How I Got Into Product Management

I’m writing this post for the plethora of people I’ve seen or heard ask the question, “How does one get into product management?”

Obviously the answer you get will be different depending on who you ask.

My story isn’t complicated, so I won’t bore you with the minutia of it all, but I’ll try to hit on moments that were key in my short (so far) career.

I never intended to go into product management.

Interestingly enough, my story starts in the Telecom industry. I joined the nation’s fastest network as a corporate sales rep at a store in Xenia, OH, while my wife was finishing her final year at Cedarville.

After about a year and a half in the mobile sales job, and having moved to a different location in Northeast Ohio, I began growing weary of retail hours and the pace (read: commission targets) of the industry.

Sometimes it’s who you know.

My wife and I were on an anniversary trip in Traverse City, MI when I got a message from my cousin’s wife, who told me that an Orlando based company was looking for an Outside Care Coordinator (read: traveling customer care rep & customer trainer) for all of Ohio and Pennsylvania (and eventually including Northern Indiana).

The view moments before I got the message about the new job opportunity

I was ready to get out of mobile sales. Fortunately, we moved through the interview process fairly quickly… Shortly after, I put in my two weeks, and I was off to the races with my new job.

I really enjoyed working with our partner-base in-person, as well as the chance to teach others how to use technology in their own work environments. That said, covering two and a half states meant a lot of driving, and a lot of time away from my wife and community.

About six months after I began working this new job, our company dissolved those positions and made all of us sales reps. I was told that if things didn’t work out in sales, that after six months I could find something else to do within the company.

When something’s not for you, try to find a way to move on.

Well, skip ahead three months, and I already knew I wouldn’t enjoy the job long term. As a sales rep, the amount of driving I had to do was only a fraction of what I was doing in as an outside customer care rep, but sales as a discipline was an emotionally and mentally taxing discipline for me. It’s not something that comes naturally, and at the end of every day, I was completely beat.

The dissatisfaction led to a conversation with a couple members of our management team about interviewing for a new position as a business analyst (BA) with our young, Agile-aspiring Product Group. I was well-positioned for the job, as I’d been spending so much time in the field with our users and our technology, and the opportunity to move to a more regular schedule that allowed us to have a real social life was more attractive than ever.

Sometimes positive changes require big transitions.

Thirty days after this phone call, my wife and I re-located from Northeast Ohio (which was five hours from immediate family members, at worst) to Orlando, Florida. I started my new job the Monday after we moved into our apartment.

One evening that first week in Orlando we drove to the east coast to grab a doughnut and touch the ocean. It was worth the trip.

Early on, our product had a lot of obvious opportunities for improvement that required little customer outreach (having just spent 10mos in the field with said customers), so most of my job consisted of writing user stories, doing light design work, and bouncing my documentation and design off of internal stakeholders and developers for feedback before passing it off to our development team for implementation.

Sometimes you find product management, but most of the time, product management finds you.

(Or so it seems to go, based on what I’ve heard in the industry.)

Over time our team grew, and grew, and eventually there were too many proverbial developer-mouths for a single BA to feed. For us, this was the turning point for product management as a discipline. I was promoted to a Product Manager (PM) position for the Inventory-related pieces of our applications (web and Android), and we hired on two additional PMs for the rest of the suite.

The biggest changes I experienced in this shift was additional responsibility on the front-end and the back-end of project planning. I no longer get to write stories and forget about them… now I have to own them. The planning on the front-end, and implementation on the back-end of the development has to be miles more intentional than it was during my time as a BA. It’s been a learning process, but fortunately the learning resources available to PMs are deep, wide and budget-sensitive (for the most part).

It seems like every few weeks, our best practices for the mix of talent we have across our ever-growing team become a little more clear. It keeps us humble, ready to learn and keeps team morale positive regarding the future of what we’re building together.

That’s my story; I hope you find it helpful, especially if you’re considering looking for a job in the product space.

Feel free to reach out or comment with questions, comments and snide remarks (although regular remarks are preferred)!

Featured image by Startaê Team on Unsplash