Breaking into Product Management – Product Camp 2016 Wrap-up

A few people suggested topics around getting your first product management job or being new to the field. We asked them to team up and viola – a panel on breaking into Product Management was the result!

Faciliated by our very own MC – Steve Bauer.

Q: How did you get into product management?

  • Nadia Gishen became a domain expert in recruitment when working in non-product roles. She initially became interested in moving into product when she joined PageUp where she was able to gain an understanding of what was involved. She’s currently a Product Owner at PageUp.
  • Elena Kelareva was a software engineer and wanted a more business focused design role. She started at Google via a graduate internship which enabled her to learn about the Product Manager role and go for internal interviews. She’s currently a product manager at Google.
  • Darren Duarte’s background is in Mechanical Engineering and Psychology working with race cars, the aerospace industry & lean manufacturing. To move to his current role, he completed a product management course and emphasised the crossover skills he had from previous roles (hypothesis testing & project management). He’s currently an agile consultant at Elabor8. Darren sees his current role as a stepping stone to a Product Manager role. As a consultant he gets to see how the PM role works with other roles across different organisations.


Q: Why did they choose to go into Product Management and not UX Design.

Darren felt his strengths were more inline with what was needed for Product Management. Part of being a Product Manager is also recognising where others are the experts to create strong teams – this is one of those cases.

Both Elena & Nadia are working with their strengths and like to pair with a UX Designer to work through user flows and journey mapping.

Q: What is required to be successful when applying for Product Manager roles?

It seems that “everyone wants a different thing” and needed skills can range across technical, UX & business. Job descriptions don’t provide enough information about what is actually required.

Elena found it really useful to do practice interviews with Product Managers in Google. However, it was very confusing when she provided the same answer to the same mock question at two different mock interviews and one interviewer liked her answer while the other didn’t.

Darren found that interviewers favoured candidates with a BA skill set.

The panelists recommended using a reverse interview technique (a two way interview) to understand not only what is needed by the interviewer but to gauge how well the role fits you and whether it is a good career move.

Q: How is a Product Owner role different from a Product Manager role?

Panelists observed that organisations may not have both roles.

Product Owner generally makes the final say in Agile story estimations, delivery and resourcing. They general work on the daily story management.

The Product Managers take a more strategic view, forecast product delivery based on understanding customer requirements. They may also be managing a product budget and look at product pricing and market positioning.

There was also general agreement that the Product Manager chooses WHAT gets done while the Product Owner focuses on HOW it gets done.

Some teams may also have Project Managers. There is a crossover between the Project Manager and Product Owner as both focus on HOW. There was a view that typically the Product Managers and Product Owners are closer to the voice of the customer than a Project Manager plus POs may also be familiar with how to conduct evidence based research (e.g. hypothesis testing).

Other things that came up in discussion

  • In some organisations the Product Owner role is a combination of a BA and Product Manager
  • Some organisations separate the role into Technical Product Manager and Product Manager
  • Sometimes there is a Product Strategy Manager role that sits outside the development team.
  • Brand Manager is another title that may be used to encompass the role of a Product Manager – it depends on the industry
  • Facilitation skills are crucial as a Product Manager or Product Owner as you rarely have line manager control of a project.
  • Look at becoming known as a problem solver who facilitates discussions across teams from different disciplines.
  • Commercial knowledge is very important.
  • The panelists have noticed a shift to needing technical knowledge about how the product is produced. This knowledge doesn’t need to be deep or specific but it needs to be enough to know what is involved as it assists with making commercial decisions.

Further Reading

Looking for more? Our panelists recommended:

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