How to get the experience you need to become a product manager
The Catch 22 of Product Management
The most common reason for aspiring Product Mangers to get turned down is: “We’re looking for someone with (more) PM experience”.
In this post I’ll share some things you can do to gain Product Management experience and increase your chances of scoring your first PM position whether from internal promotion, or as a PM in a different company.
I must say, that the path of least resistance to get your first Product Management position is by getting promoted internally, but a) That’s not always an option, and b) This post will still help increase the chances of this happening.
The Catch 22 of Product Management
No one will hire you as a Product Manager, unless you have Product Management experience.
Wait what?! How am I supposed to get PM experience if I’m not a PM?!
Untangling this Catch 22
Notice I wrote “…unless you have PM experience.”, not that you worked as PM! Below I’ll suggest a few things you can do in your current position (or lack of position) to gain and practice some Product Management experience.
How to gain PM experience for non-PM?
Start thinking and acting like a Product Manager, mainly produce artifacts that make you think about the problem at hand, map it and formulate a logical hypothesis how to change/solve the situation: “If we’ll do X, Y will happen. Here’s the reason I think so…”.
DON’T jump to a solution, invest your time in understanding the problem! Map it from different angles.
Once you have a solution, write and present it as a specification document. a) Your boss (or the person you presenting this to) MIGHT be impressed with you how you approach situations. b) Experience points gained. c) Your idea will still be rejected (99.9%), for now don’t worry about this.
Use different models to analyze a situation. Back your opinions with data (quantitate and qualitative).
Basically start producing “PM artifacts”. They probably won’t be great at first, but over time your understanding of how/when to use the different “tools” will grow, besides giving you the “magical Product Management experience”, you’ll also be able to show/tell in your CV and Interviews how you applied product thinking to a situation.
But most important you’ll become a better problem solver!
Super Basic Product Management process
High level steps you can follow to get started.
- Define the problem — What’s the problem you’re solving? Why is it worth solving?
- Define the market — Who are you solving this problem for?
- What are the 3 most important factors in solving this problem? Based on what are you claiming that?! Who died and made you Steve Jobs? You will be challenged, prepare!
- How will you measure your progress towards solving the problem?
- Present a SIMPLE solution. For the sake of simplicity: Simple = Less than 2 days of work. Keep the “cost” low.
- You’ll get rejected. Guaranteed! Embrace it!
- Understand why/what are the reasons you were rejected.
- Revise your steps. Make your solution even better.
- Repeat, but know when to give up! Not every problem/idea is a hill worth dying on…
Do this over and over, and you’ll see you get better, and at some point one of your ideas might even be implemented! 🤩 But your skills will get better, for sure!
How do I know I’m right?
I don’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume the super-basic Product Management process I suggested above is 100% horse shit.
Read, research, learn, find a better one that applies to your situation, and use it to break down the problem you’re trying to solve. Even better!
This isn’t a silver bullet, they are other things that go into being a PM, and finding your first PM position, but this is something you can take control of to practice you PM skills, and that will up your game no matter the outcome.
You can read a bit more in my post about the basics of Product Management.
Hope these tips help you! Please share the greatest barriers you’ve encountered so far in your journey to becoming a Product Manager.