What you need to know to build a career in product management

Breaking into Product Management webinar image

Product management can be an extremely lucrative and engaging career path for creative minds who want to play a critical role in the development of new consumer goods, business technologies, software platforms and anything else that people use every day.

Stanford instructor Anand Subramani has spent years working in product management around Silicon Valley, and recently devoted some time to share his insights on this field. Using his hands-on experience running product management for platforms like Words With Friends and Dropbox, Anand provided a real-world view of what this career entails and how students can prepare themselves. If you’re interested in exploring the world of product management, be sure to check out our latest webinar.

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Demystifying product management

Depending on who you ask, you might get a different definition of product management. A product manager’s role can vary pretty significantly across industries and even companies in the same fields and markets.

So, what exactly does a product manager do? Anand identified a few core principles that are pretty consistent across all product management positions. Product managers typically:

  • Sit at the intersection of business, technology and UX, representing and balancing the needs and goals of each of those sides of the organization.
  • Act as the “CEO” of the product, creating a high-level, strategic vision for new products.
  • Serve as the “janitor” of the product, cleaning up any low-level issues that might fall through the cracks.
  • Manage and coordinate communications between different parts of the organization as well as within the product management team itself.
  • Influence product development without necessarily having direct authority over engineering teams.
  • Understand who the user is and what they care about, and then advocate for their needs and requirements.
  • Lead and motivate teams to keep morale and productivity up.

Product management positions are unique in the sense that they cover a wide range of responsibilities, from briefing executive teams to sniffing out software bugs. They’re dynamic roles that are unlike just about any other job out there today.

Meeting core product management responsibilities

Anand made a clear distinction between the principles of product management and the actual responsibilities professionals are expected to undertake. Successful product managers find ways to address these four fundamental responsibilities and help their teams work more effectively:

  1. Set a vision: Great product managers set clear goals for their teams while also providing the flexibility for individual members to find their own path to meet those objectives.
  2. Manage a portfolio: Product managers typically work on multiple projects simultaneously, which can span different areas like research and development, public relations, sales and much more. Successful leaders in this field can manage complex projects and have a wide range of skills to cover all of these various demands.
  3. Get stuff done: Turning a theoretical idea into an actual product is easier said than done, but that’s exactly what product managers need to accomplish. Creating a plan, organizing teams, delegating tasks and seeing the project through to completion all fall under product management’s purview.
  4. Manage product lifecycle: Whether they’re building a brand-new solution or adding a feature to an existing platform, product managers are responsible for overseeing every step in that process, from planning and design to release and performance assessment.

Jumpstarting your product management career

Given the demanding nature of this work and the specialized skills it requires, breaking into product management can seem like a daunting task. Anand suggested a few different avenues to explore to get started in this field:

  • Associate product manager (APM) program: Companies like Google, Dropbox, Facebook and LinkedIn have developed structured programs to teach recruits the basics of product management. These programs often span a couple of years and provide hands-on training and instruction to participants.
  • Run your own business: Entrepreneurs have to do a little bit of everything to build a successful business from scratch, and those skills often overlap with product management. However, Anand cautioned that, although he has worked with a number of product managers with an entrepreneurial background, he wouldn’t recommend this as a path to take if your end goal is to get into product management since it is a very roundabout way to get there.
  • Make your own luck: Anand recognized that there’s a certain amount of luck involved in many product management career paths. In many cases, successful product managers knew the right people who took a chance on them and gave them their first shot in this field. But you can start developing the skills needed to excel by focusing on competencies like customer support, business development and sales that involve constant communication with customers and understanding their needs. Honing your portfolio, project and team management skills is another avenue to take.

Product management attracts a particular type of individual whose curiosity, intelligence, analytical ability and domain expertise are always on full display. If that sounds like you, then be sure to watch the full webinar, where Anand serves up common interview questions you may encounter during your job search.

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Ready to take that next major leap forward in your career? Stanford’s online product management courses can teach you the ropes so you have all the skills and intangibles needed to break into this exciting field. Enroll today to develop key product management skills with the help of instructors from one of the world’s leading institutions.