Are you considering a career in Product Management, but feeling lost as to how you’re supposed to gauge whether or not the role would be a good fit for you?
Several people have asked me for advice on the topic, so before you jump into taking a pricey Product Management course — and for everyone who may not have a “PM friend of a friend” to ask for advice — here’s a list of 30 questions to ask yourself first. Answer them as honestly as possible, and by the end, you should have a much better idea as to whether or not you’d be a good fit for a role in Product Management.
In a ‘former life’, were you:
1. That kid who did whatever it took to help your group finish a school project and get an A?
Product Managers have to do whatever it takes to build and ship the best products, even if it means getting your hands dirty sometimes and doing ‘nothing more’ than organizing a ton of meetings for the right people and taking all the notes, or using task management software that isn’t your preferred choice if engineering happens to find value in it.
2. That kid who did whatever it took to help your group finish a school project, get an A, then shined the credit and spotlight on the group (vs. yourself)?
Product Managers should naturally want to give credit to others. Taking full credit for other people’s work, and sometimes even what feels like your own work, won’t fly.
3. That kid who wanted to try everything, and probably did at least 8 different extracurricular activities after-school in a given week?
Product Managers should be naturally curious people, who — as a result of having tried many different things — are “jack of all trades” types. This doesn’t preclude excellence in one or two things, but tunnel vision and a narrow interest set are antithetical to great PMs.
4. That kid who got along well with many different social groups?
Product Managers have to get along with engineers, designers, salespeople, happy customers, angry customers, and the CEO — to name a few. Hopefully you weren’t that kid in school who thought you and your 3 friends were the only people who mattered, and made fun of everyone else.
5. That kid who liked pretty much any subject in school, because learning and challenges were fun in and of themselves?
Product Managers thrive on problems that are challenging to solve. If you hated AP US History or Math because “it was just so hard and I HATE ‘hard’!” then this might not be the right job for you.
6. That kid who wasn’t afraid to talk about feelings, and encouraged your friends to also talk about feelings?
Product Managers aren’t therapists per se, but sometimes customers will have very strong feelings about your product. You shouldn’t want to run away from feelings.
7. That kid who actually listened to your friends when they talked about feelings?
When customers are sharing their very strong feelings, Product Managers need to really, really listen. When any coworker is sharing his or her feelings about the process, product, or anything else — PMs need to genuinely listen and make them feel heard.
Today, do you like to:
As THE central source of communication, you will be a ton (taking notes in meetings, cleaning up and distributing those notes to your team, email updates for individual teams as well as the whole company, product specs/project briefs, user stories, etc). You cannot dislike writing or even be a slow writer. It’s your job to keep things moving, so sitting on email drafts for 3 days at a time definitely won’t work.
Many decisions will be left up to “your recommendation”, from which API to use to accomplish x task to which smaller service you suggest acquiring because it will be better in the long run than trying to build y feature yourselves. So you best be doing diligence and research before making those recommendations.
10. Keep up with the ‘latest and greatest’?
Back to that natural curiosity, PMs should be naturally curious about and interested in staying on top of the latest developments both in and out of their domain. If the thought of reading yet another TechCrunch article about a new messaging app sounds torturous, or you’ve never heard of Product Hunt, then you might have a hard time staying excited about Product Management.
Are you competent-to-good at:
11. Using Excel?
I mention Excel because most business and finance teams use Excel to some capacity, and Product Managers have to work with business and finance teams; therefore, some Excel-ing might be needed from time to time. Excel is also an easy way to capture and organize data.
12. Using task management tools?
Asana, Assembla, Basecamp, Hackpad, Jira, Pivotal Tracker, Teamwork, Trello, etc. — are you competent at using at least one of these?
13. Learning how to use new task management tools?
If you’ve used Jira before but not Basecamp, Trello but not Teamwork — could you pick another one up relatively quickly?
14. Learning new things in general?
If you’ve never used any task management tools ever, CONGRATULATIONS, I NEED TO HAVE YOUR LIFE. Just kidding. But seriously, if you haven’t, are you a fast learner in general?
