Learning Product Management

My first exposure to product management was in a customer role. When vendors started paying attention to social media, I started hearing from product managers who wanted to learn more about our needs (or perhaps get me to shush about my issues). I was fascinated to discover software vendors have people responsible for connecting with customers, analyzing needs, creating designs and prioritizing features for development. With some of the products I implemented, I was surprised anyone spoke to customers at all!

Coming from the customer side, it was easy to understand the communication and empathy requirements for my job, but I had to put in a lot of study time to discover the foundational principles of product management. I picked up a copy of Cracking the PM Interview to get a better understanding of the path I'd chosen. The first thing I learned is that product manager roles vary greatly in responsibilities across different organizations.

At our company, product managers are responsible for the full business, including P&L, sales and marketing, design, development, testing, SaaS operations, and customer support and community. Fortunately we have teams in place to support these functions and our culture is collaborative and nurturing. Colleagues are willing to spend time teaching me about the roles they play and how we can interact to make products successful. We're a product focused company, which makes it easy to work with leadership without the friction I've read about in companies with different priorities.

In addition to several PM books, I started following product managers on Twitter, reading PM blogs and joining social organizations. If you don't mind filtering through product ads, the #productmanagement hashtag search on Twitter usually has useful content for learning more about product management. I don't even mind the ads. They're often for tools I use, or would like to explore to help me be more successful at my job.

Researching product management can get you the basics about day-to-day responsibilities, but I've found more value in studying about the roles played by others on my team. I've probably added 50 new books to my professional library in the last year. I read about and practice the programming languages used in my product. I dive deep into design, user experience, and information architecture. I consume sales and marketing books like candy.

As I journey down the PM path, I'll continue using these methods to learn and grow professionally. This year I'd like to spend more time meeting other product managers and networking, especially in the Seattle area, if I can find a PM community. It feels like it's time to find my professional tribe.

Written on January 2, 2016