How to Build a Career as a Product Manager?

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Whether you have chosen Product Management as a career or still wondering about the next role, this article will give you the complete guide on how to become an effective Product Manager with explaining the qualifications, responsibilities and tasks of a Product Manager. 

On top of taking you on a quick visit to a typical day in the life of a Product Manager, we will discuss the most asked Product Management interview questions, giving you the secret answer to each, and some tips on how to successfully pass a job interview.

As a learning specialist and a career accelerator advisor at Knowledge Officer, I have helped more than 100 learners from different backgrounds, levels of knowledge and experience to start and develop their careers as product managers during the last year only.

Let’s check out the most frequent questions learners ask when starting their journey.

What is Product Management?

A simple definition of Product Management that you can find everywhere online is that:

Product Management is the intersection of the three aspects of Business, Technology, and UX.”

To elaborate on that definition, I’d like to explain product management in a simpler way from another perspective. Let’s take a look at a typical journey of a product. Regardless of whether this product is a tech or non-tech; if it’s an app that you like or the new coffee machine that you use every morning.

For a product to be released to the market, it starts by being just an idea. This idea needs proof of need, validation, functionality, and authenticity to transform into a valuable product. When the idea is set to be solving a real problem for a specific customer segment that is clearly defined, the product is then ready for the design process. 

The design process encompasses the user experience, user interface, and whole user journey of interaction while using the product. Then, that product needs to be in a good market that attracts its target customer segment. Here comes the interaction phase with the customers when they use it, buy it, and hopefully return to use it many times.

Of course, it’s not that high-level nor simple. And the product won’t be doing this on its own. It needs someone to manage the whole process, make sure it’s smooth and aligned to the company’s vision and strategy, validate the insights, and analyze the data across the whole product delivery process. 

A Day in the Life of a Product Manager.

As a product manager, you should discover the product, manage a smooth delivery process, deliver it, align it to the business scope, and market it using the right channels to the right customers.

Some of the common tasks and responsibilities most of the Product Managers do every day are; 

  • Communication with team members: Not only communicating plans and different inputs to all teams that are working on the product, but also communicating with the management team and stakeholders. Everything needs to be clear, detailed, and consistent among all team and company members. 
  • Analyzing data, thoughts and insights: Product Managers are making decisions all the time. It’s relevant to the nature of managing different teams and caring for the product aspects. It makes much sense to be responsible for a big process with internal and external inputs with different mindsets and specializations. So, data analysis is essential. Everything you are being said, reviewed and exposed to, needs to have data reference. For your decisions to be correct and strong, they must be scientifically proved and based on data. 
  • Product post-release: The data analysis corner in the job of a Product Manager is not only specific for the process of releasing the product. It extends too far away from market release. You can’t release your product and leave. You have to analyze everything going on, make sure it’s in the right market, customers are responding positively, and moreover, what could be enhanced, what suggestions the customers have for improvement so that you consider in second product iterations. 
  • Prioritization of tasks and backlog: Having a big backlog and bank of tasks is ordinary in the lifecycle of a product. But it goes without thinking that prioritizing saves you much time, much effort, and maximizes the whole process efficiency.
    It also goes for any issues, problems, or you might be previewed at any time by anyone. When you are proved that any issue, problem or a suggestion you’ve previewed is real and worth operating on, don’t forget to manage your priorities and give the issue a suitable place in the plan/schedule in a way that matches your current situation, company scope, urgency status, team capacity, and so on. 
  • Conducting user interviews and collecting feedback: It’s not necessarily for the product that the PM is working on to be a brand new release to the market. Most of the time this is the case, but there are also existing products that need enhancements, growth, and competitive edge to the market. Both types of products require the Product Manager to collect feedback about them from using customers. But the latter requires this stage at the very beginning of the process to identify the issues that could be enhanced. This is done in many ways, but user interviews are the most interactive and effective way to get valuable feedback about your product if conducted well.
  • Ongoing Product development and iteration: This point is related to the previous one. A successful product manager works on how to transform customers’ feedback and insights about the product into new features, enhancements, and takes the product into whole new directions that satisfy the customer and meets the company’s strategy and revenue. 

