How to Become a Product Manager

You might be the type of person who likes to work cross-functionally between different departments. Maybe in the span of your career, or time in college, you developed strong communication skills. Or perhaps you find that you love solving problems, and approaching those problems with data-driven solutions. 

If you fall into any or all of the above categories, you might find yourself interested in becoming a product manager. If that’s the case, it’s now time to expand your understanding about product management and how to land yourself a job in this industry.

Group of people learning how to become a Product Manager from a professional PM.

In the following article, we will discuss the answers to many of the questions you might have about this role including the following. What is a product manager? What does a product manager do? What are product manager skills? What types of jobs can you land as a product manager? What does a product manager job description look like? What education is required to become a product manager? What is a typical product manager salary?

Becoming a product manager does not necessarily require a formal degree in this field. However, there are certain qualities to develop and experiences to build in your life which will help you land a career managing products for your dream company. Continue reading to find answers to these questions and to learn how to become a product manager without formal education.

What is a product manager?

In short, product managers are in charge of overseeing the scope of creating a product and determining what each development team should contribute to the project. Like an architect, product managers oversee an entire creative vision and put together the pieces in order to make a product come to life. From the early planning stages to the release of a product, the product manager coordinates with each department, such as the engineering, marketing, and sales teams, to make sure everything happens according to plan.

How to become a product manager.

The biggest challenge of becoming a product manager is that many roles require previous experience in the field. However, for those who are truly passionate about becoming a product manager, there are ways to get yourself involved enough to become one. 

1. Find a problem that needs a solution. Pitch it to your team.

Maybe you work in marketing or sales or human resources. Whatever it may be, you want to make a name for yourself to later become a product manager. One of the most basic parts of being a product manager is learning how to solve problems. To build a name for yourself in your pursuit to product management, find a pain point within your industry or company that needs a solution—is there a product you could pitch that would help to solve this? If the problem does not yet require a product, that’s okay. Come up with any type of problem that would be beneficial to solve for your company.

After that, pitch it to your boss or team. If you are given the go ahead, know that you are most likely going to outsource some of the work to other departments. Remember that you do not need to have technical expertise to be a product manager; part of your job is assigning others to do the technical work.

2. Ask to help with problem solving and product management on the side.

Maybe you do not have one specific problem to solve right here, right now. However, your product team is overloaded and would like some help on their current projects. Offer to help solve problems in your free time at work. Carve out a few hours at work each week to help with these projects. Or, if necessary, plan to stay after work once or twice a week to work on additional projects. 

Whatever it might be, find a way to get involved in a few projects that interest you. If you do not have the type of autonomy to solve problems for the product management team, find pain points that fall under your given department. See if your manager is willing to help you tackle a problem, or at least give you the resources to do so.

3. Build a reputation of problem solving.

At this rate, you should be building a name for yourself as a problem solver. Continue to do so—if you find a problem and think you can come up with a solution, ask your manager if you can tackle it. There will come a time when your manager will start trusting you enough that he or she will approach you when there’s a challenging problem to solve. Word could even spread to the product management team that you are a potential candidate to join their department in the future.

If you are interested in a product management role outside of your organization, take note of all the above problems you are solving. Post about them on your personal blog or add them to a portfolio of some sort. Use the experience you are gaining to eventually land you the job, whether internally or externally, that you are seeking after.

4. Take online courses to better understand product management.

You might find yourself solving problems, and maybe you are really good at it. However, there is always more to learn in order to best take over a product management role. If you are interested in earning a diploma or a certificate in product management, Coursera is a great online resource. Coursera is a one-stop-shop to earn online degrees and certificates that will help you break into a new field. From a Digital Product Management Specialization course offered by the University of Virginia to a Real World Product Management Specialization course sponsored by Amazon, there are multiple online options to teach you necessary skills in product management from the comfort of your own home.

5. Apply to product management roles.

After building a name for yourself, taking courses to better understand what you want to do, and being a problem solver, you now should have a few projects or experiences to speak to. With that experience behind your belt, find places where you can apply, or see if there are jobs available within your company that you can try for.

Product manager skills to pursue.

To be successful in product, it requires a certain toolbox filled with both soft and hard skills. Understanding and being proficient in the following categories will help you be more successful as a product manager.

