised to continue to really excel.

The bottom line: Management, management, management. Of course, staying of top of the market you are delivering to is a constant, and making sure there is a strong cohesion amongst all products is required. Of course, be expected to be held accountable at the senior management level, and be called upon to present to investors and the board of directors from time to time.

Other

There are several other roles you can explore, and may find yourself drawn to as a next step. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about operations. I suppose a title here would be VP, Operations or COO. These are very, very good spring boards to becoming a CEO – I could say with confidence that if you get to this point and are really executing well, it’s only a matter of time before you get the tap to take the reins.

86 other answers so far ↓

  • Product Management Career Path : Write That Down // Aug 18, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    […] I have a new question / post up at Ask a Good Product Manager – answering, “What is the best product management career path?” […]

  • bob corrigan // Aug 19, 2008 at 8:51 am

    There is another path, a lateral path that a PM can “leap” to after some time in the trenches. I’d recommend it for someone who is concerned that they are “too technical” and needs some perspective on other aspects of the business.

    Yes, it’s marketing.

    Not “marketing communications” or marcom, but either product marketing, corporate communications or corporate marketing. The PM brings a unique appreciation for the distinctive competencies of their products, and marketing is all about making sure the company “owns” that space in a consumer’s mind.

    The reason I don’t recommend marcom is that it is populated by folks whose job it is to produce collateral, wrangle PR and generally manage the delivery of messaging.

    Corporate communications may be a great fit if you are articulate, consistent, smart and understand what it takes to be understood.

    Product marketing is the market-facing aspect of product management; at MSFT and other sites they call these guys program managers. They are technical. . . but not as technical as the PMs.

    And corporate marketing is the big win if you’re at a company large enough to invest in broad-based positioning and differentiation projects (a.k.a. advertising).

    I invite any of your readers to let me know if I am smoking dope.

  • Adam Bullied // Aug 19, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Bob, while I would always tell you to lay off the dope smoking, I do 100% agree with you.

    A more lateral path is a great one as well – the MSFT one is a specifically interesting case. Product Managers are really Marketing Managers (I think) and Program Managers are really de facto Product Managers.

    Some people will say, “titles don’t matter” – they do and they don’t. They matter to be able to explain what it is you’ve done in your career to others; and having things that are like, “well I’m called this, but I really do this, etc…” makes that tricky.

    But, yes – Bob I think you are 100% right. But no one in their right minds would ever let me touch anything to do with marketing :-)

  • Saeed Khan // Aug 19, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    WRT Bob’s comment, I agree with him, though it is one path that is not often made available to PMs.

    The outside perception of Product Management is that it is a “technical” role and that it is not one that meshes well with traditional marketing. But the reality is that Marketing (not simply Marcom as Bob indicates) is a strategic function in a company and one that requires multi-disciplinary skills to do well.

    One of the big complaints I’ve heard about many marketing teams is that they are too distant from the product or don’t understand the technology or market dynamics well enough to be effective. Unfortunately this is true.

    Marketing and Product Management teams that work together effectively can have a huge positive impact on a company’s fortunes, and certainly having a marketing team, or a marketing head that understands Product Management and how to work effectively with the PM team makes that chance of success much better.

    Saeed

  • Stewart Rogers // Sep 10, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Nice article here about product marketing:

    http://www.buyerpersona.com/2008/09/product-marketing-priorities-are-a-mess.html

  • HP // Feb 19, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I am currently looking to transition into the retail industry via a product management role. Would you say that the above is applicable to the corporate retail as well? Thank you!

  • Ashish Jain // Aug 18, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Well, first of all there are some very good points listed and shows a career progression of a product manager. But the real challenge and question is what the right steps you need to take to progress on this path? I am sure gaining experience by managing more projects, product lines hones your knowledge and skills but is there anything a product manager must focus on to become better and increase their credibility in the industry? I have around 5 years of product management experience and in the midst of transitioning jobs. I have been looking out to find what can I add to my resume (other than experience) that increases my chances of landing a Senior Product Manager position.

  • Mohammed // Oct 15, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Hi,
    I am an MBA with more of a Business and Market analysis kind of experience. With the various changes my organisation has gone through, I’ve ended up from being a Business COnsultant, Market research analyst to now being a junior member of a Product Management team. My firm operates in the BSS vendor market. Please help me in carving a meaningful role in my new team which is made of mainly technical people (IT profiles basically).

  • PM // Dec 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Hi , I am working as Product Manager with a leading private sector bank… But I am really not sure whether Its the right choice for me looking at my educational background.. I am an Electronics Engineer with MBA in Finance.

    Please guide whether, ths Banking Industry is a right choice for me?

  • Ranjana // Jan 3, 2010 at 2:42 am

    Hi …
    the insights given above are really good for a prospective product manager. I have done my MBA in product marketing, but I am not able to get a head start to become a product manager. Though I am keen and ready to take up junior management roles as well as long as the path is right. Could some one guide me on this….Prior to my MBA I have 4 1/2 years of experience in international marketing of textiles. And even after doing MBA, I am being offered roles into international marketing of textiles, which i want to get away with.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jan 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Ranjana,

    The first thing I’d ask is why you want to be a product manager if you’ve got all this education as a product marketer. Take the jobs! An international marketing job sounds like a lot of fun: travel, expense accounts, customers, very creative, etc etc. If you *really* want to become a product manager, forge a very close relationship with your product manager in your product marketing role. The only thing that’s holding you back is practical experience – so go get some by learning how your team works.

  • Ranjana // Jan 5, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the comments. My irony is…I am not getting that first click from where to start my product managers career. It can happen either in FMCG ( which is too crowded) , consumer durables( not getting the right click) , apparel retail ( again not getting the click).

    Where ever I apply even for a junior level position in product management, they ask for previous xpericne in similar domain and that is where I get stuck…

  • Bob Corrigan // Jan 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

    OK, I can help with this.

    There is a difference between “having the title” and “doing the work”. Find some product management-like activities you can do in your current job, whether that is market analysis, release prioritization, whatever. Better yet, find something your product management cohorts would like to do if they had the time, and do that.

    When asked by some dingus what your domain experience is, you can tell them – truthfully – “in the environment I worked in there was a lot of cross-over between product management and product marketing in terms of tasks; here is what I did that you might consider a traditional product management task, and here is how I integrated that work into my go-to-market activities. . .” etc etc.

    In the space you’re in, however, product manager may equate to brand manager – they may be looking for someone with P&L responsibility, which is hard to borrow from the person who has it.

    But even in that scenario, I strongly recommend that you figure out what a product manager does, start thinking like one, then start acting like one. Someone will notice you and tap you as a less-risky alternative than going outside to hire someone.

