How to Transition into a Product Management Role
"The only limit to becoming a product manager is yourself," this is one of the beliefs Diego shared with me last week.
I met Diego several years ago while he was an MBA student at Duke's Fuqua Business School. Out of the thousands of students, I've met in my eleven-year higher-ed career, Diego was one of the most dedicated to figuring out what he wanted and how to get there.
What I loved most about Diego's determination was that in most, if not all, cases his efforts benefitted more than just himself. He would constantly take everything that he was learning and then turn around and share it with his classmates to help prop them up in their own career journeys (especially while many of them were grasping for the same highly competitive offers). His efforts were admirable then and still are.
Diego Granados, now a Product Manager at Microsoft and featured Speaker at Product School, is still living those same values and sharing his knowledge and experience with others. Last week, he kindly spared time out of his hectic schedule to join me for an Authentic Career Conversation. Check out his story below.
JF: You know that at Fink Development we define an Authentic Career as one that taps into your strengths, values, and interests. How did you know that Product Management was an authentic career path for you?
Diego Granados: I learned about Product Management (PM) when I was in Business School a few years ago. I remember, at that time, I was looking for a role in Tech that would combine the things that I liked the most about my experience as a Business Intelligence Consultant. Things like working with customers, engineers, and other cross-functional teams, or looking at business problems without leaving the technical discussions, or leveraging data to make decisions, always left me energized.
Soon after learning about the role of a Product Manager, I remember reading as many books, articles, and speaking to as many PMs as I could. It was a thrilling journey. The more I read, the more I was convinced that I had to pursue, or at least try, becoming a Product Manager.
What I can say now, is that all the preparation in the world cannot compare to the feeling when you take your feature or product to the market for the first time. After six months at Cisco as a Product Manager, I launched my first mobile app to the App store –this was the moment when I realized that I had found the type of job that I wanted to be doing for many, many years to come. I knew then that Product Management was the "authentic" career path for me.
"all the preparation in the world cannot compare to the feeling when you take your feature or product to the market for the first time."
JF: You often take your time out of your busy schedule to share your knowledge and experience with others. For example, you recently did a talk at Microsoft on Becoming a PM. What drives you to share your insights with others?
DG: When I was in Business School I received a lot of help from classmates and alumni. I am forever thankful to them because, without their help, I could not have gotten this far in my career as a PM.
I am a firm believer that product management is the type of job that you can't do alone and where you constantly need to ask for help and offer help to others. PMs who lack the confidence to ask for help often struggle and their teams then suffer when trying to get things done.
To me, it's a discipline in which your title matters less than what your team thinks about how you get things done.
I love sharing my insights and experience with others because I am where I am today thanks to those who shared their perspective with me, and because you never know how someone you helped today may help you tomorrow. Besides, I've made some great friends along this journey!
"If you search "Product Manager" on LinkedIn, you will find more than 13M profiles."
JF: While at Fuqua, you and I spoke a lot about effective communication. I have to say that I love the way you describe yourself on your LinkedIn profile! It gives us a comprehensive and human understanding of you. How did you craft such a compelling summary?
DG: If you search "Product Manager" on LinkedIn, you will find more than 13M profiles. I believe that the title PM on its own carries a lot of meaning and tells a story of who you are as a person, but it is an incomplete story. Product Managers are storytellers, and communication is one of the best assets we bring to our work every day –it's why we write User Stories and Jobs to be Done, and it's why we craft User Personas. Your LinkedIn profile is an opportunity to tell your whole story and show your communication skills to the world.
When I thought about creating my summary, I asked myself who I wanted to be in the next 5 to 10 years. I then looked at profiles of successful Product Managers, VPs, CXOs, and others who I thought could be an inspiration to my career path. I combined what I saw in their experience with my own and tried to tell a story that could relate to anyone. For recruiters, I tell them my greatest strengths. For my co-workers, I show them how I can help our team. And, for those who are curious or looking for guidance, I suggest topics that we could discuss.
If someone is struggling to write their profile, reviewing other people's LinkedIn summaries can be a great place to get inspired.
JF: Product Management is a highly sought after position. What would you tell someone who wants to become a Product Manager, but doesn't have a "traditional PM" background?
DG: I believe that there are many, many ways to get into Product Management. The first step is to truly understand what Product Managers do and what companies look for in candidates. I recently wrote an article on how to prepare for a PM interview, where I discuss how to find out what companies are looking for and share a structured approach to prepare for a PM interview.
There are many ways to approach this career transition with a "non-traditional PM" background, and here are some of them:
Change company first, then change jobs: Perhaps you want to be a Product Manager for a particular tech company, but you are currently in Marketing, Sales, or Finance, etc. One approach is to do a lateral change to that tech company first, doing your same function. Once you are inside, it'll be easier to switch into Product Management.
Same company, transition into PM: Maybe you're already in the right company, but you can't find a way to transition into a PM role. Look at what PMs do at your company and try to take on similar work (or create your own projects!) that give you the experience needed to transition. Get closer to customers and look at requirements, practice prioritization, or think about ways to work more closely with your engineers. Look for ways to shrink the gap between your work and the work of a PM; this will help you when you share your experience with hiring managers.
Change company AND change jobs: Finally, you can also look at what hiring managers at other companies are seeking. Identify the gaps and plan on what to do in the next six months to get there. Perhaps you need to take a course on Coding, or within your company take on a project that allows you to get closer to customers and take on new requirements.
Overall, I think most of the PMs that I know, myself included, come from a "non-traditional" background, and I believe that the only limit to becoming a Product Manager is yourself.
"I believe that there are many, many ways to get into Product Management."
JF: As you grow in your career as a Product Leader, what areas are you looking forward to developing next?
DG: Regardless of where you're working, the Product Management org is usually a very flat one. PMs have to constantly influence large teams of Engineers, Data Scientists, Marketing, Sales, and many other areas, but rarely manage others due to the size of the organization.
I'm eager to start developing some management skills and take my first step into this PM marathon to become a PM Manager. Also, because I'm currently working on AI and Machine Learning, I need to become much more experienced and proficient in this area to create better AI/ML products and lead this type of organization in the future.
JF: We know that you share our appreciation for the power of connection. Who would you most love to connect within the upcoming year?
DG: I think that today on Social Media, and even LinkedIn, it's very easy to connect with others. But, 99% of the time, nothing happens with that connection. In my case, I'd love to connect in the upcoming year with two types of people:
–A mentor. Someone who will guide me along the way in this marathon.
–Others with whom I can talk to about business, games, and of course, Product Management.
Diego is a Product Manager at Microsoft and Featured speaker at Product School who helps others understand more about Product Management and prepare for their interviews.
Want to talk about becoming a Product Manager? Contact Diego!