How do you become a product manager?
Its not a job that has a single path in. It’s not like consulting, banking, or law where you go step by step through the process, do the right thing, and end up one day leading a product management organization.
Personally, I randomly picked Intuit’s Rotational Development Program to start my career. I couldn’t have described the difference between product management and any other job at the time, and really didn’t even understand what I’d be doing until I actually started. I just had used QuickBooks for one of my dad’s businesses and thought “hey, that software wasn’t too bad, maybe I should work for them.”
Good PMs can literally come from anywhere, with a variety of backgrounds. It doesn’t necessarily require a technical background, a business background, or anything. I know PMs who are just as good coming from a technical background as those who may have studied something as non-tech related as English in school.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t defining characteristics. I wrote about that pretty extensively in an earlier post. So how do you open the door to become a product person in the first place?
It certainly depends a bit where you’re coming from, so I’ll try to go through some scenarios on how to get that first PM job or get the skills where someone will even consider you an acceptable candidate.
I’ve been asked a fair amount, how should product management be structured at my organization or startup?
There’s not a perfect answer, but there are some principles.
Any good product management structure should have the following characteristics:
- There’s a singular person (a CPO, VP of Product, CEO, Head of Product) leading the organization responsible for setting direction, vision, customer focus, and metric focus
- Each of the product owners should have tightly focused areas of interconnected responsibility. In the majority of cases, it’s easiest if each PM has 1 or 2 key metrics that they are focused on.
- When combined together, moving these metrics advances the company towards the product vision and increases the success of the company. If you move all your metrics up and the right and you aren’t improving as a business, it’s time to pick new metrics
- It should be obvious and apparent what area each product owner runs, what metrics they are responsible for, and how it impacts the business. If you have a PM working on special projects that don’t advance your startup, it’s time to question the purpose of the role (and you might need to fire the person if they can’t be repurposed)
- Product organizations are adaptable. As the business evolves, they need to grow and evolve with it, either to tackle new areas of the business or to fix problems in existing areas.
What follows are different examples of how you can think about structuring your product organization.