If you’re starting your first Product Manager job, or thinking of a career change into Product Management (like I was) then the journey ahead of you can feel overwhelming. Having been through this recently, I wanted to share a few of the tips I was given that gave me inspiration and confidence in the first few weeks of my role as Product Manager at ucreate.it
When I was deciding what to do next with my career, I was certain about one thing. That I wanted to move from a large corporate company into a smaller startup. Once I started searching, I realised that the job adverts for Product Managers really connected with the type of job I wanted.
The job descriptions sounded dynamic, challenging and exciting, with opportunities in almost every industry. So of course I started applying. However, I also knew that my knowledge of the tech industry and Product Management was limited, but what I did have was curiosity and ambition. So, like every enthusiastic interviewee, I started scrolling through the internet looking for as much information as I could find on Product Management. I was quickly out of my depth with the sheer number of resources available. Over the last few weeks, my new colleagues have given me a number of tips, sent me articles and guided me along the start of my Product Management journey.
Looking back – these are exactly the tips that I spent hours trawling the internet for, but never quite managed to find.. If you’re anything like me and looking for a career change – I’m hoping that these tips will help you walk into your interview / settle into your first few weeks as a Product Manager with confidence!
1. Update your library
There are hundreds of books, blogs, podcasts that will help you learn about Product Management. These are my top 5. Chosen because not only did I learn a lot, they were also really inspiring. Examples from these books often influence my ideas and decisions in my day to day work:
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
This book is incredible. Phil Knight tells his story about the creation of Nike – it is so well written that you have to remind yourself that it is a true story. It’s also a really incredible story of perseverance. You’ll never look at a Nike product in the same way again!
Our well loved office copy of Shoe Dog 😍
The Lean Startup – Eric Reis
This book talks through the creation of a product from initial ideas, MVP creations, failures and successes. Eric Reis has co-founded a number of startups and also advised large businesses so there are plenty of examples that give context to his theory.
The Phoenix Project – Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford
This is a fictional story about Bill, an IT manager at Parts Unlimited, and how he learns about DevOps. This book cleverly pulls you into Bills story (I really wanted him to succeed) and teaches you about how to efficiently deliver work through a system or team. This book especially resonated with me as it links engineering (my previous role) and IT and explains how one cannot succeed without the other.
Product Hunt Radio – Ryan Hoover
Although littered with product placements, this podcast is very easy to listen to and has a lot of interesting entrepreneurs, experienced founders and established product managers telling their stories. One great example is the “Tinder Babies” episode where Brian Norguard and Jeff Morris (Cheif Product Officer and Director of Product for Tinder) talk through how technology is actually bringing people together.
How I Built This – Guy Raz
This podcast explores the stories behind some of the worlds greatest companies by talking to the innovators and entrepreneurs behind them. My current favourite is the episode with Sara Blakely who founded of Spanx – she talks through her career from an attempt at law school to stand up comedian through to her creation of Spanx.
2. Attend meetups
As with any industry, it’s not just about what you know, it’s also about who you know. This is where meetups can be incredibly useful. The audience is normally a wide range of ‘product people’ from founders and Product Managers to developers and designers. The variety of people (and the free beer!), mean that it’s hard to walk away without having met at least one new & interesting person.
In addition to the networking, this is the fastest way to learn the jargon of product before you actually work in the industry. As you listen to presenters and the conversations around you – all of a sudden the words and phrases like ‘Value Proposition’, ‘Minimum Viable Product (MVP)’ and ‘Validation’ get context and real world meaning.
If you’re London based I’d recommend:
These meetups have been organised for Product Managers to meet up and exchange ideas and experiences
There can be anywhere between 20–100+ attendees depending on the topic
Look out for big name companies like AirBnB etc. and also the speakers with the top jobs (Founder, Director etc.)
These meetups are informal meetups with a varying number of attendees. Normally the people who go also have a mix of experiences and topics they want to discuss.
This meetup is good for some informal chats and also the ability to sit back, listen and learn from other peoples experiences
If you’re not London based, have a scroll through Meetup and Eventbrite. Once you enter your interests, you’ll soon be sent notifications of interesting meetups happening in your area.
3. Find the parallels
As I was reading the books and working out the jargon, I started to notice parallels between my previous job and the daily tasks and challenges of Product Managers and entrepreneurs. The most exciting part about this is that although the challenges are similar, the opportunity to adapt and improve processes to remove these challenges is much greater.
Now I’ve been working for a few months, I’ve noticed even more parallels between my previous job and the role of Product Manager.
For example, in my previous company, my role sat between the engineers and the project managers. I helped the engineers understand the context of requests and why they were important to the end customer whilst helping the project managers understand the technical information and engineering tasks required to develop the product.
As a Product Manager at ucreate, I sit between the developers and the founder’s business – helping the developers understand the product vision whilst helping the founder understand the technical implications of building out the product. Sound familiar? 🤷
4. Try out the tools
There is a minefield of exciting new apps and products to explore – all designed to provide value to the users. Here are the top 3 that I’ve discovered, and some tips on how they could be useful before you start working as a Product Manager.
Trello is a fantastic tool for building up your Kanban boards and implementing an agile method of working. If there aren’t any projects you can use this on, many people use them as a personal to-do list / planner. As well as being really useful – it has really great UX. A trello board is easy to set up, intuitive to create lists and tasks. It also has really slick UI – allowing you to drag and drop tasks from one list to another. Maybe try it out on your job hunt or christmas shopping list…
I wish I’d known about Draw.io when I was in a corporate environment.It’s a free tool that integrates with Google Drive hidden away under Google slides when you create a new document.
I use it at the moment to create user journeys and product flows – but in my corporate job it would have been a great tool for creating flowcharts and block diagrams instead of relying on the likes of Microsoft Visio and Paint. Because it’s in GDrive, versioning, sharing and collaborating are a doddle.
Balsamiq is fun. Whether you’re creative or not balsamiq is a tool to rapidly create good looking wireframes. The use cases for this outside of product are fewer, however here are some left field ideas:
Creating a birthday card design
Making a ‘sketch’ style diagram for a work presentation. (They also have a really interesting blog and free online courses focussed on. improving your UX/UI skills)
5. Get Involved!
If you’re not ready to change careers, you could try out starting something on the side. Is there a problem that you think needs fixing, do you have a friend who needs a website but doesn’t know where to start or is there something that you do at work everyday that a little bit of tech could help you improve. Think about that problem or friend and everything you’ve read and you could mock up an MVP in no time!
If starting something on your own isn’t for you – join an existing team! I joined ucreate so I could put what I’d been learning into practice on real startups whilst having the support of an experienced Product Team to accelerate my growth in the role.