My Path to Product Management

Product managers come from a variety of backgrounds. Some find their way through design or engineering. Others arrive after studying business and working in product marketing. Before I became a product manager, I spent 13 years in higher education, primarily in roles related to eLearning leadership or program management. Prior to that I worked in corporate training, teaching both software and soft skills.

I share my background because I believe product management is an excellent path for higher ed eLearning professionals who are interested in transitioning to the vendor side. Jacob Burdis with Pluralsight wrote a more detailed piece about his journey from Instructional Design to Product Management. His post made me consider former colleagues who'd be fantastic product managers.

Elearning, Instructional Design and higher ed program management roles provide valuable experience that's vital for success in product management. Here are a few things I learned in my prior career that prepared me for a smooth transition to product management:

  • Keeping up with emerging technologies, playing, testing and pushing limits
  • Communicating with stakeholders and conducting needs analysis
  • Analyzing the market, convening advisory boards, developing, marketing and launching new program offerings
  • Software selection, procurement, implementation and migration
  • Budgeting, forecasting and measuring ROI
  • Creating user support documentation and training resources
  • Managing a help desk
  • Project management
  • Functional and acceptance testing
  • Design
  • Diplomacy

You may not have the title of Product Manager, but you might already be doing the work. When I look back on projects and software implementations I led as an eLearning Director, I can see how each of those might be considered a product. I was responsible for analyzing needs, identifying options, gaining buy-in, procuring solutions, supporting users and providing feedback for improvement to vendors.

You could also make a case that a university course is a product. Even without considering student financial investment in courses, there's an expectation students will pay for the experience with their time and attention. The product manager of an instructional experience has responsibilities similar to someone managing a commercial product. If you're working in higher education and considering transitioning to a technology vendor, perhaps you'll find a similar path to product management.

Written on January 1, 2016