How to Become a Product ManagerOverview Skills, Knowledge and Attributes Training & Certification Career Paths Work environment Compensation F.A.Q Explore Courses
How to Become a Product Manager
By: Quadri Oshibotu
Last updated: July 13, 2022
Speak to five different product managers and you’ll hear five different stories about how they “broke into” this highly in-demand tech role. This is one of the tricky things about product management, but also where the opportunity lies: the path to becoming a product manager is not as straightforward as it is for many other roles.
In this guide, we’re not only going to clarify how to become a product manager, but also look closely at:
- The skills, knowledge, and attributes needed to succeed as a product manager
- Globally recognized certifications
- Top product management programs
- Common career paths within product management
- The work environment
- Salary expectations
While a product manager is generally seen as a “jack-of-all-trades,” they do have key roles and responsibilities they must fulfill.
Product managers work with multidisciplinary teams to define and build digital products (websites, mobile applications, APIs, etc.) that provide value for their customers and users and assist their business with reaching its goals. This is why business strategy is a vital skill for product managers, because everything they do needs to connect to a company’s bottom line.
The product manager’s day-to-day work centres around three key responsibilities:
- Remaining customer focused
- Making data-driven decisions
- Managing key stakeholders
It’s these three activities that enable product managers to effectively perform their job. With these, they can understand their customers’ needs, define and launch impactful digital solutions, and make product improvements after a product launches to achieve desired customer and business goals.
Skills, Knowledge and Attributes
Product managers leverage a number of skills to perform their roles effectively. If you’re interested in becoming a product manager these are the initial key skills that you should focus on gaining.
Strategy and problem solving
Product managers are problem solvers. They understand the problems faced by their customers and business, prioritize them, and solve them with the right digital solutions.
Of the many items that a product manager can work on for their product and the many solutions that they can build, how do they determine what path to take? They do this by always tying their work to the objectives of their business.
Problem solving and strategy are key skills needed for product managers because it is ultimately the product manager that defines the end solution.
The key challenge for many product managers is being able to define and articulate why they are pursuing one course of action over another. This can be as straightforward as choosing where to place a “checkout” button on an e-commerce website (no simple decision, actually) or as complex as deciding what the overall “architecture” of a mobile application should be.
A product manager needs to have the mindset of a problem solver and a strategic thinker to solve the right problems for the right stakeholders to accomplish specific goals.
Product managers do not have to know how to code. However, knowing how to code is definitely an asset.
Since product managers work closely with developers to bring digital solutions that solve customer problems to life, the more technical they are, the more effective their conversations will be with their development teams. And the better their product decisions will be (especially around technical trade-offs). It’s therefore not uncommon for product managers to pursue web development courses.
But how much does a product manager need to know about software and technology? Enough so that they have a solid understanding of how software and technology work and can comfortably communicate with developers.
Product managers act as the glue between their various departments. Cross-functional team members rely on them for information, tactics, and direction.
As leaders, product managers are responsible for rallying their company around a particular vision. As leaders they train and support their stakeholders to enable them to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. As leaders they work on addressing identified problems for the betterment of their product, stakeholders, and company.
Being a product manager has many transferable skills. The leadership experience gained can enable one to become a highly effective business executive and/or future CEO, which is why you’ll find many product managers reading about and pursuing leadership courses.
Product managers work directly with their cross-functional teams to accomplish goals.
They rely on product designers to define the look and feel of their product, developers to code the product, marketing to communicate the value of the product to customers, sales to sell it, and more.
Communication, conflict resolution, persuasion, reliability, and more are all important skills that product managers leverage.
The more a team trusts and works well with their product manager the better the product will be and the more enjoyable everyone’s work will be as well.
Interpersonal skills include communication, empathy, listening, and conflict management.
Communication skills include the ability to tell a great story that rallies everyone around a particular mission so that they are inspired to work hard.
Telling a great story is one of many tasks that product managers regularly perform and should never tire of.
Empathy plays a huge role as well for product managers. This is because they build products for their customers and users, not themselves.
Empathy comes from regularly putting themselves into the shoes of their customers and users to understand their struggles and thought processes, prioritize their concerns, and define digital solutions that meet their needs.
These are the core skills that product managers need. Along with a desire to constantly learn and improve, some other important skills include:
- Design and user experience skills
- Business skills
- Analytical skills
- Marketing skills
- Project management skills
- Prioritization skills
- Delegation skills
Training & Certification
Unlike the Project Management Professional (PMP)®, the world’s leading project management certification, there is no standard certification for product managers per se.
Product managers can, however, consider certifications that will help them oversee aspects of the lifecycle of a product, from identifying potential products based on market research to determining product specifications and setting prices.
Common project management certifications that may be useful include: Scrum certification, Agile Software Development, Kanban, Waterfall, and Extreme Programming (XP).
