Introduction

Welcome to UpGrad’s Product Management Career Guide. Here, we try to answer all the career-related questions you may have regarding Product Management – around skills, interviews and career paths. We hope this Guide helps you grow and succeed in your journey as a Product Manager. Good luck!

Product Management Skills
Product Management Skills

A common misconception is that Product Managers only need certain hard skills around UX, technology, business and data. To be a successful Product Manager, you need to master multiple soft skills as well. These could be negotiation, persuasion & more.

Product Management Interviews
Product Management Interviews

As Product Management is a niche and growing field, many aspiring Product Managers have questions around the types of interview questions they may face. This section takes you through multiple possible scenarios, and what you should prepare for, in detail.

Product Management Career Paths
Product Management Career Paths

While the career paths of various Product Managers may differ, there are some common traits that stand out. Keep in mind these pointers before deciding on the course your career should take or what type of company to work for.

Product Management Skills

From UX to negotiation, hone the top Product Management skills

Read Time : 17 Minutes

What to expect from this article

Hard Skills of a Product Manager

Soft Skills of a Product Manager

Hard Skills of a Product Manager

As a Product Manager, the ultimate responsibility for the product’s launch and success rests on your shoulders. You need to collaborate with various departments, such as design and engineering, to get the job done. For this, you need to inculcate a number of hard skills that help you understand your product better and manage it in an efficient manner. According to this post by Aha! – a Product Manager is often considered the CEO of the product and is responsible for the strategy, roadmap, as well as defining features of the product. He/she may need to undertake marketing, forecasting, and even profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities.

“You are kind of the mini-CEO with all of the responsibility but without any of the authority.”

– Josh Elman, Partner at Greylock, former Product Manager at Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

A Product Manager has to be a cross-functional leader who has to involve himself/herself in all aspects of the product ó from operations and analytics, engineering and design, to legal and other departments of the company. Your role involves making data-driven decisions, user-behaviour driven decisions, as well as marketing-driven decisions.

Here are the most important hard skills you need as a Product Manager:

  1. User experience design

    A knowledge of user experience design (UX) ensures that you visualise a unique and usable product that fulfils the expectations of the user. While designing this product, a Product Manager must specifically set user context and understand user expectations.

  2. Technology

    An understanding of the technical aspects of your product will enable you to leverage technology to solve any problem that may arise. In short, while leveraging technology to solve problems as a Product Manager, you must also build technical expertise along the way. This will ensure clarity of communication with the engineers working on the product, which infuses synergies with them and also helps you earn their respect.

    If you come from a tech background already, just remember that you are now a Product Manager and too much interference in the tech team’s work may not go down well.

    “As a Product Manager, if you don’t understand tech, you won’t be able to relate to a path that can take you forward. You will have to rely on secondary knowledge only.”

    – Akshay Rajwade, Chief Product Officer, Nearbuy.

    “If you want to be a Data Analytics Product Manager for instance, and then if you don’t have domain knowledge, it can get very difficult.”

    – Ashwin Venkatraman, Chief Product Officer, Furlenco.

  3. Data understanding

    If your company doesn’t rely on data, you need to introduce a data-driven culture as it can help you understand many aspects of your product’s performance, as well as validate any instincts you may have in this regard. A coherent understanding of data can help you monitor:
    (i) metrics around product usage by consumers;
    (ii) hits and misses;
    (iii) what are the points during the usage of the product that consumers tend to fall off or drop-off points; and
    (iv) validate your instincts as a Product Manager.

  4. Business sense

    You need to mainly decide where to invest two things – your team’s time and resources. Accordingly, you need to build a product roadmap thereafter that leads to success and profitability. So now you know all about the hard skills you ought to master if you want to be a successful Product Manager. But is that all? Explore more below if you want to know what else you need in your kitty!

Soft Skills of a Product Manager

Along with the hard skills outlined above, as a Product Manager, you will also need to work very hard to hone in yourself a number of soft skills. This will help you manage all the teams well and, in the end, ensure that utmost attention and effort is paid towards building and improving the product.

The following soft skills will help you perform your role as a Product Manager to the best of your ability:

  1. Leading without authority

    In order to collaborate with various departments, you need to build credibility to earn the respect and confidence of the internal stakeholders, without being domineering. Leading without authority can be mastered by perfecting three things –

    (i) Collaborative work such that no one person or team is a one-man-army and sufficient contribution is made across functions, in a harmonious manner;

    (ii) Your convincing ability will really be put to test in the role of a Product Manager, hence, you may want to work on this – you will constantly need to propose and back up your ideas with sound reasoning including data, etc, and in such a way that the person you are trying to convince understands your point of view while getting a chance to voice their opinion;

    (iii) As a Product Manager, your skills of persuasion will also be put to test. Just as you need to be convincing, you need to be persuasive if you want your ideas to be accepted without hitting major roadblocks.

    The role of a Product Manager is a tough one in the sense that plans you will propose may be outside the comfort zone of many in the organisation. But if it’s important for the product’s success, you need to soldier on to change status quo.