    As Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, “Be the ball”.

  • Ranjana // Jan 6, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Hi Bob,

    Thankyou so much for all your help in guiding my path. I will act upon what you have just said and will barge in with questions as and when they come to my mind while following what you had advised.

    Thanks a ton, Ranjana

  • AKS // Apr 7, 2010 at 3:07 am

    Hi Bob,

    Here’s my problem. I am currently in Pre-Sales/Business Dev role where my salary is 70/30 Fixed/Variable. I have got an opportunity to move to the Product Management team as a Senior Product Marketing Analyst but matching only 70% of my current salary, because they don’t have a concept of variable and HR didn’t agree for matching my 100%.

    I am MBA in Marketing and really want to jump into this kind of a role. What do you advice?

  • Ranjana // Apr 9, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Hi AKS,

    I am also in business development roles and want to get into product management roles. Could you suggest me ways that you have followed to get there. I am looking for a headstart and not able to get one.

    Thanks & rgds,
    Ranjana

  • bob corrigan // Apr 9, 2010 at 9:04 am

    AKS,

    A senior product marketing analyst is not a product manager in the classic sense, but it’s still a cool role. You’ll be looking at markets, considering customer needs, defining personas, and generally concentrating on how you go to market.

    IF in this role you’re likely to interact a lot with product management types then it’s an interesting step.

    IF in this role you’re a flunky to a more senior product marketing person, then perhaps you need to reconsider whether it will get you the experience and exposure you need.

    With All That Said, one of my favorite roles in my career was as a pre-sales/busdev guy. People in those roles make GREAT product managers as they understand both the technical and business sides of the product AND they spend a lot of time with customers AND they develop an acute compassion for salespeople. This last bit is a great advantage, since understanding how things get sold is curiously a common missing skill in many product manager’s portfolio.

    So this leads me to my advice (for what it is worth) – stay in your current role but find another company to do it in. Pre-sales is in high demand. When you trade up for a job you shouldn’t have to trade down in pay, and that’s what it seems your current crew is expecting you to do. And since you’re not trading up into a PM job (your ultimate goal), the change seems too risky to me.

    Hope this helps.

    bob

  • AKS // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Hey Bob,

    Thanks for your advice and looks like we think alike. I have dropped the idea of taking a hit on my comp. In fact I just came out of the call with the veep – rejecting politely :)

    Thanks for your time!

  • Sandip Dev // Sep 28, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I have a Undergrad degree in Computer Science from a reputed univ (NIT Surat, India) and now I am pursuing my MBA at one of Asia’s best bschools (IIM Ahmedabad, India). However, I do not have any work experience. I am interested in a product management career in Software Industry. Will my lack of work ex act as a hindrance? Or should I get a PhD after my MBA?

  • Amit // Feb 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    The way I would suggest thinking is similar to Bob’s response. Why do you want to get into product management? but to add to that I would suggest trying to answer where do you plan to go after Product management? Do you plan to stay in it until retirement or do you plan to be in it for “n” years or do you plan to become a Chief Executive/Marketing/Strategy Officer or do you plan to become a faculty in some business school? Have a realistic idea about what you enjoy doing and think about what is the last thing u want to do before you retire. Be realistic about it.
    You have to do backward planning and then do a forward execution.

  • Nabil // Feb 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    What is the best way to start in the product management path for an experienced software developer in startup environments.

    I know that the best way is to move to this role within the same company but what is the next best way? My company is too small to afford a product manager (especially a junior one)…

  • Saeed // Feb 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Nabil

    Move to a company that is willing to hire one.

  • Banker // Feb 25, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Hi Bob / Friends,

    What are you views on Product Management roles in the Banking Industry? Being a PM in one of the Bank, I am increasing becoming to feel that its more of a process oriented role rather than product mgmnt.Mainly because, Banking products aren’t developed or introduced that frequently as compared to FMCG products, so over a time its just managing the existing product processes which after a time becomes a lil mundane job…So , Just wanted to know how do you perceive this role in a Banking Industry because, i’m really in dilema whether this role will bear any fruits in my future career..

  • Bob Corrigan // Feb 25, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Hi Banker,

    My experience (such as it is) in the Banking industry is that the real “products” are invented by quants and executives sitting in offices Far Far Away, and that the work of #prodmgmt is to implement those products, not identify new ones. Ergo, if you want to grow up to be an implementation person, stay in Banking. Or, become a financial wizard and stay in Banking.

    But then, I’m not in Banking, so you have to take my advice with a massive 8-pound grain of rock salt.

  • Amit // Feb 25, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    @Nabil – I dont think there is a best way in general but maybe a good way depending where u want to go in ur career. Product management in corporate settings are very complex compared to startup companies. In most (if not all) startups no one person plays a single role; everyone wears multiple hats. I would suggest that you spend sometime understanding how the product management process works in your company. Since its a startup it should be relatively easy to do – talking to the people who are involved in it (my guess is almost everyone since it is a startup). Map it out and see what processes are there. Software development will be one of the processes in the product management process; other areas that you might find are customer requirements/specifications, market requirements, product life cycle, competitive analysis, etc. These are some of the pieces of product management and they are not written in stone. Once you have an understanding of what the product management process is in your organization then you can pick a process that you would be interested in undertaking and see if you can work on any projects in that area. If you do not find a “proper” product management process in place then I would recommend that you make than initiative with your management and tell them that you would be interested to lead it. It would be challenging at first and possibly “bumpy” but you will learn a lot. During this process you will identify the required skills/ knowledge and will get a detailed understanding of the product management process in your company. There is a higher possibility to pursue this in a startup than in a corporation. I hope this helps.

  • Amit // Feb 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    @Banker – I am not sure what type of bank you work for but I would in retail banking the product development dynamics is relatively faster than other types of bank though maybe not as fast as FMCG. So I would say it would depend on the type of bank you are working for that would determine the impact of the product manager position in your career. If you are in retail banking and are able to develop, market and manage successful products and then add more products to the same line or add other lines of product for the bank that are very successful, then being a product manager would be a great opportunity to show your knack about your understanding of customer and market needs and also to successful deliver business results. On the other hand if you are in the investment banking or any other type of bank then I would think that product manager position is not so critical. As the portfolio manager is the one that brings in the revenue for the bank. I hope this helps.

  • Banker // Feb 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

    @ Bob,

    Hey thanks a lot Bob for you inputs. I would agree that the decisions are taken at higher level but even then most of the retail banking products are quite basic in nature, so the product remain the same, the packaging is made different ! Yes, I will definitely have to take a call whether to remain in implementation role or get involved in some other role which is more dynamic..

