The product manager is quite a coveted post. Since the role lies at the intersection of design, development, and marketing, it makes sense that people in all these fields could possibly one day fit in the role. This doesn’t mean that the work of a PM is easy, but it can well act as a point in the career path of many professionals.
But not every Product Manager’s journey is the same. There are many different paths leading to the destination. Some people get a PM role right after an MBA. Some spend years starting in a developer role, growing to a senior developer to a team lead and finally moving to product manager. The same can be said about driven individuals in design, marketing, and other fields.
But both of the above paths either require a lot of money or a lot of time. I personally believe that if you are driven and have clarity in your mind, you can cut short this journey.
I started out as a Software Engineer at BinaryBoot right after graduating from college, spending more than a year working on different projects. The first few months in the role were highly exciting and to be honest, I learned more in the first 2–3 months than I did in my whole college life.
But as much as I enjoyed the challenges of development, something was missing. Being a generalist, I was always excited about other parts of the products and projects we were working for. At that moment, I didn’t necessarily crave the role or title of a Product Manager but wanted to experience everything involved in building a product.
It took some time and effort, but after nearly 1.5 years of working as a developer, I was handed the opportunity to manage a project. It has been more than a year and so far, I’ve enjoyed the PM role as much as I expected, if not more. Here are the 3 things which helped me cut the time and journey of being a PM, and which can do the same for you:
10 months in as a developer, my team was wrapping up the project I had been working on. At this time, I wanted to explore the other fields of building a great product. I sat down with both my bosses to let them know of my intent to resign for this reason.
To my surprise, my bosses were supportive of my plan. Being only a development firm with developer positions till then, they told me of their plans to expand further. They offered me a more diverse role with the possibility of leading our company’s rebranding and marketing efforts. I ended up staying and got the opportunities I was looking for.
After that, in our regular sync ups, I was always clear of my interest in continuing to work at the intersection of different fields. I shared my long term goal of moving into product management in the future.
And months later, when the opportunity came, they asked me if I would like to manage a project. And I haven’t looked back since.
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t communicated clearly of my short term and long term goals. I can’t emphasize this enough: be clear with your manager or boss where you see your career heading.
Chances are if you have a good rapport with your manager and are good at what you do, your company will be more than happy to accommodate your needs rather than seeing you walk away. No company wants to lose a valuable employee. Period.
2. Take Initiative
Just having an interest in a field is never enough. Especially, when you don’t have a background or experience in that field. So what do you do in such a situation? You take initiative and show your talent at it.
Being a developer, it was fine for me to complete my daily tasks and go home. But in everything I did, I tried to show initiative. I showed interest in what we were developing and improve things that were beyond my job’s scope.
A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.― Banksy, Wall and Piece
I took initiative in project discussions and how we can improve project structure and speed. I gave suggestions on how we can improve the user experience. I came up with ideas of how we can help our clients grow and engage their audiences. On many occasions, this involved spending more time than the 9–6 I worked for. But this was the price I was happy to pay.
Taking initiative widens your horizons and helps you gain some knowledge in the fields you think you will be interested in. Exploring an interesting field is a lot easier and safer when you do it on a trial basis like this.
But in doing this, the challenge is to not come across like a smart-ass. Nobody likes a smart-ass. You have to be respectful in the way you share your ideas. Other people may have more experience in their fields and sometimes, there are reasons why things are done a certain way. Be careful to be empathetic while taking initiative.
You have shown your boss your interest and enthusiasm for the work. Now comes the difficult part. Deliver when the opportunity arises.
Delivering is how you show you are the right man/woman for the job. That you are ready to take on more responsibility. That the company can rely on you.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless.— Mary Kay Ash
Just having the potential for a role or a job is never enough. You can rely on the potential for a while, but after that, you need to deliver. Delivering as a PM is often quite different from delivering as a developer. As a developer, you are usually responsible for delivering software or a part of it, teaming up with only a handful of people. The success of your work is quite controllable in your hands.
But being a Product Manager, delivery is more complicated than that. The success of your work relies on many people, likely split across different teams. You are responsible for all of them doing their work and doing it well. Their success is the team’s success, but their failure is your failure.
But if you are passionate about the role, and have good enough communication and planning skills, you can deliver well in a PM role. You may need to put in a lot of work and time in meetings and discussions and jump in the trenches from time to time. But that’s what delivering as PM role is all about: having your team deliver.
Before you get a PM role, you need to deliver whatever capacity you might be. Be it a developer, marketer or any other role. Deliver more than what’s expected of you. This was how I was able to convince my bosses to take a chance on me.
These 3 ideas helped me get a PM role after just 18 months of developer experience and no MBA. The aim is to show the decision-makers that you want it bad enough and that you can deliver if given the chance.
Luck was definitely a factor in my journey like it is in every story. Even if you are competent enough, you need to come across the right opportunities and the right people. But doing these 3 things can go a long way in your journey.