    “Participatory leadership works.”

    – Vishwesh Jirgale, Head of R&D Centre at Microsoft Pune.

    As a Product Manager, it is your responsibility to drive the team towards a common vision. One way of doing this is leading by:

    Motivation
    • Exhibit a sense of motivation towards the vision and communicate the same. Be mindful of every team member’s contribution and provide encouragement if need be.
    • Within the team, always speak in terms of the core value that you aim to create with the products/services for the customers.
    • In this day and age, no problem is simple. Enable the teams to appreciate the complexity of the problem and then break down the various aspects into its individual components. Help the team to develop a framework or a method to solve problems.
    • For example, one way is to be in your customer’s shoes to solve complex problems. Case in point ó say, a customer’s feedback where they ask for the flexibility to watch content on any device, anywhere and anytime. Here, a problem needs to be identified and a corresponding conclusion has to be reached.
    Sr. No. Pre-launch Scenario Structured Approach
    1. Content is only available on TV Define content
    2. Shows air at a fixed time Define platform
    3. Advertisements Define preferences

    As demonstrated in the above table, user-generated feedback can be approached in a very systematic manner.

    Taking ownership
    • It is good practice to develop and exhibit a deeper understanding of problems rather than jumping to conclusions. Articulating your thoughts and communicating the same would further display your leadership qualities, something that will motivate all team members.
    • Explaining the rationale behind the solution enables the team members to understand the problems better.
    • In addition, you must keep the following things in mind:
      • Take full responsibilities of latencies
      • Attribute success to the entire team
      • Operate effectively at all levels
      • Be proactive and take initiatives no job is beneath you consider yourself both, the CEO and janitor of the product
    Passion

    As a Product Manager, you must be passionate about your vision. Dissect every leader’s motivations and achievements and learn from their contributions. Emotions are contagious be excited and passionate.

    Exhibiting participative leadership

    Keep the following things in mind:

    • Build a community. It will prove beneficial in the long run.
    • Be a go-getter
    • Build an inclusive environment
    • Develop social cohesion
    • Avoid compromising on quality
    • Encourage constructive debates
    • Honour individual contributions
    • Include all stakeholders and build a common consensus
    • But don’t sacrifice product convictions commit to the best solution
    Developing personal authority
    • Expand your sphere of influence
    • Develop rapport over informal meetings
    • Empathise with your peers

     

  2. Communicating effectively

    Product Managers are always interacting with other people. In fact, their core responsibilities are centred around cross-functional communication and their work is dependent on many others. This is why, clarity of thought enables you to communicate with different stakeholders like internal departments, senior management, as well as the users of your product. You will be expected to conduct open-ended interviews, make presentations to senior management, and hold discussions with different teams.

    “Communicating effectively as a Product Manager doesn’t just mean speaking eloquently, but being able to break down the problem, talking to engineers, etc.”

    – Mangesh Dalvi, Director, Product Management at Myntra.

    A Product Manager fulfils a cross-functional role and in the process, becomes a spokesperson for the product. Now, the role of a spokesperson is to transfer information from one avenue to the other with great efficiency. Keep the following aspects in mind while communicating:

    • Be a good listener
    • Work on your presentation skills Have a proper structure for presentations and start with a good introduction. Recap the key takeaways and limit the presentation to 10 slides. Ensure that you arrive on time for the presentation as lack of punctuality casts a terrible impression. Start with answering the question as to why you are there. Keep slides clean and simple, use visual aids, bullets, but don’t overdo it. Project your voice but don’t be deafeningly loud. Try to keep your audience engaged at all times. If you’re not funny, don’t try too hard. Remember the Kawasaki rule of 10/20/30. 10 slides, 20 minutes, and a minimum 30 font size. Don’t overload the slides with text, be succinct.
    • Articulate your thought process
    • Improve upon your writing skills
    • Plan your meetings with customers, team members and executives with a set agenda
    • Share the information/takeaways from the meetings with the relevant stakeholders
    • Back your claims with relevant data points or metrics (from basic to engagement metrics)

    A Product Manager needs to also chair various meetings with different stakeholders. Keep the following points in mind while doing so:

    • Be punctual in meetings
    • Discuss the agenda in the beginning
    • Follow up on the previous meetings’ initiatives
    • Share the Minutes of the Meeting (MOM) with the relevant members
    • Delegate responsibilities
    • Offer help to other team members for task-intensive initiatives

    Your emails need to address and reflect the following:

    • Knowing the audience
    • Written in a concise manner
    • Actionable items mentioned
    • Proofread before sending
    • Polite
    • Response (logical) and not a reaction (emotional)

     

  3. Negotiating

    Balancing the needs of the product with the schedules and priorities of different teams requires carefully honed negotiation skills. You also need to keep in mind that the success of the product is shared with all the team members, while you alone need to accept its failure. As a Product Manager, your first and foremost task is to understand the context of a given scenario. Because of this obligation, you might have to enter into many negotiations.

