Product management: The new era between past and future

What does it take to build a career in product management?

Product management as a profession isn’t anything new. The concept of the product manager dates back to the 1930s when Neil McElroy from Proctor & Gamble wrote a memo that created the idea. So why is the product manager role such a hot career right now and what path should you follow if you would like to forge a career as a product manager?

In our recent webinar, we spoke to Ahmed El-Sharkasy, Founder and CEO of Knowledge Officer about what a product manager does and some of the common misconceptions.

“A product manager is the executive chef of the product,” El-Sharkasy says. “They don’t own the restaurant, they’re not the CEO of the company, they don’t cook the food themselves, they have a team to do this. Their role is to help their team and the company to ship the right product to the right customer.

“You don’t give orders. You influence people to do what you believe is right. You own the why and the what and work through the hands of your team.”

To be able to achieve this requires a specific kind of person, and El-Sharkasy explains that for those people looking to get into the field they need to apply the same framework that they would when considering almost any career. “The first is passion. What do you stay awake at night thinking about? The second is opportunity. Is there a demand for the career you want to pursue? The third is capability. Can you do the job? If product management ticks all those boxes, then you’re on the right track.”

What makes a good product manager?

Focus on the what and the why

“All too often product managers let themselves get bogged down by the small details, the how and the when effectively turning themselves into project managers. You shouldn’t be trying to master project management, but rather remind teams of their goal and the value of the work they’re doing.”

Define your job

El-Sharkasy comments that many times the role of the product manager isn’t well defined within the organization and so it becomes difficult for product managers to measure their success. “You’re not going to be told what to do. You need to focus on building products that customers love, making them your biggest advocates, not spend days putting out fires.”

Focus on revenue, on customers

“You shouldn’t be focusing solely on working behind the scenes to build the product. Rather than focusing on how many features you can develop the product manager should be looking at the ultimate roadmap and deciding which features are in the best interests of the company and the customer.”

Common misconceptions about product managers

Product managers must have technical backgrounds

“While some product managers do have a technical background this is a misconception that’s been around for years. Many companies only hire product managers with a business background, just as there are companies that require a technical background. You don’t need to learn coding to get a job in this field. It’s not a must-have, it depends on the company and the role.”

The product manager is a senior position

He comments that some people believe that you can’t take on a product manager role within the first two or three years of your career. “You have to remember that product management is about leadership and in larger companies, there are hierarchies of product managers. You can start as a product manager in a junior role and then work your way up to higher positions.“

Product managers are a technical or business position

“These roles can be either technical or business-focused,” he says. “The role started as a position providing a 360-degree view of the business, but it shifted over time more towards the development side. But the reality is you can do both.”

Companies will only hire experienced product managers

He comments that it’s largely a myth that companies will only hire experienced product managers. “A lot of companies nowadays are looking for fresh product managers almost straight out of college. It is still a struggle to get that first product management role, but once you’ve landed that first role it becomes significantly easier. It’s less about having five to ten years’ experience and more about having some experience that makes the difference.”

What does the future hold?

Consumers are increasingly aware of what constitutes a quality product, and this is driving demand for product managers. El Sharkasy says that over the past two years there’s been a 30% increase in demand for product managers.

Product managers are often available as remote positions, driving the trend toward distributed teams. “This echoes what Andela’s doing as they’ve seen companies in the UK are very comfortable working with a product manager in Kenya if they have the right skills.”

In addition, product managers are becoming increasingly specialized, according to El Sharkasy. A deep understanding of a specific market like FinTech or Healthcare is becoming more important when fulfilling the product manager role.

“We’re also seeing the rise of ProductOps,” he says. “Similar to DevOps, ProductOps are responsible for the tools and the processes needed to enable product teams. People can connect teams across the organization and build processes that can manage the increasing complexity.”

“Knowledge Officer has been created to enable people to build their careers in this space” he concludes. “We’re helping thousands of people around the world navigate this career switch, helping them find the shortest path to employment within the dream roles. And helping companies grow and retain in-demand skills, and product management is one of our focuses.”

You can catch up with our webinar, ‘Product Management: The new era between past and future’, here.

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