  • Banker // Feb 26, 2011 at 11:19 am

    @Amit,

    Thanks for your advice buddy. Yes, i’m very much into retail banking in Liabilities section of the leading pvt sector bank.

    Even though I agree to most of your views, but i still have the feeling that the scope for prdct development is very limited . The products in retail banking are very basic in nature and are also governed to a large extent by the central bank, so the probability of designing a financially innovative product and getting launched has its own limitations.

    On your suggestion of adding other lines of product for the bank..yes , that is quite possibility…but then my bank already has all the possible retail products on liabilities side :) Guess..I’m getting to myopic :)

    ….Yes, something can be definitely done on the pricing aspect but that would involve altering the existing products wherein majority of the features remain the same so,no financial engineering as such is getting involved..:)

    As you said getting the knack of Understanding market and customer needs is crucial..I will definitely work on it.. Thanks again for your thoughtful inputs.

  • Amit // Feb 26, 2011 at 11:25 am

    @ Banker – You are welcome! – (I think your message was for me not Bob..lol)

  • Amit // Feb 26, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I guess I cant read my name ..lol

  • Banker // Feb 26, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Hahaha…Being in Product, this is expected of us…:)

  • CAREER IN PRODUCT MANAGEMENT: Knowing A-Z of a Product « EduFairLive // May 30, 2011 at 5:52 am

    […] http://ask.goodproductmanager.com/2008/08/18/what-is-the-best-product-manager-career-path/ […]

  • suresh // Jun 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    hi Bob,

    Thanks for all your words of wisdom on Product Management career track. I am bit ahead of most of the others, I am working as a Product Manager in a Software firm specializing in Insurance Software. I want to switch to a different domain say eCommerce as there are very little career growth opportunities within my firm and in the insurance industry in Product Manager (typically the Product Managers in Insurance domain manage the insurance product and not the software).

    I do have a MBA in Marketing and would like to make use of it in my career path. I am having a hard time trying to switch domains.
    Any advice for me on how I could successfully chance domain track?

    Thanks
    Suresh

  • raja // Jul 11, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Hi Bob,

    I am 4year experienced Engineer , primarily into Product R&D. I am right now working as as Senior engineer in a leading telecommunication company. I wish to go for ‘product management’ in future. The problem is I am not an MBA , however I wish to do an certification in product management. The following are my doubts.

    1.Should I go for Product Management Certification? Or I should first do a project management certification and then do the product management one?

    2. Will it be good to go for such a certification at this stage of career?

    Could you please help?

    Thanks,
    Raja

  • Greg Thomas // Jul 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t think you need an MBA to become a Product Manager, there are lots of informal routes that you can take to get there. This is a great post and does a good job of steering clear of the other PM (Project Management) which some people see as one and the same.

  • Whitney // Jul 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I have a PhD in bioengineering. While doing my PhD I also got an MBA as our school offers dual degree program. I finished my PhD a year after getting my MBA but I realized I was more interested in getting into the business side than doing R&D. Can someone guide me on whether I can start as an associate product manager in either a pharma or biotech company? My problem is I don’t have any real industry experience, so I don’t know if starting with a lower role is more realistic?

    Thanks a lot!

  • Bob Corrigan // Jul 20, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Hi Suresh, Raja and Whitney,

    Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve responded to your questions. I’m starting to think there is an opportunity to write a book on this topic!

    @Suresh,

    Switching domains can be hard, but it is not impossible. It sounds like you have a very strong portfolio of skills, so I’d recommend the following:

    1. Spend some time learning as Much as You Possibly Can about the industry you seek to work in. Learn what the industry issues are, where it has come, where you think it is going. This will give you a familiarity with the vocabulary used by that industry and a point of view on its state.

    2. Find someone at a company in that space who will talk to you at an informational level – this is not an interview, but an opportunity for you to test out your new knowledge and listen to another person’s perspective on the space.

    Once you have completed 1 and 2, you are ready for the big time.

    3. Think like a product manager – you are in the business of solving problems, right? Find a problem in your target industry that you are well-equipped to solve. You have a MBA in marketing *and* you understand the product management process? Find a company that needs that special combination, or which has problems you have addressed before, even if they are in another space.

    The bottom line is that organizations hire people who can help them solve problems – and the best of those people bring with them a sense of what problems are pervasive, urgent and which will attract customer dollars.

    Good luck!

    @Raja,

    First of all, Project management product management.

    Second of all, I need you to think about why you want to get into product management. Are you interested in finding problems and solving them? That’s a product manager’s ambition. Or are you interested in making projects run more efficiently and successfully? That’s a project manager’s job.

    As an engineer in R&D, you are seeing the cutting edge of what your firm is doing – and you are also probably seeing the impact a good project manager and product manager can have.

    Spend time talking to both types of person – get a feel for their work, their challenges and their ambitions. Find out which one works best.

    Courses and certifications give you the tools – you need to find which one will engage your passion.

    Good luck!

    @Dr. Whitney,

    I work with PhDs every day and I have Much Respect for individuals like you who have the capacity to embrace a topic to the degree needed to get that degree.

    Generally speaking, I don’t like to encourage people to “aim low”, but I do encourage people to find out where they want to go and what it will take to get there. The mix of MBA + Bioengineering PhD has armed you to be sensitive to market opportunities that others can’t see – so a role on a pharma or biotech product development team (not a research team) might be a great fit. Most pure research scientists don’t have an MBA – and most MBAs aren’t PhDs. Leverage that *combination*.

    And for all three of you fine folks, let us know how you are doing.

    And for the rest of you, remember to buy the book when it comes out :)

    Cheers,

    bob

  • Whitney // Jul 21, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you very much for your comments. I thought the combination of PhD and MBA would be helpful. But in reality I feel companies don’t really know where to put me as I don’t have any work experience.

    Starting with a role in product development makes total sense. But what would be the career path in product development? Will there be a transition from product development to product management? To my understanding, product development ends where product management starts, right?

    Thanks again!

    Whitney

  • Bob Corrigan // Jul 21, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Product development in pharma and biotech encompasses the disciplines of science and marketing – compounds that progress through the R&D process do so with business people working side-by-side to assess market opportunities and determine whether or not it makes sense to continue to invest in the research (which is time-consuming and expensive).

    Product management in biotech and pharma is a lot more like brand management, but it also includes the disciplines of product management.

    Go find someone in this space and have a conversation. Then go find someone else. You need to get yourself acquainted with how the industries you are interested in work.

    And to your last question, product management and product development go hand-in hand- to my mind, there is no clean “handoff”. If you want clean handoffs, run a relay race.

