6th September 2017 - No Comments!

How I became A Product Manager

In 2016 I changed jobs from Digital Marketing to Product Management. This article details why I decided to change direction, and how I got there.

Problem

In 2016 I was working as a Digital Marketing Executive for The Stage Media Company in London. I initially moved into Digital Marketing from Digital Design because I wanted to learn about business strategy and why a company might employ an agency (with a Digital Designer) to work on a website or campaign.

Throughout my time at The Stage I began reading a lot about entrepreneurship, innovation and the process of creating digital technology. Books such as The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson particularly caught my imagination, as well as podcasts by The Web Psychologist, Start Up and UIE.

Although I learnt a lot about running email and social media campaigns, as well as search engine and conversion optimisation, I discovered that I wanted to be creating new and innovative technology products instead of marketing them.

I tried my best to implement a culture of measurement and experimentation through multivariate testing into the company, but I was swimming against the tide. Although senior managers understood what I was trying to do, there wasn’t the appetite or the right level of  investment that would satisfy me. So, it was time for a change.

The problem was that I didn’t know which role I could play within a technology company. What could I do that would enable me to utilise my skills from both Design and Marketing? As well as allow me to explore the entrepreneurial side of my personality?

Solution

I often find that talking to people who can relate to a problem helps in identifying the best solution, and this time was no exception. I talked to a number of my contacts that work as Marketing Managers, UX Designers and Engineers to try to help me figure out what it was I was looking for. At the time I didn’t know what Product Management was.

It was by exploring both the General Assembly and Mind The Product websites - both referred to me by my contacts - that helped solidify what I wanted to do: UX focused Product Management. With this goal in mind, the next step was to determine how best make the leap.

What I did

I enrolled in the General Assembly Product Management course which was taught by a very talented collection of Product Managers including Chris Bradley of Publicate, Dave Lynham and Alejandra Diaz.

The course was stimulating, challenging, and fun. I can’t recommend it enough to those that are considering getting training in this area. I was lucky enough to be able to self-fund the course, and it is still paying dividends for me.

I also continued reading Medium articles about Product Management, followed high-profile Product Managers on Twitter (such as Marty Cagan, Martin Eriksson and Melissa Perri), going to product Meetups (Product Tank), and listening to product focused Podcasts (This Is Product Management, a16z, Y Combinator). The aim of combining all of this stimulus was to transform my marketing focused brain into a product and design focused one.

I re-wrote my CV to be more product orientated, putting my most product-like experience at the top. I wanted to find a job that would allow me to learn about Product Management at the beginning as not to throw me completely in at the deep-end. But, as I discovered, a Product Manager has to spin many plates which is a learning process in itself.

Results

Half-way through my course I was fortunate enough to get an interview for a Deputy Product Manager job at Basis Technologies (spoiler alert - I got the job). Basis Technologies are an enterprise software company who make products to ensure changes to SAP systems can be made with greater speed and safety.

In preparation for my interview I met with my General Assembly tutor to help me go through possible questions and answers, and there is one piece of advice that still sticks with me - focus on the problem. My aim in the interview was to demonstrate how I view the user problem as well as discover how they research and validate that a problem exists and how they go about solving it.

I needed to know that they fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

It was this continued focus on determining how the problem is explored, that I feel led to Basis Technologies offering me my first Product Management job.

Retrospective

Since beginning my first role in Product Management I have learnt a great deal. One key takeaway is that you must live and breathe the product. If you are not passionate about the product and how you feel it can benefit people, then you need to keep looking. I would advise anyone considering a move to think about whether they want to work for a consumer focused product, or an enterprise focused one. There is no right or wrong answer, but each will present their own unique challenges. What I have discovered is that although I initially chose to work in the enterprise software space, I now want to work on products that are consumer facing.

I have discovered that Product Management is as much about managing stakeholders as it is about deciding what features get built. Managing expectations is very important, so always underpromise and overdeliver.

Having some sort of technical knowledge about your product's domain will help you a lot. Ensuring that Developers fully understand what their output should be is something I have found the most challenging. I have had to learn a lot about how our products work technically, Agile development methods and the intricacies of SAP, and I don’t feel as if I have even scratched the surface. If Developers are not clear on what they need to build, you aren’t going to get a coherent product. Make sure you have the right support in place so that you are able to learn about the industry, as well as the technical ins and outs of your product range. Developers are also your greatest asset, so protect them when necessary, and ensure that what they build is high quality.

I have continued to learn about my role by networking, going to meetups, reading Medium articles and listening to Podcasts. This role seems to vary from company to company, and it is always useful to get a sense check by learning about someone else's experience and frustrations.

The biggest lesson I have learnt is that having a design voice within the company is essential for a more rounded team. A red flag (that I can see now) is that my current company does not employ a single designer. This lack of design facility has led to a lot of rework and confusion for Developers because there is no single design language or appetite for better user experience within our products. Having a designer in the team will lead to better collaborative projects between Product Managers, Designers and Developers that will yield much more fruitful developments and features.

What Next

My interest and love for design practices has grown since I have been able to see more clearly how it adds value to a business. The biggest discovery I have made, therefore, is that I feel design is my true calling. Although I enjoy being part of the Product team and working with Developers, what excites me is creating rough prototypes, wireframes and hi-fidelity mockups as well as testing them on users.

This has led me to want to move into UX Design. I have been an advocate for better design practices at Basis Technologies and have played the part of UX Designer when appropriate. Although I now want to move roles, I feel that my experience in Product and Marketing will make me a better, more empathetic designer.

Published by: Stephan Metcalfe in Blog Article, Product Management

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