    You should keep the following aspects in mind while doing so:

    • Identify your BATNA, i.e. best alternative to the negotiated argument. Knowing your alternatives will help you in setting the tone of your negotiation.
    • Understand the other party’s perspective. Be vocal about the same to showcase a sense of empathy for their perspective.
    • Identify the other party’s alternatives. What else do they have on their plate? Knowing it beforehand can put you at an advantage.
    • Know the pricing trend and understand how to anchor the negotiation process depending on your alternatives and affordability.

    As a Product Manager, you will get lots of requirements, some of which will be out of the purview of the available resources. In this case, you may have no choice but to say no and push back these extraneous requirements. You must understand the following:

    • Be assertive but not impulsive while negotiating requirements
    • Understand the requirement. Analyse the scope and effort required by the requirements
    • Encourage an environment of transparency
    • Build a product backlog with clear prioritisation with respect to the impact
    • Share the product backlog widely so that everyone knows what the development team is working on acknowledge requests before deciding for or against them.

    As a Product Manager, stand by your own opinions but, at the same time, give credibility to other team members’ opinions. If need be, alter your opinions with the intent of enhancing the end result. It is good practice to have a set agenda before every discussion. Doing this will help align everyone’s inputs towards resolving the issues rather than proposing new alternatives.

  4. Pushing back requirements

    Developing a product means prioritising certain ideas and tasks above others ó this means saying no to a lot of good ideas that may not fit into your vision. You need to establish a framework to ensure that time and resources are spent on building a product that users actually want. So what do you need to do to push back? Learn to say no. And work on forming logical, consistent frameworks for building your product.

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Product Management Interviews

Write the perfect resume & crack the Product Management interview

Read Time : 17 Minutes

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Cracking the Product Management Interview

In this section, we will talk about all you need, as a Product Manager or an aspiring Product Manager, to make your CV or resume highly attractive and noticeable to get you through the first stage of the hiring process. We will highlight details such as the number of pages your resume should be, how to talk about your work experience, academic and other achievements as well as how you should structure these and the weightage to be given to each. In addition to this, you will learn about the best way to present your resume, and how to build a great resume before reaching out to potential employers.

Number of pages
  • Your resume should strictly be only one page long
Work experience
  • Mid to senior level: An ideal split for your resume would be 70-30 where 70% of the document would focus on your work experience and the rest would be your academic achievements and other activities. Elaborate only on your most recent jobs, focusing on the latest 3-4 positions.
  • Junior level: An ideal split would be 50-50, giving equal importance to your work experience and academic achievements and other activities.
  • Mention how you have improved a product or feature (if any). Try to quantify the final outcome as far as possible. You can update the same on your LinkedIn profile as well.
  • You could also share your relevant articles that have been featured by print or online publications (if any) or else posts on your Blog, LinkedIn or Medium accounts that you maintain.
  • Make sure the experience listed on your resume matches that on your LinkedIn profile as recruiters tend to crosscheck and look for mutual connections for reference checks.
  • While stating technical skills, try to incorporate them within your work experience.
  • List your experience in a chronological order, starting from your most recent experience.
  • Management skills: In case you have led a team, please highlight this point on your resume. Also, if the team size was small, you can bring that up as well.
  • If the company where you worked was small, it would make sense to include a one-liner about it.
  • You can also include a short two-line summary of the resume, at the top (not always necessary).
Presentation
  • Use bullet points
  • Keep the details crisp and concise; pointers should ideally be one-liners
  • Do a language/grammar check
  • Start with power verbs (e.g. instead of saying worked on’, say developed/created/designed’)
  • Use Bold or Italics for points you want to highlight but only focus on the important aspects without overdoing it
  • Mention the final outcome clearly and try to quantify the results to whatever extent possible

Cracking the Product Management Interview

In this section, we will cover everything you need to know to crack a Product Management interview.