    Good luck!

    bob

  • vikesh sharma // Aug 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    as a student of marketing how to start a carrer to become a brand manager since iam a fresher

  • Bob Corrigan // Aug 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Vikesh. I recommend finding a brand manager and asking him or her that very same question. You will likely get a better answer than you would asking product managers :)

  • Varun Agrawal // Oct 6, 2011 at 4:17 am

    I am working as a senior desing engineer at a semiconductor company. I have 3 years of experience. I want to make transition into product management/development role. To be specific i want to get into techonology product development role at Intel or a consumer electronics company. Bob, I would be really grateful if you could suggest me on this.

  • Bob Corrigan // Oct 6, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Hi Varun,

    Congratulations on expressing a desire to become a product manager.

    If you read the previous responses I’ve given, you’ll see a lot of advice that can easily apply to you. Start there, then come back.

    OK, welcome back.

    You have 3 years of experience. I’d recommend the following:

    1. Ask yourself if the #1 thing that motivates you is delighting your customers.

    2. Ask yourself if you are able to find, quantify and describe meaningful problems that are worth solving.

    3. Ask yourself if you are capable of standing up in front of large groups of people and speaking not just plainly, but with passion and energy.

    4. Ask yourself what it means to be a leader.

    Consumer electronics companies are like every other product company – they build products people want to buy at an acceptable cost and a desirable profit. At consumer electronics companies, like every other product company, there are a precious few people who make product decisions, and untold many who execute on those decisions.

    Do you have what it takes to be one of those few?

    Don’t look to websites for advice. Go out and be insanely great. The opportunities will come to you.

  • kristel // Apr 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Hi Bob,

    I have a Bachelor in Design – graphic design. I have been working as a product/packaging designer. My work spanned a sizeable portion of the product workflow: from the inception, research, design, till the production of the products, optimizing to make the best product, delivered on schedule and within budget.

    I love designing but I want to change my career path. I feel I would be suited as a product manager, since I already have the design background.

    Am I doing the right change?

  • Gabriel // Apr 10, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Hi Bob,
    I’ve been working as a System Analyst in my company for almost 2 years and i was invited to start working as a Product Analyst. As my company is widely growing recently due to a big investor’s partnership, many opportunities are arising. Currently the company has 70 employees and, among them, only 1 product manager and 1 product analst (me). However the company intends to quadruplicate the number of employees in 4 years. What is the path you recommend me to follow in terms of roles, courses / MBAs and goals?

    Cheers

  • Bob Corrigan // Apr 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi kristel and Gabriel,

    Can you believe this thread has been going on for almost four years? That must be a record of some sort for PM blogs. But I Digress.

    @kristel,

    From what I know about designers, having worked with a few good ones and a larger number of bad ones in my Many Years, I can tell you that good designers would make great product managers:

    1. They are interested in understanding the problem the client wants to solve better than the client does
    2. They are gifted at teasing out knowledge about the target audience, the desired outcome, and any pitfalls of positioning that the client can give them
    3. They are not willing to accept bad copy (I just like that quality in a PM)
    4. And they are really good at describing how a design solves a problem in real world terms.

    So if you are a good designer – and I have no reason to suspect that you are not – congratulations, you’re probably wired to be a PM. You’ll have to get used to the idea that you’re not designing the product, but describing what the product needs to do, but that’s not a big leap.

    When positioning yourself for PM jobs, I’d recommend emphasizing your unique combination of client-centricity and production-sensitivity. Too many PMs come up out of development, and they often don’t have as much customer touch as a good designer would. Go for it!

    @Gabriel,

    If the company is growing, and they are prepared to invest in you, go for that MBA. It’ll give you a leg up not just for the PM job, but for other “more senior” positions that you’ll want once you get tired of being a PM (which you will). Project managers don’t always make the transition to being a good product manager, but they can if they bring a strong process orientation to their business sense. If the products your company sells are very complex, require sophisticated training, or are in a highly-regulated market, the more detail- and process-oriented you are, the more likely you’ll be a successful PM – as those are “defensive skills” that make you a smart choice.

    I think that makes sense. I’m pretty sure it does.

    (A side note: Some of the project managers I’ve known wait for instructions on what the due date is and then they fall into their MSFT Project interface. Others really want to understand the business motivations and goals, so that they can optimize the project plan to deliver the best outcome. Guess which ones have moved on to be product managers?)

  • JD Parmar // Oct 8, 2012 at 5:49 am

    I am Mechanical Design Engineer in MNC . I have a job opportunity as Dy Manager in Product Development.
    Can you please inform me about career growth in this field. Does this Job lead us upto CEO level?

  • bob corrigan // Oct 8, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Hi JD. Congrats on the job opportunity. There is a lot of growth in the field for good PMs. There’s always opportunity, since there are a) always new products and b) always old products and c) always “in between” products, all of which need “managing”.

    As for whether the job will lead to CEO level, that’s entirely up to you. Truly. That said, you are unlikely to be sitting in your cube, thinking PM thoughts, and discover the Chairman of the Board waiting to chat with you about a “thrilling new opportunity with the firm”. Consider PM a sturdy stair-step on the way up a very long staircase.

    Of course, you could just start a company tomorrow and take the CEO title. It’s a Lot Faster.

    Best of luck,

    bob

  • JD Parmar // Oct 9, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Dear Bob,

    Thanks for you prompt reply.
    I appreciate your advice for my new job.
    Can you please give me some more guidance / tips for doing job as Product Manager in Automobile Industry?
    After few years of Experience is it worthwhile to change our job from mechanical product development to other miscellaneous product development ?

    Thanks & Regards,
    JD

  • bob corrigan // Oct 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Hi JD,

    I can’t give you any specific guidance on the job activities of a PM in the automotive industry, as I am not a car guy. But to your second point, yes, after you’ve had a few years doing PM “one way”, it’s entirely reasonable (and actually quite desirable) to branch out to another space. The more diversified your interests, skills and experiences are, the more valuable you are to the organization, and ultimately, to yourself.

    Cheers,

    bob

  • Krishna // Oct 24, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Hi Bob,

    I am fresher and i have been offered a role of Graduate Engineer Trainee in Product Management in an Electrical Manufacturing MNC. I am told that based on my performance in the trainee-ship, i will be absorbed into the Product Management Division. I am very much interested in this role. Could you suggest what can be the probable course of growth from this role, if i see myself at a director of PM 10 years down the line.

