How to get into Product Management

ProfSvcs has left a comment on my blog post "Moving from Technology to Product Management to increase business skills" ‘asking how someone gets into product management’. The answer became what I would consider too long for a comment so I’ve written this article that I hope will help him and others who what to move into product management. I must stress that this is my opinion based on my own experience and the experience of others I’ve worked with.
Rest assure very few people leave education (college, university…) and walk straight into 'technical product management' (as opposed to 'marketing product management' which is closly related to 'brand management')– we all have had a life before product management and that life (job) helps form the basis of our current role, consider where the following Product Managers have come from:

Bikram Gupta was a developer,
Marty Cagan a software engineer,
Andy Wicks a Business Analyst,
Daniel Leon a web-master and then a project manager,
Paul Young a web developer,
Brunella Russo worked in Account Management/Client Support role,
Jeff Lash worked as an information architecture and user-centered (IA & UCD)design, and
Matt Rowe has a background as a business/ systems analyst.

Two possible routes to landing your 1st Product Mangagement job

Go for an internal transfer from where you are into product management.
Strive to get into product management in your current company. If your company uses product management speak to the person who head up the department. See if you can obtain a job description and critically rank your self against it – also use product management job descriptions from companies that operate in similar industries as your current company. Your analysis should result in you being able to clearly identify areas that you believe (and are able to demonstrate to another person) what you could do straight away (out of the box so to speak) and what are the areas that you would need to improve on. Once you have done that set yourself an action plan (with time scales) and aim to improve your areas of weakness. This may include spending time with engineers and/or with product managers so that you become familiar, on a practical level, with various aspects of the role. Take one of the product managers or engineers out to lunch and talk over these areas with them. You could consider sacrificing a days holiday – arrange to come into work – and spend the day with a product manager or the engineering team or arrange to go on a customer visit with the product manager and attend some of the meeting that s/he chairs. (Note: I'm not saying tha it can all be done in a day - but the journey of a thousands miles must begin with a single step)...
Put the results of your analysis and action plan into a presentation – book a meeting with the Head of Product Management and make a pitch for a job. Remember you must show that you can add value.

Again you could think about raising your desire to move into product management at your annual appraisal. Ask if you could be seconded to Product Management for a period of time.

A lot depends on the culture of your company and the type of managers your dealing with.
Change your approach AND your company in order to get into Product Management.
In my experience it’s easier to change roles in your current company than to try and move into a new role in a different organisation. However you could change your approach from looking inside your company to looking at companies that operate in the same market segment or offer similar products. If you can proof that you have solid domain knowledge coupled with the understanding and skills of a product manager then they would be sure to want to speak to you. The covering letter that accompanies your resume (CV) should highlight that you have the skills that they are looking for. It will be tuff so you will have to do twice as much work as anyone else applying for the job. Study the company you’re applying to and the product ranges they offer along with competing products and companies. Be prepared to answer any question they may through at you and be able to ask them questions that demonstrate that you have done your homework and thought through the issues.

Finnally you need to be constantly reading and studying.
You need to immerse yourself with good reading material I would personally recommend the following:
How to be a good product manager
Silicon Valley Product group
Listern to the Webinas on Product maagement View


  1. I got into product management from. . .wait for it. . .sales. My tale of wonder and befuddlement can be heard here:

    bob from ack/nak

  2. I moved into Product Management as a Product Manager after five years out of grad school. I started off as a Software Developed (3 years), then a Business Analyst (2 years, within the same company) and then moved to a different company as a Product Manager. It's all about trying to position yourself and highlighting Product Manager skills for hiring managers to sift you from the rest.