Transition to a Product Role with ZERO experience — Part 1

When I decided that I wanted to become a Product Manager, I had no roadmap. I had never worked in Product and I had no idea where to start. 14 months after, I had 4 competitive job offers and transitioned to an Associate Product Manager role. Here, in this mini-series, I will be giving insights on how you can transition to a Product Role with zero experience in 3 parts.

Photo by Gia Oris on Unsplash

The role of being a Product Manager is the most talked about in today’s tech industry. Glassdoor puts a product manager position as the 4th best job in the United States for 2020. The job portal currently has about 12,173 product manager listings.

I got first introduced to product management back at the end of 2018 in Toronto. Just the term but I was still juggling between some life decisions and was waiting for things to become stable. As a child, I never dreamt of being a product manager. Even after spending $70K on my bachelor's degree back home in Canada, I was not sure as to what I want to do once I graduated. I was lucky, that right after I finished my degree, I joined a startup as a QA Analyst which opened my eyes, and I must say it was love at first sight when I got introduced to product management.

In this post, I want to summarize my learnings over the last two years, share my journey, and how I transitioned successfully to a Product Manager role.

Start with a conversation

You are currently working in your role at your company. You have had the chance to sync with your product managers or senior product leaders in your company and have got a sense of how they do things, what decisions they make and how their role helps to meet the goals of the product and company as a whole. I was in a similar environment working in the startup, where seeing how product managers provided value to the team really got me going and triggered me to find out what is product management.

So what is a Product Manager?

Though I never planned to become a PM, I now couldn’t imagine having any other role within an org. Sounds crazy right!? Before I went further with this excitement, I asked myself, is this role right for me? Something I advise you to do as well.

Business Management — Pinterest

A good Product Manager must be experiened in atleast one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all — Martin Eriksson, Co-founder at Mind the Product

Product managers generally lead and work across teams to get their products designed, built, and launched.

So if I had to break it down, I would list the following

  • Solving business-critical problems that move the needle 🕛
  • Defining Product Strategy 😎
  • Driving business growth 📈
  • Engaging with customer and partners 🤼
  • Collaborating with a variety of people dev, biz, ops you name it 😀
  • Reviewing metrics 🔢
  • Leading a team (through influence, not authority) 👀
  • Planing and maintaining the product roadmap 🌱
  • Researching market and competition 💹
  • Being organized, detail-oriented, and prepared 🧭

The list still goes on, but this helped me to start a conversation with the various product people that I was working with and see how I can help them and get more involved with a few tasks.

There are core competencies that every PM must have — many of which can start in the classroom — but most are developed with experience, good role models, and mentoring.

Now that you have started a conversation, you have researched about what a product manager does, what product management is, how has it evolved over the years, and written some notes down in your sticky notes. The next step is, to start somewhere.

Quick wins and reading some books

As I was working as a QA Analyst, we put together a plan to start me on small tasks to get me started. I started to be part of customer interviews, assessing feedback from internal and external stakeholders, carrying out usability testing, doing weekly workshops to align the sales team, writing release notes just to name a few.

This helped me to widen my current role and engage better with product people, and asking the right questions at the right time.

Product Management Books

I started with some books to also get some perspective and learnings

  • Crossing the Chasm — Geoffrey Moore
  • The Mom Test — Rob Fitzpatrick
  • The Lean Startup — Eric Ries
  • Zero to One — Peter Thiel

So start small and aim for some quick wins, which get you comfortable with the new tasks. Usually, your manager or product people would see how much time and effort you’re putting in to help create Value around the problem they are trying to solve.

There is so much information out there on how to become a product manager. Books, articles, blogs, courses, etc. Do not be overwhelmed. Start with some recommendations from your product manager at the company you are part of.

Don’t be afraid

Now you have started. You are doing some tasks and reading a couple of books, articles on product management. Now to start moving ahead, I was recommending people breaking in product management, to look outside of their company, in their network, friend circle, for communities, product people to engage with.

Product talks are always good and nourishing. These talks provide a platform for starters like us to learn from product leaders who share anecdotes, learnings, wisdom from their years of experiences.

As I was living in Toronto, Canada I had the chance to join the Product Tank Toronto. Coincidently the product manager at the startup I was working at, was the Co-organizer of the community and invited me to the event, to get to the part of the talk and meet product people from the Toronto region which definitely helped to create a good network in my local ecosystem.

So don’t be afraid!!

Go out there and use the resources. I always tell aspiring PMs to be shameless, ask questions, reach out to people to ask questions, join a community, try building a relationship with the community people.

This was pretty much the first 6 months that set me for the journey to come. There is no perfect way to put it or plan on how you become a product manager. What I realized in starting is to use all the resources around me including people, books, my current role, community, friends to move in a direction that I know, will generate value for myself and help me get started on my path to becoming a product manager.

I hope this 1 part lays out the groundwork for you. Again, I am writing this from my own experience, and you can do even better, by optimizing the things I explained and moving forward in your own journey.

But now that you are here and you have started on your path to becoming an awesome PM, let me tell you, this journey will be exciting. It will require effort and hard work, which will pay off in the long run. You will learn along the way what things work for you and whatnot, but that’s the beauty of it, you get to experiment and these learnings will help you grow.

In part 2 of this series, I will be going through some key things I did, to create value for myself that caught the eye of product people in my company, community, recruiters and propelled me to take the next step in my journey. Till then, take care and happy learning! :)

I am a product enthusiast working as a Product Manager. I have a brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.