  • Bob Corrigan // Oct 24, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Congrats on the opportunity. The *probable* course is you will learn a lot about product management and three to five years in you will switch organizations to a) make more money, b) gain responsibility faster, c) work with different people, d) work on newer, more exciting technologies, e) move geographically to be closer to a special someone, f) or change careers. The last one is the most likely, as product management is a transitional job for most people. Only a few will stay with the craft to become director-level PMs. This is the way of things. Your course of growth will be exactly that – a course of growth. Experience the job, and be present in each day to see where you want to be and what the right next choice is or you. Planning what you want to be in 10 years is limiting yourself to a path you can see *today*. Who knows what you will see tomorrow.

  • gianca // Nov 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Bob, could you please elaborate more on what could be a next step for PMs, if we exclude a vertical “senior-director-VP” path?

    How would you think of Account Management, Operations, Pre-Sales, or Bizdev, for a professional with 9-10 years experience overall software field, last 2 of which as a PM ?

    What would make sense and what not, in your opinion?

  • Jennifer // Apr 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Bob,
    I recently took on a product manager role to manage our financial products. I have an undergraduate in Business with a minor in Finance. Prior to this job as a PM, I worked for a large Hospice company in multiple financial positions. My last title was as the Director of Accounts Receivable. They hired me here as a PM because of my experience in the healthcare financial field. My concern is that I lack the technical knowledge behind IT development. In the few months I’ve been here it has been a nightmare trying to catch up with all of the technical jargon. Not to mention the fact that the Project Owner (Business Analyst) has been here over 20 years and wanted my job! She is incredibly knowledgeable of the current product and railroads me a lot in our discussion of our new product scheduled to release sometime next year. I’m not sure what I need to do to catch up. My focus has been just finalizing the Business Case for the product we plan to launch. My question is to you, was this the right decision? Do I belong in this position? What do I need to do to gain confidence in the role? I’ve even thought about going back to school for my masters. I’m still young and the company has a great reimbursement policy. Knowing my background, do you have any suggestions?

  • bob corrigan // Apr 3, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Hi Jennifer,

    I have to say, my heart broke a little when I read your comment, because I sense you’re doubting a career choice *and* doubting yourself simultaneously.

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the first few months on a job, especially when you’ve crossed over into a new field with new jargon and new responsibilities. The fact that there’s an incumbent with ambitions doesn’t make that transition any easier.

    The core question you’re asking yourself is “do you belong in the position” you find yourself in.

    I have a (painfully) simple answer. Actually, a simple question that leads to an answer.

    “Why did they hire *you*?”

    Your background in finance tells me you have a very ordered way of approaching your work, if you’re anything like other finance people I’ve known (and I’ve known a bunch). You are evidence-based. You are bottom-line focused. And with your background in the healthcare marketplace, you are comfortable with complex domains.

    You also indicate that you had multiple finance positions, leading to a director-level job. You are adaptable, promotable, and you are someone who your previous employer saw as valuable enough to groom in various aspects of finance as part of their career plan for you.

    And now you’re a product manager.

    I think it’s a great career move – it builds your portfolio of operations and customer skills, it exposes you to a whole new set of problems, and it forces you to become comfortable with uncertainty – and comfortable with developing plans to lead the product through that uncertainty.

    All those things contribute to your sense of un-ease, which is natural and normal. It seems you’re dealing with it in a reasonable manner – focusing on the business plan, which puts the product into the larger context of its contributions to the organization’s goals.

    It takes even the smartest people a while to come up to speed with jargon, to understand a new market and its issues. You were not hired because you were a product expert, but because you had all the skills needed to lead.

    Perhaps the business analyst just needs to understand that you’re there to bring your special skills to the table as part of the team – that you’ll be learning a lot and that you’re interested in sharing what you know. That you’ll make mistakes. That you’ll be asking questions.

    Newly-minted officers are often instructed to take the advice of their senior NCOs very, very seriously. I’m not saying that your business analyst is an NCO, but you’re the leader. *You* are the Product Manager. You weren’t given the job – you earned it.

    The people who put you in that role understood what the role needed, and you have what it takes. They understand you will need time to “get your feet under your desk”. And they also understand that leaders understand how to navigate their way through uncertainty.

    So yes, you belong. Unless the people who hired you are fools. And I bet they are not.

    Your confidence starts with knowing you were chosen, not by default or by accident. And it grows by being honest with yourself and the people around you about what needs to be done, by listening, by using your special skills to lead a team in the way you know how to do it.

    And IMHO, getting older or getting more degrees isn’t the answer. Inhabit the space you are in Right Now. Belong there. Be yourself. That’s all anyone expects of you.

    bob

  • Jennifer // Apr 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you Bob for the excellent advice! It is so good to get an outside opinion. You are right, they picked me for a reason and the reasons you mentioned do make sense. I will keep my head up and not let the newness get to me. I can do this! :)

  • bob corrigan // Apr 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Always happy to help, Jennifer. Courage. You are where you are for a good reason.

    And by the by, “newness” is actually an asset worth cultivating. See “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_Mind,_Beginner's_Mind). Being able to see your work from the outside – as it is perceived by people who are both “not you” and “not part of your organization” is a huge PM asset. It helps you avoid the “we know what our customers want” trap.

  • Aruna Datla // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Hi Bob,

    I’m a senior application developer with 15 years of experience and would like to switch to becoming a product manager..would certification help with getting the job…how do i switch into Product Management ?

    Thank you,
    Aruna.

  • bob corrigan // Jun 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

    @Aruna,

    Congratulations on your decision to “make the switch” to product management. It’s a great career path for a thoughtful developer who wants to help “solve problems for people”.

    While certification helps, and will teach you a lot about the job, my sense is that you would be best served by spending some time talking with product managers in the market you’d like to work in.

    Learning how People Like You made their switch to product management, and how they dealt with the inevitable challenges they faced along the way, will help you plot your own course.

    There are lots of sources on the web with excellent training, and many people who are more than ready to tell you “what product management really is”. Ultimately they all come down to:

    1. Your ability to identify, understand and articulate problems that people have

    2. Your ability to define, prioritize and communicate approaches to solving those problems

    3. Your ability to organize lots of different people to do the work necessary to bring products to market that do #2 on behalf of #1.

    Good luck!

    bob

  • PM in Banking Technology // Jul 25, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Hi Bob,

    I am currently in the technology group in a big bank and work with product managers to define banking products. Because I closely interact with them, I think a do contribute to product management to quite an extent. Most of my interactions are with APM or PM to provide both technology and usability recommendations that would make the product better for customers. I have been involved in product development for 5 years in multiple roles like BA, Systems Analyst, Business BA and Project manager.