  1. Here are some of the specific skills that employers are looking for in you, as a Product Manager:
    • Problem-solving, analytical – To gauge such type of skills, interviewers could ask questions such as, estimate the number of flights in the Indian airspace at 11 AM on any given day or, how many men in the country use male fairness creams? One approach to these types of questions could be splitting your TG (Target Group) by demographics (age) then affordability (4 creams used per person, per year and each cream costs say INR 100, and so on to arrive at the market size).
    • Leadership, communication and teamwork As a Product Manager, you should talk about examples from experience. It is tough to lead a team not directly reporting to you, it is also tough to gauge this skill from an interviewer’s point of view. Remember to be genuine during your interview. Research and connect with people working there already, prior to your interview, as this will not only give you an idea about the organisation and people (they are likely to check for a cultural fit anyway) but it also shows that you took initiative and made an effort.
    • Prioritisation Take a product (let’s say you are asked to assume that you are head of payments at Flipkart) you could be asked what would you do to optimise this function over the next 6 months? So, you would need to understand and then prioritise your actions with respect to the product and match impact on users with the difficulty in implementation.
    • Other things to consider Engineering or tech skills can be advantageous (but you don’t necessarily need to know how to code) and thus, should be mastered so you can speak the language of engineers and communicate with them effectively, and can contribute to their discussions. Google, for example, is an engineering-focused company, so as a Product Manager working at Google, you will be interacting with the world’s best engineers and should know what you’re talking about. Further, you should take initiative, be proactive and passionate.2. Post gauging such skills, Product Management interviews typically go the way of a case study or what is called as guesstimating.’ You would be asked to pick an app and improve it or build a new one and design it. It will probably be in an area or industry you are not particularly comfortable with, and not something intuitive like food tech. For example: Designing a navigation product for the blind, or even building a hardware product like a stool.
    • While doing this task, keep in mind a few things: clarify the context and objective of undertaking this task, why you are doing it, etc. List down the assumptions (for example this stool is being used for the office hence it might be for the canteen or meeting rooms and not for sitting on all day, or the app for the blind is for completely blind people and not for partially or night-blind people).
    • Think of big solutions. Rather, solutions that fundamentally alter the product in a positive way. For instance, reducing storage for Gmail accounts so as to increase inbox capacity would be a big solution as this is a major pain point for Google; as opposed to just changing fonts or design elements, unless these end up having a much larger impact on product usage.
Product Management Interview Guide

In response to the type of question highlighted in the previous section in a Product Management interview, the following are the steps you should follow in order to answer: Reiterate questions, list assumptions, build a user journey or a structure around assumptions, think from the company’s point of view, list product interventions, think about market competition, prioritise features for the MVP, define success of the product in quantitative metrics and highlight features you like or would like to improve the existing product.

Q1. How will you solve for X?

Step 1. Reiterate the question:

  • Always make sure you understand the question well.
  • Seek clarification while repeating the question, if required.
  • Do not start answering the question without reiterating it.
  • Understand what the objective of the question is. This will help you design a better solution.

Step 2. List down your assumptions:

  • Take some time if required and list down all the assumptions.
  • Consider the things you want to cover and what you want to exclude. Make sure you have logical reasons for the same. Make broad assumptions about the following:
    • Define the consumer or TG
    • Define the problem the product is trying to solve for the consumer/TG
    • ‘Has there been any validation/research on this product so far?’ Make sure to ask this question to the interviewer for his/her buy-in. As a Product Manager, you would have to ask different stakeholders their opinions and gather information from different sources. So, asking this question is essentially a perfect demonstration that you have this skill.
  • You may seek buy-in from the interviewer whether they agree or disagree with the assumptions.

Step 3. Build a user journey or a structure around the assumptions:

  • Before jumping straight to the result, list down the user journey or put a structure to the assumptions to solve the problem. Answer the following questions:
    • When and where will the consumer use the product?
    • What is the step-by-step process by which the consumer will use the product?
    • How frequently will the consumer use the product?
  • For each step, mention the pain point or the problem the user faces followed by the assumption you have defined.
  • Always think from the user’s or stakeholder’s perspective for whom you are building the product.

Step 4. Think from the company’s point of view:

  • How will the solution affect:
    • Marketing
    • Sales
    • Operations

Step 5. List down product interventions:

  • For each assumption, list down the product interventions.
  • List down the major functionalities based on when, where and how.
  • Identify how the features of the product will work.

Step 6. Think about the market competition:

  • Is there any competition in the market?
  • If yes, describe their product and rough market share.

Step 7. Prioritise features for the MVP:

  • From the list of features, identify which features you would want to prioritise and focus on for your minimum viable product.
  • The MVP would include major functionalities and require the least amount of effort.
  • If it is a hardware product, build a few prototypes (10-100) rather than building a whole stock.
  • Draw a rough, hand sketch of the MVP with pen and paper.

Step 8. Define the success of the product in quantitative metrics:

  • Identify metrics you would have to measure and analyse to track this feature/solution.

Sample questions for practice:

  • What banking apps have you used? How would you make a dashboard?
  • How would you build a product in Google Maps which shows a flyover and an underpass?
Q2. Features you like/would like to improve?

Step 1. Never jump to any feature right at the start:

  • Always start with user flow/pain points.
  • Your choice of the product or feature should be strategic. Whichever product/feature you talk about, you should be able to think along the following lines:
    • Usability (ease of use)
    • Pain points
    • User interface
  • You should be able to support your answer with instances from the above aspects. Simply stating your choice without backing it up with examples will not be received well by the interviewer.
  • Go for the one which you use the most (not necessarily the one you like the most), as being an expert user of the product will help you answer this question successfully.

Step 2.

Follow these steps:

  • Reiterate the question if required.
  • Lay out the user journey or the structure.
    • List down the pain points users face at each step, if any
  • Identify the features after laying down the structure. Map the features/product interventions to the pain points faced by the user.
  • Rank/prioritise the features.
    • Split them between hygiene and good-to-have features.
    • Identify the best ones or the ones you would like to work on.

