Advice for up and coming Product Managers

I received a phone call at the beginning of the year from PM magazine. They wanted to interview me on my thoughts on how young members of a product team could grow in their careers. The questions they asked along with my answers are as follows:

1. What can young project team members do to climb the learning curve, make an impact and stand out in the eyes of their managers?
Make sure that you deliver your tasks on time. If you have any doubts or are not sure on any task be sure to get clarification well before the deadline. Develop a thirst for understanding what drives the business and what the technical drivers are for the projects and/or products that you are assigned to. Be sure to ask for feedback, analyse it and immediately and act on your findings.

2. What's the best way to "sell" yourself and your abilities to higher-ups?
Ensure that you have a proven track record for delivering.
Read good website and blogs on topics that your line manager is interested in – participate in forum discussions – use tools like Yahoo answers and the Q&A sections of Linkedin. Use applications like google alerts or an RSS reader to automatically capture articles on relevant topics – then periodically send your line manager links to articles that they are interested in along with your analysis on the topic and how it can help the products and projects that you are both involved in. Be sure to be able to demonstrate that you can converse confidentially and in an informed way on the topics that matter to them and their career.

3. What should you look for in a mentor? Any downsides to being part of a mentor-mentee relationship?
Look for someone with good people skills and that has your interest in mind – someone who likes to help people. Be sure that they are an experienced professional and understand human nature. It’s also important that your mentor has a successful track record.

4. When is the right time to ask for new duties, more responsibility or even a promotion? How do you let them know you're ready?
Ask for new and additional duties once you have proved yourself with your current responsibilities. Be sure to let your line manager know that you are seeking for additional challenges that will stretch your abilities. Create you own personal roadmap (that clearly identifies your career aspirations) show it to your line manager at the beginning of the year and ask for their input and advice on how to progress. Most companies have periodic reviews – use this as a time to discuss where you see yourself in 2 to 3 years time and the steps you plan to take to get there. Based on this be sure to let them know where you see yourself in the next 12 months.

5. Under what circumstances is it wiser to be patient and wait for another time to seek greater opportunity?
When things are not going well – at times projects will not be going well and the reasons may be outside your sphere of influence – it’s best to get a number of wins under your belt first before seeking greater opportunities. Whatever the situation your request should not come as a surprise to your line manager.

6. If applicable to your situation, how do you handle being younger than people you're supervising or leading?
I think that capabilities and experience are more relevant than age. I manage those who are just as capable as me more as a peer as opposed to a subordinate – however I always reserve the right to make the final decision as and when need be.

7. What is the best way to "speak truth to power"? In other words, how do you tell your boss he or she is wrong?
A lot depends on the relationship you have with your boss and the type of character s/he is and the situation you find yourself in. In general people do not like to be told they are wrong – so try presenting the truth by pre-fixing it with something like “another way of doing XYZ is to…” or pose it as a question – “is there any merit in us taking such and such a course instead of XYZ”. However if your line manager will be making a decision based on the incorrect information and the facts are not subjective then it will be best to present the raw facts and evidence – be sure not to do it in a conceited or pompous way – nobody likes a smart alec.

8. What is the best way to find companies with the best career paths for you?
You could use social networking sites like LinkedIn and search for companies you have in mind and then people who have or are working for the company in question and see how their career path has developed.

9. What advice would you have for someone just entering the job market and wanting to chart a career path similar to yours?
Be sure to read good books on both business and technical topics. Take extra classes either correspondence courses or evening classes. Develop interests outside of your immediate career – do some community or charity work – it’s amazing what you will learn from doing this type of work. Keep your mind sharp by learning a musical instrument or a foreign language.

10. What is the best advice you've received in the workplace that you'll someday pass down to someone else?
Never be afraid of a challenge – if possible do not stay with an organisation that does not offer you a good career path or an opportunity to grow and learn.

11. Is there anything else you think it would be important for our readers to know?
Every set back is an opportunity for a come back – calm seas have never made a good sailor. There will be times when things will go wrong – ensure you do a personal lessons learnt (preferably at the end of each day). Be robust ensure you have a vision for yourself (a wise man once said: without a vision the people perish) and the vision will drive you on to succeed in your career.


  1. Excellent Q&A, very thoughtful for aspiring PM's.

  2. Very insightful and practical. Your blog is a great resource, Mr. Morrison, thank you.

  3. thanks a lot for this wise article!

  4. Great stuff Derek. I recently wrote tips for aspiring managers of product managers here. http://bit.ly/ahcCgO Feel free to stop by and let me know what you think.