Besides gaining training on the job, building a startup, or working on digital projects as a side hustle, one way to gain product management training and a certification is by taking a dedicated course in product management. Everything from certificates to diplomas and even product management training at select business schools are available.
These courses cover how to identify a product worth developing, how to properly understand the type of person who is expected to use the product, how to research, design, and begin working on the product, and more.
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Here are some of the common career paths to become a product manager.
Startup founder to product manager
After starting a startup and successfully selling it, startup founders sometimes become product managers at the acquiring company.
One common piece of advice that you will receive from many on breaking into the role is to gain experience by building a product.
In essence, find a problem and define a digital solution while working with your team to sell and support it; building a startup is one of the closest ways there is to advancing quickly as a product manager.
MBA to product manager
While an MBA is not required to become a product manager, this is a path that many have taken. Complete an MBA program and apply for a product management role at a tech company.
One benefit of having an MBA (or an undergraduate degree in business) is that a business program provides a firm grasp on how businesses run and function. This is highly valuable knowledge when working with business stakeholders (executives, marketing, sales, etc.) to determine what to build and how it will advance your company’s bottom line. It is also an excellent way to hone the numerical and analytical skills needed to work in a senior product role.
Consultant to product manager
Consultants are hired by organizations to solve various business problems. They are skilled at working with stakeholders, breaking down problems, and applying strategy and frameworks towards finding the optimal solution for their clients.
This is exactly what product managers do on a day-to-day basis; constantly working to solve problems for their customers, while ensuring that the digital solutions they define tie into their business strategy and enable their business to reach its goals.
This is the easiest way to transition into product management. This is when a company has a product management team and has a program in place for internal employees who are interested in becoming product managers.
This program would involve shadowing members of the product team while assisting them with product related tasks until one has gained enough experience to fully join the team.
While this is the easiest way, not all tech companies support this option.
Product management bootcamp
Another alternative is to sign up for a product management bootcamp. Save yourself the time of scouring the web to comb through sometimes unreliable material to learn what you need to know about product management.
Product management bootcamps provide the required knowledge and ample opportunity to gain hands-on experience. Some also come with additional perks to help you not only land a role, but continue to succeed thereafter.
Of course, CourseCompare maintains a digital catalogue of product management courses for learners at every skill level. The important thing is to obtain the knowledge and tools that you need to ship digital products while learning from experienced practitioners, and finding rich mentorship opportunities throughout your career. Bonus, if you can find a community of like-minded people to motivate and support you along your journey.
Where to find product management jobs
There are many places to find open product management roles. Some of the common ones online include Linkedin, Glassdoor, and AngelList. For jobs specifically in the Canadian market check out Prospect.fyi.
Product openings can also be found on popular product management newsletters. For example, Ken Norton and Lenny Rachitsky, two well known product managers, include job openings in their monthly product management newsletters. And Hacker News, Y Combinator’s online forum, has a monthly forum titled “Ask HN: Who is hiring?”.
Product managers work in an office environment with cross-functional team members. Due to COVID-19 there are more remote options available (historically a perk that was mainly reserved for designers and developers).
The typical work hours are 9am to 5pm, which may extend at times when a new product or feature is being released.
Some of the key team members that product managers work with daily include:
- Product designers
- QA engineers
- Product marketing managers
- Other product managers
Some other important stakeholders include:
- Customers and users
- Department managers
- Business executives
- Sales team
- Customer success
- Customer support
The interaction with these stakeholders and work performed will centre around what specific work is being done; what stage in the Product Development Process is the team.
The Product Development Process defines the process that all products go through from defining the problem through improving the solution post-launch.
Being a product manager is a highly rewarding role, especially when a digital solution is shipped and positive feedback is received from customers and users.
However it also can be very demanding.
Due to the fact that multiple stakeholders within the company rely on product managers for information, tactics, and decision making, one’s schedule can quickly become filled and it can be hard to find dedicated focus time. Time management and discipline are key.
Stress levels can also rise close to the launch of a key digital solution or initiative. However, this applies for the whole team.
Another challenge of the role involves constantly intaking requests from not just customers and users, but other stakeholders as well, and ensuring that the right requests are acted upon (constant prioritization) and key stakeholders are always kept up to date.
Being a product manager is a highly rewarding role.
The product manager role currently ranks 10th on Glassdoor’s list of the 50 Best Jobs In America, with nearly 17,000 openings (up 2,000 more than 2021), with a job satisfaction score of 4.0/5.
A product manager’s salary can vary based on many factors including: location, industry, and seniority level.
According to Glassdoor Canada the average product manager makes $89,325 per year.
Those new to the role, associate product managers, can earn as much as $72,404 per year.
More experienced managers who have already been in their position for some time (senior product managers) can earn up to $116,519 per year, while those at the director level can earn as much as $131,061 per year.
These salaries do not include benefits, bonuses, or stock options which are commonly rewarded as additional compensation at software and technology companies.