I like to describe being a product manager as being like water – you end up filling in all the gaps. By its very nature, our role covers a very broad range of responsibilities. As a result, the position’s requirements will vary greatly between companies. Furthermore, we end up getting our hands on a lot of different tasks and learn our target business from a variety of angles. In the end, product managers will naturally become T-shaped through our daily experiences.
Many of these experiences will not fit your job description or be that fun to take on. In other words, these tasks may not relate to your role. But, if it’s about your product, it’s your responsibility. Along the way, you’ll find that these moments will build your view for customer empathy and give you a different perspective on your business.
For example, I had to build out advertising operations for one of my early companies. The only reason I did was that we didn’t have anyone else to do it! While I would never want to do that job again, it provided me with a great deal of appreciation for a side of the business that I had never experienced.
Just the same way that we take on a variety of tasks, there are a number of avenues that people take to become product managers. First, it’s very rare that someone starts out as a product manager when they graduate college – mainly because the field is so new. In addition, there are a number of related careers that align well with becoming a product manager. As a result, the T-shaped profile for product managers takes on many forms. Here are a few examples:
- More so than any other department, you are connected to customers on a daily basis and have a fully-developed sense of empathy for their needs. Being able to listen and connect with customers is a must-have for product managers.
- By nature, you have a very strong “I” and a ton of expertise in a given field. You’re already connected to the product from one side of its development. But, you’re looking to understand the product from a holistic perspective.
- Being able to dig into the numbers and figure out data-based solutions is a critical skill for becoming an effective product manager. The biggest learning curve will be going beyond the numbers and learning relevant soft skills.
- Product managers and designers are very much in a “ying-yang” relationship. So, it’s a natural fit for designers to move into a product role. While designers tend to empathize well with user needs, it can be challenging to get them to grasp the analytical side of the position.