Step 3. Elaborate on the feature you like or you would like to improve. Remember, any feature would broadly solve the following problems:

  • Increase revenue
  • Reduce cost
  • Enhance customer experience

Sample questions for practice:

  • Name the products you like and use. What are the top four features of a product you like? What are four features you want to change in that product?
  • Have you downloaded the Axis Bank app before? What features did you like/dislike?
  • With the country pushing towards a cashless economy, what features should the banking apps now include?
  • What are your two favourite apps and what are some improvements you would like to add to them?
  • Name four features you would change in a banking app.
  • Which is your favourite app for online shopping? Why do you like it? Which feature would you like to add to it?
  • If you could suggest an improvement in the Amazon and BookMyShow app, what would that be?
  • Name one feature you would like to add and delete from Instagram?
  • What do you think Servify is doing and what new features would you add in the product?
  • Which is your favourite product? Why do you like it?
  • Which is your favourite product and why?
  • Which feature would you like to change, why and how?
  • How would you introduce a new feature in Swiggy? What would it be?
Q3. Tell me a situation where you did/faced X?

For this type of question, use the

CAR Framework :

Step 1. Set the Context and why it was serious:

  • For example: We were about to launch a product and realised that the user journey was broken, and hence we couldn’t launch within that flow.

Step 2. Highlight the Action you took:

  • Took the initiative to highlight this to the team leader
  • Worked overnight
  • Got the team together
  • Took the lead

Step 3. Mention the Results:

  • We launched and got good results
  • High NPS

Sample questions for practice:

  • Share your past experience (follow-up questions):

Use this question as an opportunity to highlight how you’ve overcome professional challenges in the past with a good example.

Q4. Guesstimates

Step 1. Don’t jump straight to the answer:

  • Reiterate the question.

Step 2. Lay out the framework/structure. Guesstimates are more about how you structure your solution than how accurately you answer it. This includes two steps:

  • Classification of the problem: How would you tackle this Guesstimate?
    • Personal
    • Household
    • Community
  • Segmentation
    • Education
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Rural/Urban
    • Location
    • Time of the day
    • Day of the week

Step 3. List down your assumptions/estimations. Here, you can use either of the following two approaches:

  • Top-down
  • Bottom-up

Sample questions for practice:

  • How many gyms are there in the US?
  • How much does India spend on petrol each year?
  • How long would it take to fill a bathtub using a drinking straw?
  • How many firefighters are there in India?
  • How many rugby balls can fit into a one-bedroom house?
  • How much does a train weigh?
Q5. Why do you want to join this company or role?

Step 1. Talk about the role for which you are interviewing. Include the following points:

  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Freedom
  • Applying previous learning
  • Solving the pain points of users

Step 2. Talk about the company at which you’re interviewing. Include these points:

  • Impact/Scale
  • Sector
  • Culture
  • Brand
  • Stage of the company
  • Exciting initiatives
  • Team
  • Investors

Sample questions for further practice:

  • What do you understand from the role?
  • Why are you leaving your current organisation?
Q6. Tell me about yourself

Step 1. Outline your career:

  • Build a story.
  • Connect each step in your career to what you did previously.
  • Describe each role and what your biggest takeaway from it was.
  • Explain how each takeaway helped you move along roles

Step 2. Take this opportunity to talk about your passion:

  • List your personal interests.

Step 3. Explain why you chose the program you did to advance your career (in cases of formal qualifications or any certifications/degrees etc):

  • Structured learning
  • Great peers
  • Learning that I can apply
  • Get my product management skills more fine-tuned

Sample questions for further practice:

  • What were your past roles? What previous responsibilities will help you in this role?
  • Share your past experience.
  • Do you have any prior experience in e-commerce?

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Product Management Career Paths

Find your interest areas within Product Management & plan next steps

Read Time : 17 Minutes

What to expect from this article

Types of Product Managers

Career Path of a Product Manager

Types of Product Managers

Product managers can be divided into different groups based on their skills and specialisations – the type of product they work on (B2B vs B2C, early, mature), or even at a higher level (whether they are builders, tuners and innovators). If you are an aspiring Product Manager or have just started your career as one, you must be extremely confused about what is expected of you, which areas you should dive into and what are the things you should hone or work on. So, let us make it simple for you. A product manager is generally expected to work at the intersection of business, UX and technology. Based on such a generic description, every Product Manager seems to have the same set of skills. So how do we classify them? We are going to classify some Product Managers (going by some of the greatest ones of our times – as inspiration), based on what they bring to the table, a.k.a. their unique strengths. Depending on what your current skill-sets are, you can choose who you want to be like, or aspire to be, and build some awesome things as a product manager.

1. The Tech Product Manager

I know my rocket inside out and backward. I can tell you the heat treating temper of the skin material, where it changes, why we chose that material, the welding technique… down to the gnat’s ass.

– Elon Musk

Musk is a product guy who has been a techie’ throughout his life. He is the Chief Technology Officer at SpaceX, a company that he founded to take on multi-planetary existence of the human species. Marissa Mayer falls into this category as well.