    The question is: whether I should directly look for a PM role or should settle for an Assistant PM role? As per your article above, I probably fit well in for a PM role. However, I am afraid I would set myself back by 2 years or so if I settle with a APM.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jul 26, 2013 at 8:23 am

    It sounds like you are working as a business analyst, an important PM function, but not as a PM. I originally thought to give you the Yoda Answer (“Do, or do not. There is no try”) with regards to going for the full PM role, but it sounds like your organization offers a career path for PMs through the APM role. If that is the case then explore that. The PM role may require special training that only APMs have, and that extra time as an “apprentice” could set you up for the PM role in ways you couldn’t achieve otherwise without luck, bribery or blackmail.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jul 26, 2013 at 9:01 am

    @gianca

    I’m sorry for not responding to your question earlier. I’m also sorry to say there is no best path, just your path. Send some time with people all of those roles, see what fits. Also explore industries and roles outside of your current one – “what’s next” is the hardest thing in some ways to puzzle out, but when you find something that fits you will know.

    Or, if your goal is to make money, do whatever it takes and don’t worry about anything else.

  • Amit // Sep 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Hi Bob,

    I have been reading your blog and your responses for about a year now. It has been very insightful and helpful. Thank you for taking time to share your knowledge and advice.

    I am a manager responsible for development and management of products for internal company use. Functionally I do everything that a PM does, except my customers are internal to the company (which is a B2B type company). I am very passionate about PM responsibilities and interested in working for a consumer mobile products company. I am planning to move to a B2C type company in a PM capacity and had couple questions:

    1. Would my current experience as a PM for internal products have enough weight and value for the traditional consumer product PM role?

    2. Where does the Product Operations Management role fit in the PM career roles you have described above?

    3. What value can entrepreneurial experience add to PM roles?

    Hoping to hear from you.

    Thanks!

  • bob corrigan // Sep 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Hello Amit,

    Thank you for your note. I think your experience should be hold plenty of weight and value for a B2C firm, but you’ll want to emphasize the “internal market research” work you do as analogous to “external market research” work often required of B2C PMs. The more complex your organization and their requirements, the less of an issue this is going to be when you position yourself as externally-focused.

    As for where an operations job fits, the sad answer is “it depends”: some organizations interpret operations like an advertising firm sees their traffic department, encompassing the project management side of the work. Others see operations (correctly so, I believe) as the drivers of productivity, profitability and long-term sustainability.

    Here’s a terrific description of what a VP of Operations does:

    “A vice president of operations oversees day-to-day operations to support the growth and add to the bottom line of an organization. They focus on strategic planning and goal-setting, and direct the operations of the company in support of its goals. By measuring progress and adjusting processes accordingly, the VP of operations keeps the entire organization on track.”

    Products fit in to this – but they are not the only thing that fits in. Think of the VP of Ops as the organization’s product manager, and you won’t be too far off.

    As for what value entrepreneurial experience can add to PM roles, I see it as something that spices the dish, not the dish itself. The “entrepreneur gene” is an odd thing – these folks are always on the look for ways to add value by finding new ways to solve problems. It’s one aspect of a PM’s job, which, as you’ve heard me say on many occasions, has as much if not more to do with people skills than creativity. All that said, it can’t hurt. But be careful – position yourself as too entrepreneurial and folks will wonder why you’re not off starting a business yourself. An entrepreneur without ambition is a bad entrepreneur.

    Cheers,

    bob

  • Amit // Sep 29, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry for the late response. Thank you for the detailed feedback. That definitely bolsters my confidence. A part of what I do falls on the cross-roads of product management and operations. It just seems to be the nature of the role I am in. With economy tanking and not all positions being filled back, some of the operations responsibilities from other roles got distributed to me. Though, I must say it spices up my week and I think it is a great experience to have.

    As for the entrepreneurial experience I understand and agree with you. Have to be careful about how I market the entrepreneurial skills. One would think that a product manager would be good at managing and positioning themselves in the job market (us being the product to be hired.) :)

    Thanks again for your feedback and insights. As always it is helpful.

    Best regards,

    Amit

  • Vidhan // Feb 2, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Hi Bob,

    This is an excellent blog and thank you so much for all the insightful discussions.

    I’m looking to add yet another one! Apologies if this is a bit long…

    I’ve got 4.5 years of Business analyst/product manager experience in investment management wherein the software products I worked on were used not just internally but sold externally to generate revenues. Specifically, I worked on 2 things –
    1) operationally managing releases for a fairly new product which we took to market
    2) system integration and optimization projects driven by a merger

    I’ve recently got my MBA and have been hunting for PM jobs in the ad tech/payments/online sectors. I even have internships in biz dev at a leading payments firm and mid size ad tech startup.

    Yet, I’ve been through tons of interviews unsuccessfully and everyone says I have relevant PM (inbound) experience but not sufficient with just 4.5 years and plus I lack domain experience compared to my competition out there.

    So, I have 2 options now-
    1) continue job hunting targeting this sector looking at APM/PM roles
    2) go back to my last firm, join in a new role as a relationship manager, get more experience, keep a strong tap on ad tech/pmts/online industry, keep networking there, write blogs, get certifications and eventually try to switch industries 2-3 years from now, through working for a startup…

    What would you recommend? Is this a practical approach? At the end of the day, I’m an engineer, love technology and want to work as a PM on products that are at the heart of the revenue generation for a firm…

    Sorry for the really long post. Will deeply appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

    Thanks a ton!

  • Bob Corrigan // Feb 2, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Dear Vidhan,

    Thanks for your note – this isn’t my blog, but it seems to be the place where folks ask me many questions about product management!

    Breaking into PM is hard, so you need to leverage every opportunity and bit of leverage you have to find your way in. You’ve described two paths – one to keep looking for opportunities in your target market, and the other to take a job in your current firm as a relationship manager and build your portfolio of skills.

    Why not do both?

    PM is about solutions, not technology. It’s great to be a fan of the tech, but at the end of the day the tech isn’t what’s most important in most PM jobs. The PM job is about finding ways to leverage your firms distinctive competencies to capture and hold market share while hopefully delighting your customers. A job as a relationship manager may help you with that, but it sounds less like a management job and more like an account management job – the very antithesis of PM.

    You need to get close to the people who develop and implement strategy. Is there a business analyst role in your firm? Someone like you with an MBA should be a shoe-in for it. If you get buried in account management and sales you might never escape. That said, you’ll probably make more money in sales than in PM so that might not be a bad thing.

    Bob

    PS – I’m happy to help folks with these brief emails, but if you need more coaching, please contact me through my website above so we can work out some sort of arrangement.

