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Oct 17

Should You Be A Product Manager?

Have you built something? Have you led a team?

Have you built something? Have you led a team?

Product management is a hot, hot profession right now. It’s one of the most important roles in a product company, especially in high tech. But is it right for you?

If you’re wondering about this, or want to scope yourself against a basic set of guidelines for product managers, this post is for you.

What I’m looking for in a new product manager

There are definitely some skills you should have – technical, communication, decision-making. And you should have a flexible mind, love uncertainty, crave a fast pace, and enjoy working with people.

But what I look for most is that you’ve made something, that you worked with people to do it, and that it solved someone’s problem.

What have you done?

One way to check if you’re ready: reflect on what you’ve already done in your career, or in school, or perhaps as a volunteer or in a high school job.

  • Have you built things, or worked with others to build things, that addressed someone else’s problem?
  • Have you led these teams in some way (ideally without authority, just by influence)?

For example, I worked with a graduating college student once whose resume said this about his senior project:

  • Redesigned shipping packaging for Hardy Diagnostics for their petri dishes.
  • Shipping testing for new designed packing products.
  • Assembled, built, and utilized machines for packaging design and shipment testing.

We spent some time talking about what he did, and it turned out he was underselling a bit.

He’d led a team. He had to validate the problem he was asked to solve was significant and worth solving. He had to test that the solution he and his team designed and implemented actually solved the problem effectively. And he had to ensure that his design could be manufactured on the customer’s existing machines.

The point is that he had done a limited version of product management in this project. He’d led a team, to create a solution, for someone else, that had market value. It didn’t show up that way on his original resume, but it was there.

I felt comfortable recommending product management to him as a potential career path.

We Like People Who Build Things

When I’m talking to someone who wants to get into product management – like when I coach young people on their resumes during their job search – I always explore these stories. How they built something, or worked with others to build something. How they made sure the thing they were building was worth building. How they got people to work with them. How they took the solution to market, perhaps. And how they validated the solution worked – that it solved the problem.

If a person doesn’t have some stories like this, I am suspicious they want to get into product management for the wrong reasons.

I Make Things, That’s My Job

And after you’ve been a product manager for a while we assume you have proven to yourself and others that you should be a product manager, that it’s the appropriate job for you. And at that point I start asking a whole different set of questions, of course!