Product Management

How do you transition from engineering to product management?

As an engineer you're creating the product. Your knowledge and experience sets you up nicely to move into product management. So how do you make the transition? What should you look out for? What should you avoid doing?

  • Product Manager at Spotify

    I think the most important point in considering a switch to product management is to know why you would like to do that. Talking to current PMs at your company (and outside), sitting in meetings with other PMs, potentially doing a month-long rotational program, are all excellent ways to really see if product management is where your heart’s at.

    Once you’re set on becoming a PM, look for a natural transition, kind of like how you’d put yourself up for promotion: go out of your way to start doing PM work, and seek ways to contribute and help out your team’s product needs. Be mindful to continue your primary job as well, after all, that’s what you’re being paid for. Once you see an opportunity, make it known that you’d like to be considered for a PM's role, and use your extra contributions to support your case. If you fail, take time to understand the feedback given to improve and do better at your next try.

    I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to understand the role of a PM first. Many people I’ve heard expressing interest in product management only see half the picture. Most of them have never even heard of the phrase “product-market fit”. Read books on product management to understand product frameworks applicable to your field and attend meet-ups/conferences to hear from PMs in various industries. The role is a unique blend of many functions, requires putting on many hats everyday and a whole other set of skills than engineering does. :)

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  • The Team at JAM

    As in any transition it’s key to keep in mind two things:

    1. Strengths you can bring in to the new role.
    2. Skills you might be lacking.

    What are the transferable skills between engineering and product management?

    • Familiarity with development cycles. What is possible, what isn’t and on what timeframes.
    • Solving problems to achieve a specific goal.
    • Teamwork within the engineering team.
    • Communication with several related departments, for example design or UX.

    What you’ll likely have to work on:

    • Understanding user cycles. Get ready for learning terms like onboarding and retention!
    • Prioritisation. Prioritising features will be based on many data points and constraints.
    • Communication with different departments, and out of company stakeholders. You’ll have to connect with the actual users, yikes!

    As an engineer you have an insight into one specific aspect of product building. As a PM you’ll have to expand your circle of focus. It will require frequent task-switching, and a lot more people time.

    Pitfalls when you find yourself in a role of a PM:

    • You feel you need to know everything. Knowing everything is not your job. Your job is to make sure the experts on particular domains can exercise their full potential. Don’t be afraid to ask questions though. You need to have enough data to understand the big picture, but not necessarily to be able to do the job yourself. In other words: it’s important to understand the role of an email campaign, but you don’t have to be able to write one.
    • You learn too much and act too little. The number of topics to cover in product management can be overwhelming. But, without your hands on management everything will stall. Fight your inner perfectionist. Have you read a couple of guides on product management (like this book here or this blog)? Then, you don’t need to read “just one more article on the Google Venture PM Library”. You know enough. Now do.
    • You fix engineering problems. Easy to fall back onto the familiar, comfortable line of work. Spotted a mistake? Don’t jump in to fix it, but highlight it to those responsible for it.

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