  • Pitfalls/Traps: These Product Managers try to solve engineering problems, which they are pretty good with. However, this means they can end up working as an engineering manager on the team, rather than a product manager. If this is the type of role you see best fit for you, you should focus on defining WHY you are building something, and WHAT you are building. You should leave the ‘HOW to build it’ to engineers.
  • Advantage 1: These Product Managers work pretty well with engineers and it takes them no time to gain their trust and respect.
  • Advantage 2: They can think through technical products (AWS, recommendation engines) pretty easily. Google/Amazon hire a lot of engineer-turned-product managers.
  • What you should focus on next?: Building a good business sense and user empathy to see the big picture, and defining what products to build. Also, though not true for most, some may struggle with communication skills to get along with cross-functional teams.
2. The Designer Product Manager

Steve Jobs made this category very appealing, didn’t he? Most people remember Steve as the guy who revolutionized six industries. Few people focus on the common thread that runs between those six industries – animated movies, digital publishing, music, personal computers, phones, computing tablets. Steve was the guy who could strongly sense the future needs of consumers and focused (with almost a crazy precision) on design and aesthetics in all these products. Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO at AirBnB, and Joe Gebbia (CPO, AirBnB) are other examples of designer Product Managers.

  • Challenge: Many coders idolize Steve Wozniak over Steve Jobs because Jobs didn’t write a single line of code. This would be a problem when you are starting as a Product Manager because you haven’t been anywhere near the engineering as a designer. Their method of working is quite different from yours. So, it becomes harder for both to work together. Same goes for this type of Product Manager working with other teams, like sales and operations.
  • Advantage: You understand what a good product looks like. You empathize fairly well with the users of the product and understand the difference between stated preference and revealed preference. All these qualities help you make and design much needed, beautiful products.
  • What you should focus on: Building a business sense is pretty important as this will help you prioritize things. As a designer, you get pretty good at recognizing flaws in a product. Prioritization will help you define what to focus on.
  • Where you should go: Instagram/Facebook/Apple/Tesla would love you.
3. The Business Product Manager

Ever saw that fast-talking MBA kid who seems pretty well versed with terminologies of business, operations and finance? Probably starting off with liberal arts, engineering or economics major and going on to learn elements of business by either doing an MBA or some such. Some people in this category actually learn about business fundamentals by working with/for a fast-growing startup, as well. They are pretty good at communicating with, and understanding, people around them. Ken Norton falls in this category.

  • Pitfalls: Not understanding technology/design very well can lead to conflicts, and it takes hard work to build credibility with designers and coders.
  • Advantage: These are good thinkers and are able to paint and see the big picture to lead teams.
  • What you should focus on: You have a lot of things to do. Start by understanding how tech works and evolves over time. Develop rigour and an eye for detail. You don’t see many of these in product manager roles unless they get an MBA.
4. The Data Product Manager

This one is an important one as most believe it is a future role. With the advent of gaming apps, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the role of a data Product Manager is also emerging. These Product Managers work on data products such as recommendation products, personalization, etc. They are pretty good at reading and finding patterns in data and since data is the key to decision-making in most meetings these days, they gain influence within many teams, over time. You don’t see many Product Managers right now in this category. Sebastian Thrun, who led the integration of big data into robotics, falls in this category. He is the founder of the leading ed-tech startup Udacity. Netflix, Amazon and Google are companies driven by data algorithms and personalization, and they would love this kind of a Product Manager.

  • Pitfalls: Focusing on data too much leads to losing sight of the big picture sometimes.
  • Advantage: Being equipped with good analytical abilities can help you understand business, sales, and product equally well.
  • What you should focus on: A good idea of user research will help you understand why’. Clubbing research and quantitative data can work wonders. You should also focus on understanding design elements well so that you can tell a good design from a bad one.
5. The Growth Product Manager

Every organization has its own set of growth problems. Some find it hard to generate demand (e-commerce, content) at low cost, others find it difficult to meet supply once they have generated demand (Uber). Growth Product Managers work to solve these problems. This is a rather undefined role and varies a great deal from one organisation to another. These Product Managers are generally very strong with data and communication. Further, business acumen helps them prioritize and solve the most important problems first. Chamath Palihipitiya, Head of Growth at Facebook, helped Facebook become the first social network to cross the 500 million user mark and reach more than a billion users.

  • Pitfalls: Focusing too much on metrics leads to losing sight of the big picture here too. There are a lot of ideas you come up with while solving the growth problem for any organization, and the lack of quick experimentation and right prioritization framework can lead to low impact work.
  • Advantage: A well-defined growth problem gives you the kick to hustle and make a difference. Clear metrics can help you move in the right direction.
  • What you should focus: User research and psychology. This can help you most when taking the decision of what to build and why.