The responsibilities of product managers can differ from one company to another taking into account different factors that impact the process entirely; such as the product nature, company regulations, company size, business strategy and growth stage, the industry itself, product type, customer development and service, and so on. But most of the previously mentioned responsibilities are done by almost every Product Manager out there. 

What does it take to be a great Product Manager?

During my experience with Knowledge Officer, I have contacted great product management mentors from the biggest companies in the world and conducted different sessions with the learners. I have also been observing the changes in their lives and characters. And I can confidently share some of the most important things that successful Product Managers do to stand out and succeed regardless of the product, company, and the team.

  1. Set objectives first or ask about them.
    Everything results in its best when you have the clear objective you’re working for. The objectives will lead you in the right direction and help you make better decisions. For example, setting a metric for a specific feature, you can set millions of metrics that will result in numbers. But those numbers won’t be insightful unless they are for relevant metrics to the objective of this feature.
  2. Be data-centric.
    As we’ve discussed earlier, PMs take decisions all the time and give opinions about different topics. An effective PM refers to data, proving things by numbers and feedback. Also, a gut feeling of a PM is a gift that great PMs entail, but science-based decisions and knowledge are intrinsic.
  3. Make your plan full and complete.
    Sufficient plans include the fair details that the team, stakeholders, and anyone relevant need to know. But full and complete plans entail the basic plan, detailed descriptions, expected scenarios that might happen, and suggested solutions.
  4. Be curious and keen on other products.
    Having curiosity towards other products in the industry helps you as a PM a lot. Not only you will get exposed to more ideas, trends, and innovations but it will also allow you to assess your product position and status in the market and to your customers. One more thing is not to limit your curiosity to other competitive products only. Products from all backgrounds, aspects, and industries can give you millions of ideas and directions to follow that you might have not thought of before.
  5. Details matter more than you think.
    Be organized and pay attention to the details. Things that you might take for granted, or consider that they are known to your team members by default can cause you damages. A complete picture of the plan and all ongoing changes and edits can do magic to your processes for having a great product. This will also save you much time, many conflicts, and delays that arise from misunderstandings, lack of communication, or flawed data.

What are the top skills of effective Product Managers? 

We can say that a Product Manager knows one thing about everything and everything about one thing. He doesn’t have to be an expert in all aspects but an excel in one major with sufficient knowledge about others. Besides this- regardless of the aspect of expertise – a Product Manager needs to entail a unique set of skills that helps him get the work done perfectly and smoothly when combined. The following list shows the most important;

  • Leadership: Product managers lead different teams to get one end-goal. Strong leadership skills with the balance between being a team player and a leader make great PMs. 
  • Cross-functionality: The teams PMs lead are from various mindsets and priorities, engineering, marketing, design, UX, and much more. A successful PM needs to know how to handle and merge all team differences into the favour of the product to guarantee fewer conflicts and smooth workflow.
  • Time management: A PM is sticking tight to timelines, roadmaps, and frameworks that need to be met. The ability to manage time to get the most out of it and leaving margins for emergencies, edits, tests and changes help to get things more effectively and efficiently. 
  • Customer-centric: At the end of the date, the product is all about the customer and for serving the customer needs and problems. So, referring everything to the customer needs and feedback is what Product Management is all about.

“Having a perfect product that doesn’t appeal to your customer is like having no product at all”

  • Prioritization: Knowing how to prioritize tasks and issues is a collection of skills. As it comes along with how to well estimate time for each product cycle phase (Time estimation), how to relate things to the big company vision and strategy in order to prioritize things correctly (Strategic-thinking), and how to consider different factors such as the team capacity in order to come up with the correct order of priority (Team management and Decision making). 

Most asked Product Management interview questions. 

During my journey with the learners I’ve helped, I have conducted more than 40 mock interviews at the end of their learning journeys. As a result, I can confidently say that you can answer all interview questions even the ones you haven’t been exposed to before as long as you can identify the objective behind the question asked. 

Product Management interview questions vary, a lot – from product, technical, analytical to behavioural or communication topics. But every question has an objective. You are asked to be assessed around a certain aspect or skill. 