15. Drawing things by hand or using software to visualize things?
Pointing at the air or making dramatic gestures with your hands can sometimes help you explain things better, but alternatively, 10 minutes of explaining something and being misunderstood could be easily remedied with a quick diagram on the whiteboard. You don’t have to be an amazing illustrator, but it definitely helps to be able to draw and diagram what you’re thinking in your head for others to see.
Are you really-good-to-amazing at:
16. Listening to others?
This might be the #1 most important “soft skill” for a Product Manager. If you’re often told that you’re shitty at listening to others, cut people off a lot, etc. — you should probably stop reading right here, because this is not the job for you.
17. Talking to people?
See “getting along with many social groups” above. Product Managers are constantly talking to different groups of people to facilitate communication, convey vision, and remove roadblocks. However, this does not mean you are the loudest voice in the room at all times in group settings, or literally speaking all the time. PMs know when to speak.
18. Diffusing tension?
People on your team are not always going to get along. Product Managers can’t be the ones fueling the flames; we have to manage egos and diffuse tension so the show can go on.
19. Handling stress?
This is a stressful job. You will not be able to hide in your corner with headphones on and simply go ‘heads down’ or ‘ride things out’. Everything will basically always be your fault; can you handle that kind of pressure without freaking out at people or getting crazy defensive?
20. Explaining things to others?
Do you have an uncanny ability to simplify the most intimidatingly complex thing so that even a newbie can understand it? Or is it the other way around, where your explanation of even the simplest concept has everyone’s eyes glazed over in a cloudy haze of confusion and wishing-this-torture-would-please-hurry-up-and-end?
21. Prioritizing things?
There’s no room for indecision in a Product Manager. You have to be organized and rational enough to come up with a system for prioritizing ‘shit to be worked on’ that also works for your team and company.
22. Context switching?
You will get interrupted a lot. Deal with it, or don’t…
23. Noticing details?
You are the ultimate gatekeeper and owner of your product(s). Few, if any, inconsistencies or defects should get past your eagle-eye.
24. Selling narrative?
Product Managers are unofficial “salespeople”, in that we are constantly selling and promoting a product’s vision to stakeholders, team members, customers, the list goes on. And the most effective way to do this is to sell the story; the compelling, undeniable “why” that gets everyone excited and onboard.
Do you dread:
Sorry. As the “chief facilitator of stuff”, some meetings will be unavoidable; you may even be in meetings more than most.
26. Being the one to have to schedule meetings?
If you’re used to other people scheduling things for you, or feel that scheduling meetings is “an assistant’s work — this is beneath me!” then you’re going to be disappointed. Product Managers are often the ones scheduling meetings, because it’s our job to make sure everyone is synced, not anyone else’s.
27. Being the one to have to lead meetings?
The job really isn’t going to work out if you absolutely hate the idea of having to lead meetings — especially when you put many of those meetings on people’s calendars in the first place.
28. People telling you their problems?
If this sounds like the worst thing that could ever happen to you… well, somehow you made it this far down the list, but godspeed!
29. Having to make decisions (about anything: what to wear, where to take your date for dinner, what to do this weekend)?
See above on “prioritizing things”. If even the smallest decision in your personal life can take a huge toll on your well-being, then Product Management will probably be the end of you.
Product Managers have to be adaptable, and ready to roll with the punches. If you’re a stickler for “doing things the way they’ve always been done” and feel anxiety at the thought of having to switch directions / priorities / task management tools / chairs frequently, then this ain’t gonna work out for the long haul.
If you’ve gotten through all 30 questions and don’t feel like running away, awesome! You might just make a happy Product Manager someday.
About the author: This was a guest post contributed by Stephanie Oh, Product Manager at inMarket. Stephanie is also building Podclass, practical audio for the modern career. This article was originally posted on StephOhSays.
Interested in learning the fundamentals of product management and better determining if it's the right career for you? You might want to check out our One Week PM course.