I came across lots of talks and blog posts about “How to be a good product manager”, “The X rules of product management” or even better “The differences between a good product manager and a great one”.
I think some of those posts bring value to the reader and I recommend them. I have also read a lot of questions like: “Where should I start to become a product manager? What book should I read? What sites or authors should I follow?”
My personal point of view is that there is nothing better than learning by yourself. Even with all the books, the blog posts and the talks about it, you will just scratch the surface.
When you work in that role, you understand quickly that there is not one simple definition of what is product management.
This is why I will share my own definition of it as a starting point. It’s my personal opinion and maybe you will share it, maybe not. I understand that some product managers also have a role of product owner. Here I want to focus on the definition of what is product management and what is a product manager.
A moving definition
Product management is about building the vision, the strategy and being the leader in terms of product implementation, development and evolution.
This is my definition though:
The product manager is the product storyteller. He is able to invent it, define it and implement it
As a product manager, when you act inside your company, you could be:
- The voice of your users/customers
- The voice of every stakeholder
- The designer of the user experience and crafter of the user interface
- The knowledge base to market your product
- The motivator, visionary and dreamer
- The project manager
- The pricing analyst
- Responsible for the analytics and KPIs around the usage of your product
- And to an extent the person responsible for the growth of your product
In other words, you are a strategist, a data analyst, a business analyst, a customer happiness hero, a salesman, a growth hacker, a social marketer, a designer, a manager and a leader.
A product manager is the CEO of a product.
The product manager definition is moving though. And there are two reasons that explain why.
Moving definition depending on the size of the company
Depending on the size of the company, those roles may be occupied by another person in your team or in another one. Although in my opinion, a product manager should know everything about those roles. He should have experience working with them too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should know in detail how to do everyone’s job. My point is that you should understand what everyone on your team is doing. For example, you don’t need to know how to work with Photoshop to understand what a designer’s job is.
Moving definition depending on the type of company
Every company has its own definition of what is a product manager. This is why it’s still complex to understand what is the role of a product manager.
I was in a Product tank group Meetup in London, and the question of the day was “what is the future of product management?”
We were approximately 50 in the meetup, and after 10 minutes of open discussion, you could notice people had a much different opinion on the topic. When they were asked what their definition of a product owner was, the answers were very diverse.
Now, a crucial part as a Product Manager is to be sure that your team and your company has the same understanding of the PM role.
Now, what should you do to learn product management? What are the books or course you should take? My answer is that it can’t be learn only by theory. You have to learn empirically.
Learn by doing
I am not a believer of learning just by theory and no experience. I am also not a believer of those schools where you graduate and are considered a genius wherever you go.
I come from a working-class family. Working hard and earning from your mean is part of the life. Don’t even try to talk and analyze too much. Just do it. It’s the best school I ever attended. You just forget it along the way by going reaching a higher position.
There are other ways to become and learn how to be a product manager. Here is a list but my favourite is the last one.
- Moving up the ladder
- Shadow another product manager
- Work in a company which customize product for people
- Work in a startup offering services
- Build your own product
Each option will bring you a different experience. The position will also depend on the state of the product. It will depend on the size of the company. Is the product pre or post market fit? Is the company a startup pre or post funded?
Working in one environment or another will help you learn different aspects. Your role will be more or less divided between people.
Why should you build your own product
At the starting point, it depends if you have some experience in product management. It will be a bit different but the reasons will be the same anyway.
- You will learn every aspect of product management
- You will learn beyond product management
- You will learn how to build a vision
- You will learn how to explain your vision and market it
- You will learn how to sell
- You will learn how to create traction
- There is no better school
- No one cares if you succeed or not
- Finally, because it’s fun
- And rewarding
I don’t know if you noticed but I didn’t say that you have to build an app. I understand that it may be your main goal. Everyone wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and I understand why. Not everyone will be though.
There are loads of products you could be on your own. Whether it’s a restaurant, a bar, a physical good or a digital app.
Just to give you an example, my first product was selling bedding package over the internet. Our customers were international students. It was one of my first experience and I learned plenty from it.
From those experiences, I build other products now.
Why I will never stop?
I can’t explain the feeling when for the first time I went in the streets to stop and explain to strangers our idea. It was 10:30 pm on a Saturday night in the street where you can find all the bars and clubs. We were testing our idea by stopping random people and just pitching.
We didn’t have a name, a brand or a sales pitch. We were building that at each iteration. It was so thrilling. You make mistakes, you have questions, you adapt, you change.
You can’t get that amount of knowledge by reading books. You can’t experience that excitement by being in an office or in front of your computer. You just need to do it.
Knowledge, experience, direct feedback, struggle and expertise… Some things you will discover by trying.
As I said earlier, being a product manager is being the CEO of the product. The question is what kind of CEO do you want to be?
I will get a quote from Ben Horowitz on this one. Do you want to be a wartime product manager or a peaceful time product manager?
Hope I convinced you.
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How did you learn to be a product manager? Did you learn by building your own product? I would love to exchange with you on that topic.
Tell me what you think to join me directly on Twitter at @philnpa