Sail off Your Journey as Product Manager

Couple weeks ago, one of my friends reached out for advice on how to stay competitive in the market, while he was planning to switch his career as a product manager in a startup company. As for the background, he has a good technical education (ICT) and graduated from one of the best universities in Indonesia. Yet, it takes time for a recruiter to notice and offer him his dream job as a product manager. Interestingly, he reached out after noticing my diverse experience with zero IT background, and yet managed to have a path as a PM in a startup company. He asked, how did you manage “such a journey”?. So, here are three things that I keep in mind to build my resilience and fit in the Product Management role. Hope you find it useful too

#1 Practice growth mindset

Being able to clearly define what you are good and not good at, are essential. It’s a basic skill to master in order to have a growth mindset. In a career context, being able to evaluate your skills level against market requirements will help you to define the path you need to take in achieving your goals.

Figure 1. Evaluate your level v.s evaluate the market

Book yourself a time to do this three things regularly:

  1. Discover and define your level. This includes defining your purpose or goals, your level of knowledge, skills, and experience. This process requires you to really know your traits and embrace yourself as who you really are.
  2. Discover and define the market you’ll reach in. In this case : your dream job. This process includes evaluating the profession or a career that you want to pursue, what industry or company values you want to join, what salary range that will fit with your interest, what are the required skills or experience needed, and what kind of people that currently are top talent in those markets. You can start your research by digging up talent hubs or job posting platforms, company websites, news or publication, professional community, or your own network.
  3. Find the gap (what) and formulate the action as a response to your finding (how). It’s about knowing your competency, what skills you need to accomplish, and what you need to do about it. In my case, I started by joining multiple courses on product management and actively involved in the product community to expand my professional network. I also ask for special assignments within the product team to give me exposure on digital product development. Below are fundamental skills that I found useful to help me juggle on product management fields :
  • Soft skills : If I could pick the top three soft skills as product manager, it will be problem solving, structured thinking, and communication skills. Problem solving is fundamental since our main job as a PM is to solve user problems. We also need to manage those solutions as a journey and influence relevant stakeholders to be on the same page. This where the ability to frame the problem and its solution in a structured manner need to be well communicated.
  • Technical know how : Most Product Management roles require a cross understanding between business, technology, and design. Yet in my experience, industrial knowledge also becomes an important skill to answer the challenge. This includes understanding on a company’s operational and business process so that a PM can better craft useful solutions not only for its users (customer or consumers) but also delivering value to the organization.

#2 Manage yourself as a good “product”

As a product guy, I love to manage myself as “a product” with certain “features”. These features include knowledge, skills, experiences, attitude, and networking. Here are two things that you need to pay attention when you manage your career as your “product”.

Figure 2. Build your personal branding with clear positioning
  1. Positioning. Good products have a clear positioning to achieve product market fit. Positioning itself, is not only what you do to a product (yourself), but also what you do to the mind of the prospect (it can be a recruiter, your superior, or your colleagues). For example, delivering high quality output in time will get the job done. But delivering such quality, constantly, will have an impact on your personal branding as a trustworthy, reliable, well planned, and highly skilled team member. This personal branding is a reflection of your positioning in the market.
  2. The life cycle. Just like a product, your relevance in the market also has its own lifecycle. In this case, you need to manage your skill relevance with market demand. Knowing what skills are in sunset or declined stages (not relevant anymore), as well as finding out what skills that you need to develop. In my case, I book myself a special time to evaluate skill relevance and maintain a budget for personal development, as I believe the growth is also a personal responsibility to take.

#3 Build engaging portfolio

Figure 3. Portfolio type example

Portfolio goes beyond a resume to show your work experience, skills, and accomplishment. It may include your writing, professional development activities, sample of work, reference list (network), pro bono activities, and so on. Make your portfolio echoes by emphasizing more on the impact and show high relevance on your targeted market. It goes the same for the education background, which is also a part of your portfolio. Take advantage of your relevant education background to speed up your career path and make yourself stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, if you don’t have a strong education relevance just like in my case, you still can work on it by either taking relevant courses or a relevant degree. But keep in mind that getting education and being educated are different things. Don’t let it become your barrier in defining your potential and capability. Work harder until it’s paid off. In fact, agile organizations are more open to diverse backgrounds as long as you show exceptional skills and relevance to their business needs.

So if you already kick start your journey as a PM, maintain your portfolio to stay competitive in the market. In my case, there are two important portfolios that I keep a close attention to. First, is the products, which emphasizes on its outcome. And the second is the team itself. Building a product is not a one man show, it’s a collaboration and teamwork from various functions. So as a Product Manager, we are not only building a product but also passionately nurturing the team to grow with the product itself. Personally, I enjoy it as a lifetime investment.

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the process. It’s a journey for you to discover the better version of yourself each day passed.

Passionate problem solver in the intersection of business, product development, and UX design.