  • Vidhan // Feb 5, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Thank you so much for your guidance Bob! This is indeed very helpful.

    Best,
    Vidhan

  • Miscellaneous | Annotary // Mar 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    […] ask.goodproductmanager.com […]

  • Keller // Dec 9, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Hi Bob,

    I have a Mechanical Engineering degree from a top program, have worked at manufacturing plants during school as a product integration engineer, and own a medical device startup that is just getting off the ground. I would like for my career to grow and end up with a product management position. Currently, I am looking into getting more business experience by working with a professional service company in their transaction and advisory services department and then later getting an MBA in two years. Do you think this is a wise path to take?

    Thanks for any advice ahead of time!

    -Keller

  • Andra // Dec 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Hi! I currently work in corporate communications with roughly 12 years of experience. In my role I need to position the company strategically, understand its obstacles very well and deal with the media on a constant basis. I also manage teams on large projects, like major websites, where I lead teams of technical experts, acting as the interface between them and the company’s needs.

    I would like to do more of this type of management work, and get away from the media role (which is sometimes considered a ‘velvet prison’ – lots of work and responsibility, but not an obvious career path out).

    I’ve been reading through this thread and other online posts to try to determine the steps to increase my opportunity to manage projects and put myself on more of a traditional track to a C level position. I’m interested whether in the experience of this thread product development seems like a closer fit to my experience or if product marketing is closer? Thanks for all the great discussion on this topic.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jan 3, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Keller,

    Sure, sounds great. But seriously, if you’re a business owner – focus in that. Failure will teach you everything you need to know. Why settle for PM? Hire some.

    bob

  • Bob Corrigan // Jan 5, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Andra,

    I am at a loss regarding how to answer your question. If you want to be a manager, swell, go be a manager. C-level jobs are that and a lot more. Obviously I’m going to recommend spending some time in product management and product marketing, because that’s what I did.

    bob

  • Conner Hunihan // Feb 20, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Bob,

    Thanks so much for providing this resource. After studying environmental science in school I joined the Peace Corps and developed tourism products in an indigenous village in the Amazon. I then taught at a a school with an established design thinking-pedagogy, before moving into the marketing and communications department at that same school.

    I have also volunteered teaching design and design thinking, have taken a community college advertising class, and have solicited professional development funds to take professional Adobe courses.

    A common thread I see through all of this is:
    -connecting with people
    -analytical, creative thinking
    -learning new tools and processes to accomplish a defined goal
    -communicating with people and systems to find out specific needs
    -Nurturing solutions from start to finish with a variety of team members (parents, web developers, village elders, children)
    -articulating new uses and needs
    -solving problems
    -crossing disciplines

    Through much research and conversation, I am thinking that a future in product management might combine many of these passions in a single profession.

    Per your advice on an earlier post, I’m looking for Junior Product Manager positions to get my feet wet, as well as identifying projects at work to get some product management experience (migrating our newsletter system to a new platform, creating the protocol and weekly content for digital display systems, redesigning our site’s landing page) but working for a school, there are only so many opportunities.

    I would love any advice you might have on whether my thinking is on the right track. How do you think I could best position myself as an applicant? How are these experiences specifically relevant to what a Junior Product Manager might be responsible for?

    Thank you, again, this resource is invaluable and answered so many questions I had about subtle differences (from the outsider’s perspective) in product development.

    Conner

  • Bob Corrigan // Feb 22, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Conner,

    Reading about your background, you’ve demonstrated plenty of entrepreneurial get-up-and-goitude with the Peace Corps and working for a school in PM-like positions to qualify for that work in a software company.

    I agree, opportunities for honest-to-goodness PM work at a college are limited, but your background would seem to be a great fit for any software firm that sells into the non-profit/education/institutional marketplace.

    Go take a decent course, read a few books, and spend time talking to PMs in your target market. They all had to start somewhere too.

    And I promise you, none of them described themselves as “junior product managers”. In fact…I would go so far as to say there is no such thing as a junior product manager. There are “new” product managers, who find themselves thrown into the deep end without water wings, then there are “experienced” product managers who make different mistakes than they did when they were starting out.

    Good luck,

    bob

  • Mits // Mar 17, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Hi All,

    I work as an HR for an complex enterprise B2B product company. We are actually looking at carving a good development path for the product manager. The insights above, differentiate one role from the next. My question here is what needs to change in the skill sets and how can the transition from one role to another be facilitated from training, grooming and management perspective.
    Also, can junior/ less experienced PdM do market listening, interacting with customers, decide market strategy?

  • Nora // Mar 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Awesome post. I’ve done everything marketing (product, research, corporate, retail, comms) you name it. All in the financial industry and have global experience. I recently returned to the U.S. and took on a new marketing role at a bank two weeks ago.

    Here’s my story: Head of credit card devision at my bank is encouraging me to take on a credit card PM position on his team and likes my diverse mktg experience. You’ve mentioned several times in your posts that marketers make good PMs. I’m excited about the position but here are my questions/concerns:

    1. What aspects of Marketing are an asset or transferable to a PM role.

    2. The credit card Division is growing rapidly at my bank, but it’s fairly new with all new employees that are still learning. I have room to innovate but what should I focus on accomplishing first as a new PM?

    3. The VP who wants to recruit me said he sees me in this position but he wants to see something first. I’m currently marketing credit cards so what can I do on the side to get my foot into the PM world and show him that I’m capable? I’m thinking I can do competitive analysis of one of our card products and make recommendations on how to improve. But how do I take it further into the technical part and understand business implications and P&L

    I’m anxious and excited at the same time. I’m considering this role because I like finding/solving problems and advocating on behalf of the customer. I really think this would be good experience for me and the pay is better.

    I’d totally appreciate your advice.

  • Bob Corrigan // Apr 6, 2015 at 7:38 am

    Mits,

    Everyone can do “market listening”. But not everyone has ears to hear, and a mouth to speak. In other words, a junior person might not know what you are hearing, and may misinterpret facts when they are communicated. That said…this is true of everyone. So the best advice is to just ask good questions, gather lots of information, and share what you hear with people inside your organization.

    As for what needs to change in the skills sets to make the transition from HR to PM…that’s a hard question I can’t answer as I don’t know HR. Sorry. But I can say that the transition can be facilitate by training, grooming and management perspective, as you phrased it. If you have support, and you have both intelligence and commitment, many (if not all) things are possible.

    Nora,

    Yes, marketers make good PMs, because they understand markets. But traditionally, marketers are handed products and asked to sell them, and if they are lucky, they provide feedback to the development organization to make those products better. An organization that tightly integrates development (PM) and delivery (Mktg/Sales) can blur the lines here somewhat. From what your head of the credit card division is asking you, your org might be integrated like this.