Summing up, let’s list down some of the key and desirable traits of a PM. It looks like you will need the following traits to become a great PM:

  1. A good understanding of how tech works
  2. Project management
  3. Business sense
  4. UI/UX
  5. User empathy and research
  6. People skills
  7. Data/Analytics

The best Product Managers out there understand and work where the interaction of business, design, data and tech happens. Project management and people skills are the most important aspects to be a good Product Manager, since you are working with a lot of people, at any given point of time. That said, you don’t need to be well versed with everything when you are just starting off. So, if you were confused at the beginning of this post, hopefully, I have managed to diminish some of that confusion and some of you may even have figured out which role to aim for, depending on what your current strengths are. If you are an analyst/data scientist, you can learn elements of design and user research to move to a Data Product Manager role. If you are a techie’, a tech Product Manager role would be easiest to mould yourself into. The same follows for a designer and a business person. Marketers tend to like the growth Product Manager role a lot.

Career Path of a Product Manager

While the path of a Product Manager may depend on the type of organisations or industries his/her career spans, the typical career path of a Product Manager looks somewhat like this:

  • Associate or Junior Product Manager (1-2 years’ experience)
  • Product Manager (accountable for an entire product in this role)
  • Senior Product Manager
  • AVP Product
  • VP Product
  • Senior VP Product
  • Chief Product Officer
  • Some Product Managers, after this stage, could also move on to becoming CEOs of tech-focused companies.

Broadly dividing this career path into junior level roles and senior level roles of Product Managers, we can delineate their responsibilities. The responsibilities of a Product Manager at a junior level are as follows:

  1. Understand and oversee the product development process
  2. Register/write user requirements
  3. Lead a sprint planning meeting
  4. Participate in the decision-making process

The responsibility of a Product Manager at a junior level can be compared to a three-legged stool, with each leg representing a particular aspect of product development. First leg ó schedule, second leg ó cost and the third leg ó scope. While assessing the above-mentioned parameters, one should keep the following aspects in mind:

  1. Changing the schedule will impact the business’ projections and you might lose the competitive advantages you had. This would, in turn, impact the market share projections.
  2. Disbursal of additional funds can be done for outsourcing work or for expanding the workforce or reorganising resource allocations. But this might push you towards the upper limit of the budget allocated.
  3. The last option you have is altering the scope of the product by prioritising features and staggering releases. Most Product Managers choose this option as it helps them to reach out to the market as quickly as possible and opens the option of incorporating customer feedback in subsequent versions.

As a senior PM, you will be largely responsible for the following:

  1. Direct involvement with various functional groups like finance, marketing, legal, etc.
  2. Allocating resources, including budgeting/funding, for the product
  3. P&L-related responsibilities
  4. Outlining legal terms and conditions:
    • To minimise corporate risk
    • For legal documents
  5. Overseeing operations and devising strategies to optimise supply chain

A senior PM is responsible for outlining the overall vision, strategy and product goals. Vision: An interesting case happened in the 1990’s with Microsoft ñ once the company had achieved its product vision of having a PC in every home – it reported a high churn rate at its senior executive level. It was later found that the senior level executives at Microsoft were not feeling challenged enough and this resulted in them leaving the company. The key takeaway from this example is that the vision should be the following:

  1. Bold
  2. Abstract
  3. Has potential of new ventures

Amazon strives to be the world’s most customer-centric company. This vision has allowed Amazon to innovate in various areas outside retail; from drones to cloud computing. Another example is that of Reliance Jio. Reliance made an investment of 4,800 crores in 2010 with the intent of launching a telecom company. Their vision was to empower a billion Indians to be more productive and creative.’ Thus, Reliance Jio has taken multiple initiatives to meet this vision. The key takeaway from the above examples is that the vision of a company must be clear enough, to begin with, but at the same time, it should be broad enough so that a culture of innovation can be cultivated in the process.

Strategy: The strategy for realising a product vision must be based on parameters that are consistent in the long run, because if the predefined parameters change, then the whole strategy and planning exercise has to be repeated all over again. For example, Amazon has been focusing on three aspects when it comes to forming a strategy ó selection, value, convenience ó and has taken substantial initiatives in that direction.

Goals: Having a well-defined goal enables a company to gain market share. For example, Amazon retail’s goal is to provide customers with an online marketplace where they will be able to find, select and buy every possible commodity. It even reflects in their logo, notice how the arrow points from A to Z. A goal has to be SMART:

  • S: Specific
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Achievable
  • R: Result-oriented
  • T: Time-bound
What Product Managers Should Expect in a Startup vs a Large Company

What comes to mind when you think of a Product Manager during his typical day at work? Meetings at length with engineers and designers, passionately debating product design and plans? Prioritising backlog items for a roadmap? End-of-sprint demos to review the latest version? And proudly weaving green-light for release? While, in essence, Product Managers in all organizations assume the obligations of bona fide product management, their real job varies with the size and type of organisation they work for. We’re talking about Product Managers in true startups (with a company size of no more than 20-30) against those working at established firms. While neither is strictly better or worse than the other, they have their similarities and differences. Here, we list down some of these you should know before taking the plunge into Product Management and deciding which structure works better for you:

1. Let’s start with processes

At startups, like all other areas or functions, Product Managers too, operate in chaos. They are constantly trying to keep up with the fast-changing landscape, which leaves little room for perfection, detailing, approvals or even hierarchy. Anyone who can get the job done is well-received. The main motive here is to get the product out in the market and ensure it’s loved by the users. Large organisations, on the other hand, have all their processes – like agile, stories and Product Requirements Document (PRD) – well-set & documented. These also include having to negotiate with different teams to share resources, present business cases and compete with them in order to get budget approvals/funding for new ventures.