The following 4 questions are an example of how to guess the question requirement, how to answer it, and how to pass the interview confidently and successfully.

    Q. When you have two important things to do but can’t do them both, how would you prioritize your resources?

    To prioritize features or tasks, there are many scientific methods and tools to help, such as Effort/Impact scale, RICE, MoSCow method, and much more. But from my experience, I can say that the most important thing about prioritization is to consider all factors that might affect your product at the end-stage. Whatever the method you’re choosing, make sure you consider your team capacity, company vision, current company goals and strategy, resources etc.

    Let that stand out in your answer, and make sure you are aware of at least one of the previously mentioned or any methods of prioritization.
    Q. How do you know if a product is well-designed?

    To answer a question about a product, feature, or any design, you have to set specific criteria and compare the product to and come up with a reasonable answer.

    According to Dieter Rams, a famous industrial designer, a good design is; innovative, makes a product useful, understandable, honest, and long-lasting.

    Choose any number of criteria, compare the product to, assess it, and give the interviewer a reasonable and science-based answer. It will be a flawless answer if you add a suggestion or improvement to the part where you find the product weak or needs an enhancement of any kind.
    Q. Choose any specific feature for Amazon.com. How would you set the metrics to assess the success of this metric?

    Metrics and KPIs are essential and vital in Product Management. You will always do that kind of task.
    Two important things here;

    – Product metrics and KPIs usually fluctuate to support one of the customers stages a company walks through, acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral. Or what’s called the AARM Metric; Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Monetization. Which stage you’re targeting, to choose a relevant metric and track a corresponding KPI.
    – Before you set any success metric, you have to set a metric that is in line with the company vision, strategic goal, and product objective.
    How would you modify Amazon’s home page?

    This is a UX question with no doubt. User experience is also very important to PMs as it’s everything when the customers use your product. As a result, you have to refer to having feedback and inputs from the customers to suggest your modifications accordingly.

    The smart thing to do here is to put yourself in the customer shoes and try the product yourself. Then, get back to your PM suite. Ask more questions to narrow down the question aspects.
    Q- Considering web or mobile?
    Q- Which part of the landing page?
    Q- What category? For a specific segment or all segments? And so on.

    Then, translate the customer insights, and the interviewer inputs into ideas and suggestions to improve your feature/product, all based on user feedback, information, and some assumptions if needed.

    It’s totally fine to ask openly about the product or the App you’re to assess it instantly, especially in the case where you haven’t used the product before.

The list can go infinite. But as long as you’ve got the skills, the knowledge, and the understanding of the role and the product, you can pass beyond the boundaries.

How to prepare to the Product Management interview:

  • It’s fine to take some time to think and prepare your ideas and thoughts before getting to answer the question. Don’t rush. 
  • It’s totally fine to open an App or take a look on a website if you’re asked about and didn’t use it before. It’s better than talking about something you don’t know at all. 
  • It’s preferable to ask any needed questions to clarify the interviewer question and to help you narrow down your options to get the correct answer.
  • Don’t claim that you know a product that you don’t really know and start talking about it just to give an answer.
  • Be honest! It’s the quickest way to get you an authentic result and assessment.  

In today’s competitive market, the scope is broad, knowledge is free and skills are easily gained by the right resources, practice, and hard work. 

The any-size skillset that you have can get you different jobs in companies of different sizes from all types of industries. You just need to well-assess your skills, define the gaps, allocate the parts that need a boost, and determine what it takes to get into the career job that you dream of.

I hope that you have enjoyed this guide and that you have got all the needed knowledge to know how to build a career as a Product Manager. 

Would you like to learn more and become a certified Product Manager? In just 6 months learn from the most successful PMs from Apple, Google, Booking.com and more during the Knowledge Officer Pro Bootcamp!

We’re also currently running the MENA Tech Fellowship where you learn top skills and get connected to the best job opportunities in your region.

Dina Sabry is a career accelerator advisor working on creating and curating the content of the Knowledge Officer platform that enables learners to develop their skills and career jobs. Being a part of the learning team of Knowledge Officer as a learning specialist, she has helped more than 100 learners to kick-start and develop their career jobs as Product Managers.

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