  1. User testing and interviewing. To be good in this role, a product manager should understand how to do initial testing in order to pick the right kinds of products to build out.
  2. Creating design sprints. Design sprinting is a five day process including the following phases: understanding, ideating, deciding, prototyping, and testing. Performing design sprints allows idea validation and the ability to test ideas on customers, which is an important part of early phases in the product development process.
  3. Road-mapping and prioritizing features. As part of the initial testing, a product manager should learn how to prioritize the most important features for usability.
  4. Tracking pricing of products. Part of designing a good product is knowing where to price the product in addition to creating a good user design. Skill at pricing comes from strong research and testing in the different project phases.
  5. Designing assessments of the market. In order to create good and competitive products, a product manager needs to understand current marketing and what competitors are currently doing with their products.
  6. Revenue and pricing modeling. To make sure products are performing well, a product manager is in charge of setting and reviewing prices of products.
  7. Tracking metrics for success. As new products are launched, product managers work to measure the success of a product and how it compares to others.
  8. Product expertise. Product managers work in a variety of industries. To be successful in the field, you must know the products and solutions in your industry to the best of your ability.
  9. Communication skills. Product managers communicate with multiple individuals on different levels—leadership teams, engineering departments, customers, and their own employees. Knowing how to speak with each of these groups of people leads to success in the role.
  10. Working cross-functionally. As a product manager, you oversee and work with a variety of departments. Knowing how to speak to each of these departments is important to success.

These are only a few of the skills a product manager develops in his or her career. Starting out with at least a shallow understanding in each of these areas will help you to begin a product management role. However, with time, you will learn to master each of these skills and develop an even stronger ability to manage products.

What does a product manager do?

Most of the day Product Managers are working with a computer.

Product management has grown significantly over the past 15 years as the tech space has increased. Because the necessity to effectively manage digital products has increased, so has the opportunity to work in product management. With product management positions being relatively new, there is often a lot of confusion about what a product manager actually does.

In order to keep the attention of users in the digital space, designing products in a user-friendly way is imperative. So a product manager’s job, at a high level, includes deciding the types of products to create, creating and overseeing the road map to product production, and staying on top of how users feel about products and how to improve them moving forward. These main roles are best described in the following bullet points:

  • Strategy
  • Execution
  • User analysis

Product manager jobs.

Not all product managers do the same thing. Product management varies significantly based on the industry and type of company. To find yourself in the right product management job for yourself, consider the following.

  1. Do you prefer technical or creative positions? Some roles in the industry require a lot of crossover with UX/UI design teams. Other roles require increased crossover with engineering and development teams. If you want to be involved in more of the technical or creative aspects within your role, consider the types of companies that will offer you what you are most interested in.
  2. What types of products or industries are you most passionate about? Being a product manager would be a lot less fun if you were developing products in an industry you do not care about. What do you like? Tech, healthcare, consumer, business, food, beauty, etc? You might be more passionate about the role than about developing products in a specific space. However, considering industries you might want to work in will help the day-to-day of your job to feel less monotonous and more fun.

There are plenty more question to ask yourself when looking for product manager jobs. Make a list of the things that matter most to you and apply them as you look for a future role.

Product Manager Job Description.

As mentioned before, product manager jobs and responsibilities vary widely depending on the industry. However, the below job responsibilities, duties, and skills will give you a basic understanding of what is expected in a product management role.

Product Manager Job Responsibilities

  • Identifies new products to develop
  • Oversees user and market research
  • Cultivates product specifics, pricing, and deadlines for completion
  • Establishes strategies for marketing new products

Product Manager Job Duties

  • Figure out needs of customers by clarifying what market research should be conducted
  • Assess new ideas and recommendations for product lines or package/product changes
  • Complete competitor research to better understand current market competition
  • Determine team objectives for product marketing communications
  • Provides analyses, reports, and forecasts to management for short and long-term projects
  • Reviews availability of inventory and production to adapt product needs
  • Creates reports on return on investment for future and existing products
  • Regulates prices of products based on market data and research; reassess sales and production costs based on performance
  • Works closely with marketing, sales, and production to market products to the proper audiences
  • Works in conjunction with the sales leadership to design sales strategies

Qualifications and Skills

  • Product management
  • Customer knowledge
  • People management
  • Development of products
  • Competitor research and analysis
  • Inventory and product control
  • Product development
  • Pricing analysis

What is an average product manager salary?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a product manager is $108,992 with an overall average range falling between $71,000 on the lower end and $146,000 on the higher end. Indeed suggests a similar average salary at $103,799 per year. That being said, product management can be extremely lucrative depending on the space you work in. For those who are interested in making a career switch for an increase in salary, product management is certainly a great direction to take.

Product manager education

Starting a successful career in product management requires tenacity, problem solving skills, and a general understanding of all the principles explained above. Can you answer all of the following questions now?

  1. What is a product manager?
  2. What does a product manager do?
  3. What is an average product manager salary?
  4. What are project manager skills?
  5. What is a product manager job description?
  6. What does product management education look like?

If so, now is the time to pursue the start of your product management career.

Many people get into product manager roles with business degrees; having background knowledge in business will provide a lot of success in the development of products. Additionally, many product managers pursue master’s degrees, such as MBAs and other business-related master’s programs. A main part of pursuing further education is to learn more about business and managing teams. That said, business undergraduate and master’s degrees are not a requirement to step into a product manager role.

As explained above, product managers do not always start in these roles. You can become a product manager without a specific degree or career path. Coursera is a great alternative for those pursuing post-undergraduate education or for those interested in online options. This is a great way to get started if you do not want to pursue a traditional path towards education.