The biggest challenges facing people moving into product management

The biggest challenges facing people moving into product management

We all have challenges when we move into a new career, and if we knew what they were going to be then we could take steps to prepare ourselves for what was in store. 

As part of the Getting Started in Product series in our Medium publication, we've been looking at how people have transitioned from other careers into product management, and as part of that we've spoken to them about the biggest challenges that they faced once they managed to find their first product management role and got started.

On the whole, these challenges can be broken down into the following areas:

Day-to-day practicalities

This is probably the same for many occasions where someone moves from one type of role into another, in that you just don't understand what the role entails on a day-to-day basis.

How does your work get organised?  Who organises it?  How do you interact with those around you?

When it comes to being a product manager those questions are translated into what team meetings get held and what's my role in them?  How do I know what thing to be working on next?  How do I write up the work I want others to do?  What do all the different terms actually mean?

As you'll see below, there are variances in a lot of these practicalities depending on where you work, but you are able to read up on a lot of this before you get started.

What does product management look like in my organization?

Every product focused organization I've ever worked in has had a different way in managing their product, and therefore how the product team interacts with the business.

Some times product is central to strategic decision making and the driver behind the direction of the business, whilst in other organizations it acts as a process management function, handling the way in which product improvements are introduced.

In some product roles the remit of the product management can be quite narrow (your the product manager for onboarding), whereas in others the role can be immensely wide and you're involved in everything from marketing to support.

Identifying problems

In many roles that transition into product management, the focus is often on 'getting stuff done', which inevitably results in a mindset of you needing to find the solution to the immediate problem.  

Once you transition into a product role, what becomes more important is being able to identify the real problem before anything else.  What is the job to be done?  Only once you understand the problem at the heart of the matter can you begin to gather all the inputs needed to help the team find a solution.

To some degree this can be thought of as thinking more strategically, rather than focusing on the execution.

Understanding the business

It's quite easy if you're working in a tech role or in design, to not pay attention to actually how the business commercially operates, but once you move into product management you'll need to know everything. 

How does the revenue get generated?  Where are the costs being spent?  What's the process of delivering what the customer is buying?  All of these now fall into your frame of understanding, so that you can ensure that the product improvements you're delivering are valuable and viable.

Breaking down requirements

In many roles, we're used to getting given chunks of work to be done and we work our way through them.  Write this report.  Design this page.  Fix this bug.

Once we're into product management, what we're working on might be a considerable amount of effort, and it's down to you to break down the work into chunks that can deliver value at every stage.  

Focusing on the customer

Finally, the focus for a product manager is on the customer, and that isn't always the case when we're performing other organizational roles.

PMs need to understand the customer, know the motivations of the customer, and then represent the customer, in order to deliver the value that the customer seeks.

How do you overcome these challenges?

We'll be breaking down each of these challenges in future posts, so make sure you've subscribed to receive the weekly email to ensure you get future posts.