    As for your questions, it will be impossible to give a thoughtful, complete answer here. Take what I offer as just some ideas for you to consider

    1. Marketers understand markets and market channels. They understand how competitors attempt to capture share, and how effective your organization is at capturing share. They understand how to provide messaging that can change a prospect’s current intellectual and emotional state to a desired one. All those are transferable. Plus, hopefully, an ability to communicate clearly, and succinctly. And a nice wardrobe.

    2. As a new PM in a growing business, I’d recommend you ask what the current goal of the business is – is it to capture share? Is it to maximize profitability? Is it to displace an incumbent? EVERYTHING you do as a PM must ladder up to strategy, while keeping your eyes open for “what’s actually happening”. In a race to grab share, you might be missing out on a part of the market that is much more profitable, for example. Your leadership will know. If they don’t, Be Afraid.

    3. “He wants to see something first” is an opportunity for you to do a little market analysis and a recommendation for new and/or modified products that can differentiate your firm AND achieve the org’s goals (see #2). If you are not technical, determine whether that is a requirement. As for understanding business implications, I’m not sure what that means. And as for P&L, I doubt you’ll own P&L as a PM, so have the VP describe the constraints. Building product should be the last choice – it’s easier to build marketing a share. Committing company resources to build software should be considered very carefully at all times.

    You should be anxious and excited. But as you say, if you like finding/solving problems and advocating on behalf of the customer, it’s a good step. Not all customers are equal though – figure out what the strategy is, how your products align with it, how marketing delivers, etc. Your marketing background may be your best angle because sometimes failure to win in the marketplace is a marketing failure not a product failure, but marketing is often good at blaming product.

    Good luck,

    bob

  • Bob Corrigan // Apr 6, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Nora, I mis-typed something:

    Change: Building product should be the last choice – it’s easier to build marketing a share. Committing company resources to build software should be considered very carefully at all times.

    To: Building product should be the last choice – it’s easier to build marketing than it is to build software. Committing company resources to build software should be considered very carefully at all times.

  • Niki // Aug 23, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Bob

    Firstly thank you very much for building this forum.

    I’m currently working for a German MNC as a assistant product manager with 3 years of experience.

    On an educational front I have a MBA major in marketing and BBA undergraduate in business management.

    I love the role that I am in and would like to grow in it and build my future career in the same.

    Keeping my educational background in mind which industry ( fmcg, retail, startups,etc) would you suggest I would do justice to? And which professional courses do you think would help me best to grow in today’s market?

    Best regards
    Niki

  • Bob Corrigan // Aug 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Niki,

    First off, all the credit goes to Jeff Lash for setting up the site and maintaining it – I just show up from time to time and write things :)

    Sounds like you’ve got some terrific academic credentials, enjoy the work of PM, and have a steady gig right now. These are All Good Things.

    But how can I know what industry you should pursue? Honestly, this is something only you can do. It’s a question I get a lot, and which I think I’ve answered a few times on this (long) page already. The response I gave Raja on Jul 20, 2011 at 9:48 am strikes me as particularly useful for you.

    Pursue additional coursework in areas that you are passionate about. Look inside yourself for guidance on what industries you are passionate about, perhaps guided by some reflection on the sorts of problems you want to solve.

    Over the long term – and I’m old so I get to use phrases like “over the long germ” – you will be more successful and enjoy greater satisfaction if you are passionate about your work. And where you choose to spend your years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds should be in service of your passions. You’ll be a better PM and enjoy greater fulfillment.

    There’s money to be made everywhere. Do good work, be a decent person, care about your customers and your colleague’s problems, be honest with yourself and others. Success will follow.

    Best regards,

    bob

  • Jyoty // Aug 26, 2015 at 1:28 am

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks to you & Jeff. This is a very informative forum I came across after shuffling through a whole lot of google on Product Management roles.
    I am a Marketing & Brand Manager (Marcomm, Go-to market etc.) in an Automotive company since over 2 years with a year of Sales experience (or pre-sales would be a better term, as autos are sold through dealers). I have an Engineering undergrad.
    For my career progression I am currently applying for an MBA. My post-MBA aim is to be in the Product Management arena within the automotive industry. The fact of owning up your product from inception to market inspires the entrepreneur in me.
    What has confused me is – is a plain MBA (with Marketing focus) enough for a product management role in auto? There are so many dual degrees (Operations focussed, Engg + MBA) etc. in US B-schools: would these make more sense to justify the technical requirements for a Product Manager?

    Regards
    Jyoty

  • Bob Corrigan // Aug 27, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Jyoty,

    If you already work at an automotive company, I suggest you go find someone with the job you want and ask them how they got there. Take notes. Do it a few other times, even outside your company at other firms in the same space. Take notes again.

    Then come back here and share what you learn. Those people will know more about job requirements than I do.

    Or..you could take my advice. Which is to avoid product management entirely if you are an entrepreneur and just go start your own firm. Product management is a transitional job that smart people do on their way to doing Something Else. Beware of people who get stuck in it for years and years.

    Bob

  • sbhat // Oct 2, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Hi,

    Thanks everyone for sharing their experience & views on product management role.

    I’m selected for program management role in startup. Overview of responsibilities are

    Work with both business and technology representatives to develop an overall solution for the program, which will involve collect , understand requirements from customers and planning to deliver the quality, customization of product
    Work with internal teams such as engineering , Operations, marketing , Sales etc

    I have seen similar role in other startup , recently and few questions

    1. How different is this role from product manager role
    2.Do I see more such roles in the future
    3.Is it stepping stone for anyone to get into product manager’s role.

    Please share your thoughts

  • Bob Corrigan // Oct 2, 2015 at 8:29 am

    1. It doesn’t appear to be different. But find out if the company already has product managers and if yes ask them how the roles compare and contract and how they interact. Or don’t interact.
    2. No way to tell.
    3. See answer to question 1.

  • Sandeep // May 5, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Thanks for very valuable insights.
    I am presently working as a Technical Program manager in a software company. I have worked as a product manager for very large software company. Then I managed to do full time MBA focussed on Marketing and General management. Then things happened and I could not puruse product managment roles because of visa/immigration issues. Now I am ready to come back to my most faviourite role of a product manager. How should I approach the hunt for a job or Product Manager. I see following issues in my search 1. Way too much experience in other areas, I am 45 years old and have spent most of my career in software development 2. It has been long time since I was a product manager 3. A lot of companies where I am located require domain (security, networking, banking) expertize even for them to consider my resume for phone screen. Some guidance would be helpful.

What do you think?