Engineers largely get into the job without any exposure to sales, operations or financial aspects of the business. In contrast, the role of product manager has its roots in marketing function. The switch in role from engineer to product manager is more of a shift in mindset, something that looks easy on face value but is tremendously difficult to achieve. Given an opportunity, it is wise to get some field experience prior to getting into the routine activities of the product manager. Here are few steps that I suggest that will such aspirants become a better product manager or step into the role of a product manager.
Business model: First step is the purpose of existence of any business. What is that is making me money? why are they paying choosing us, buying from and paying us? This brings in a major change in an individuals mindset specifically when he / she is moving from technology to a product management role. Look at your product from a buyer’s point of view rather than an engineer’s point of view, trust me, square looks quite circular when you bring in this change in angle.
Standards: Compliance, rules and regulations are very important. They govern the way business work, products are developed and services are delivered. Feel lucky if you don’t have any such guidance but if you have better master them as they are most important while writing specs or negotiating with customers.
Operations: Knowing about operations is as important as knowing the various practices of the religion one follows. What is to be and how is it to be done and why is to be done. Products developed by software are tested in lab under controlled environment, whereas on most occasions these products are deployed and used in hostile environment with lots of unknowns. Learn about operations as it helps in knowing what can be committed and what not, what should be on road-map and what not, and lastly how to develop and how not to.
Competition: Who else is there and how different are they? What is that they do better and what is it that are not doing good. What could have been done better while developing the product and are pitfalls that should be avoided. Competition helps us understand a larger picture of the product / domain we are in. It helps us understand the taste of customers in various market segments.
Customer exposure: Success of a product is measured by the Customer adaptation of the product. It is very important for a product manager to understand what their prospects and existing customers are expecting out of their product. A first hand customer experience is always preferred as often customer requirements gets diluted as they traverse down to product owners. Learning customer behavior, preferences, challenges and ecosystem helps product owner’s in authoring customer friendly specification and in taking right decisions in the course of the product development.