As part of an effort to discover the path I’d like to take in technology in my career, and at the recommendation of several advisers of mine, I decided to do an exploration of the role of the product manager. I became very interested in the ways it seemed product managers are able to walk between different types of teams, bridging communication between customers and engineers, helping to prioritize business needs and keep things running smoothly. I like the idea of taking responsibility for a product and having a stake in its success and that of its users, the customers.
So I decided to look at some postings for PM roles to find out what it would take to get me there if I decided it was the route for me. I found the needs to be heavily dependent on the specific culture and goals of the company – many of them preferred niche expertise in the company’s vertical (e.g. “Prior experience working with medical devices is a must”). Some employers sought technical expertise, others preferring an MBA. I left this experience with no better sense of where to focus my energy if I wanted to lay out a path to product management, and figured that there had to be a better way to get a high-level view.
I started by compiling job requirements for any product management role I saw into a Google Sheet. I had some requirements/exceptions: 1) It had to have “product manager” in the title, though I did not focus on a specific level. 2) If something seemed overly technical, niche, or focused on physical products, I stayed away from that – opting to focus on strategic roles supporting technology products. I ended up with a list of just over 2,000 job requirements.
I manually scanned for some recurring terms, drafted a list, and used a Google Sheets function to count the density of the terms. Here’s a basic view of what I ended up with:
Right away, I started mentally building a “lowest common denominator” job description in my head: 3-5 years of experience in business and/or product management; marketing skills and expertise; some technical or engineering background; agile experience; MBA preferred. I now have a more prioritized list of where I need to build my skills if I want to land a role in product management – a much more effective research and planning tool than scanning through all of the postings one at a time.
To add to this, I also separated some of the more qualitative terms – the “qualities” as opposed to the “qualifications” – that I could see emerging. The result is this:
That’s it – nothing rigorous, but certainly it came in handy in getting a more holistic view of the profession. I know I have probably left some important terms out, so feel free to give me feedback. Are you a product manager, and what qualifications or qualities were most important in getting you there and, more importantly, making you successful?