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Breaking into Product Management: What Crossover Skills Do You Need?

Robin Walters | May 12th, 2020

Some of the best jobs in technology are hybrid roles. Product Management is a hybrid somewhere between marketing, technology geekdom, and project management. Aha!1 says Product Management is “similar in concept to a brand manager at a consumer-packaged goods company.” Except, of course, that the product is digital. (Also, probably way cooler than a box of Fruit Loops. But I digress.)

Product Management requires deep expertise in strategic decision making, profit and loss (P&L), forecasting, and an understanding of the end user. It’s a passion-driven role that also requires the ability to herd cats, which means, in tech-jargon, you need people skills with cross-functional teams to be a good Product Manager.

Like a lot happening in the tech world today, Product Management is a role that is relatively new and evolving. That’s probably why it’s interesting to so many people in other professions like Project Management and Marketing.

So, what are the crossover skills necessary to evolve into a Product Manager? What credentials do you need to have on your CV? What’s the job outlook for Product Managers now that the coronavirus has shut down so much of the U.S. economy? So many questions—but AWH has some answers.


What the Heck is Product Management?

Why, when, and what—those are three areas of concern for Product Managers.

  • Why this product? Why now? Product Managers worry about setting the go-to market strategies for the products they represent. They must be able to give voice to the business value driving a product launch. They must understand why customers would care about the product, and ultimately, spend their money on it.
  • When should the product launch? Which iteration will give the best customer experience in real-time? What market factors will influence the timing of the product launch? Product Managers care about release implementation schedules and they must coordinate all the teams involved to help implement their strategy.
  • What product ideation will meet the needs, wants, and priorities of your target audience? How can you incorporate audience feedback into the ideation process? How can you represent both what the customer wants and what the company is able to provide?

Like any career, Product Management is the perfect job if you have the right mix of skills. If you’re thinking about a leap into Product Management, here are the crossover skills you need to make it happen.

What Does it Take to Be a Product Manager?

The first thing to understand is that Project Management isn’t the same as Product Management, but it uses some of the same skills. It also has elements of UX, and, as Aha! indicated, there is a strong crossover to brand management, as well. Product Managers usually care more about the big three of product promotion (product, place, and price) than Project Managers do, but like Project Managers, they give a darn when a project runs off the rails.

With the popularity of Agile models, Product Management started heating up. Instead of the laboriously lengthy product development cycles seen a decade ago, suddenly, product development had to evolve at digital speeds. The Agile Manifesto2 actually lays a good baseline skills description for today’s Product Manager:

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools

Working software over Comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation

Responding to change over Following a plan

Product Managers must be able to nudge, cajole, and sometimes browbeat stakeholders toward what the data (and sometimes instinct) has shown to be the right product iteration at the right time. This requires extensive people and communications skills. Product Managers must also recognize and believe in the process of ideation. They must understand that the development and launch of products is a never perfect, and an always evolving process based on shifting markets and consumer needs. Sometimes even more challenging, they must work to eliminate friction between the product and the end user. A good Product Manager can do all this, and probably juggle chainsaws while standing on one leg.

However, the crossover skills necessary to become a Product Manager always depend on the role, of course. No two job descriptions are the same, cultures vary, and the products themselves are different. But to break into Product Management you must exhibit both the organizational and people skills of a Project Manager, the flair of a UX Designer, and the passion of a Developer.

What’s the Job Outlook for Product Managers in the U.S.?

The coronavirus has changed the Product Management profession in a few ways. Managing remote teams and keeping them marching in lockstep toward the finish line is a little harder now. The job outlook is also tougher; economists predict a second quarter unemployment rate “north of 16 percent.”3 Prior to COVID-19, the outlook for Product Managers was sunny; it was voted the fourth best job in the U.S.4 for growth earlier this year.