2. Team structures also vary

With a startup simply not having enough time, money, or people, to be able to invest in research or data-gathering, their teams usually comprise of well-rounded jacks of all trades. These are product managers, project managers as well as scrum masters (and even marketing managers), all rolled into one. There might, however, be one specific Product Manager for a product team of a size of anywhere between 10 to 50. As a result, Product Managers at startups end up leading with trial and error, as far as a majority of their work is concerned. In larger organizations, individual Product Managers are responsible for a small section of the product, depending on the hierarchy. There may be separate product teams for developing each section of the product. All in all, with their focus on sustainability of the product, they operate with an eye towards the longer-term, develop robust internship and on-boarding programs and have better-mentoring structures in place. While access to senior Product Managers and therefore mentoring, maybe a positive where large organisations are concerned, it is worthwhile to note that this will only have a beneficial effect on you as a Product Manager if the team is good. So, make sure you research the team before joining.

3. What’s the Real Job?

Startups are continuously trying to figure out the product-market fit and the vision for the product, problem/s that the product is trying to solve, etc. In short, they are tip-toeing around the product, iterating, getting feedback and changing strategy constantly. Hence, for Product Managers at startups, prioritization is the real job – having to ship features faster through MVPs or as experiments. There’s usually no time for detailing and achieving perfection. Plus, the scale of impact they have initially is small. Large organisations, which have already hit the bar of asking themselves have we made something valuable,’ only need to sustain and bring that value to team members. Responsibilities are vastly and definitively segregated between team members; hence the entire product is not dependent on how an individual performs. While this may mean that one is not solely responsible for the ROI of the entire product, this also implies that the sense of ownership could be diluted, since you are a small fish in a big pond. However, the scale of impact experienced while working at such organisations may be much larger.

Difference between Product Managers in B2B and B2C companies

Most Product Managers are recommended to start their career as generalists, so as to get a fair exposure to different types of users/problems and various product solutions, across industries. Thereon, when they steadily move towards being an expert in an industry or a function, Product Managers usually must choose between working for a Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C) company. What’s the difference between product management at a B2C company vs a B2B company? We list down 3 major differences:

Product Requirements

The user of a B2C product is defined. Whereas, for a B2B product, the user is different from the customer. Thus, in B2B companies, the product requirements are more driven by client’s needs and a B2B Product Manager has to adopt the business mindset of the client and then build relevant features. A B2C Product Manager needs to develop the product keeping in mind the short cycle of the product and giving emphasis to user experience, the usability of the product, and user retention. He/she can test and analyse the features as a user and draw relevant insights.

Focus Areas

A B2B Product Manager will need to gain domain knowledge and technical know-how to understand the aspects of product development. Additionally, he/she also needs to understand the data component and use it to demonstrate value addition to the upper management of the company where the client works. A B2C Product Manager can get to know customers well enough with usability testing/behavioural science, aided by some analytics, while working on the product with this perspective. He/she needs to focus more on the features and understand the UI/UX capabilities from the user’s perspective.

Team & Responsibilities

A Product Manager in a B2B role has to oversee the value addition to the client whereas, in a B2C role, the Product Manager has to oversee and evaluate the product’s features, and build upon them, if required. In a B2B company, the number of Product Managers is lesser in comparison to a B2C company. In addition, Product Managers in a B2B company can expect to stay in the role for a longer duration, as compared to Product Managers in a B2C company. Due to this, a PM in a B2B company gets more experience and becomes entitled as the owner of the product over the course of time. A PM in a B2B role gets a say in hiring product managers for new products while also overseeing these new products over their lifecycles.

A more common question Product Managers have is regarding transitioning from one to the other

In a transition interview, a Product Manager must convince the interviewers about being ready to make that shift in environment. As most users for B2B products are outside India, the product manager needs to arrange voice/video calls or visit the customer’s location to identify core issues, after which he/she needs to iterate the product with the tech team, with a view to achieving value addition to the:

  1. Company
  2. Client
  3. Users

Generally, the performance of a product manager is measured in terms of the following:

  1. Value addition to the product
  2. Number of clients who buy the product
  3. Gauging the market’s potential
  4. The product’s positioning in the market
  5. The monetary gains
  6. Increasing the product’s usability

Transitioning to a new domain and understanding the processes involved would entail approximately a one-year learning curve. This includes acquiring new domain knowledge, understanding a new market, getting acquainted with new processes, and analysing the various key aspects involved in a product’s build cycle.

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