6 Things I Learned From My First Product Management Job
April 2, 2020

6 Things I Learned From My First Product Management Job

by Ron Yang

The last five years have gone fast. In a few months, I will celebrate that milestone at Aha! — in that time we have grown exponentially. We expanded our team to nearly 100 people, grown to serve over 5,000 customers, and delivered more than 250 major features or improvements. While I am looking forward to what is next, I am also reflecting on what was. Specifically, my very first role as a product manager more than a decade ago. I was working at a SaaS company that served human resources teams.

I did not realize it at the time, but that early experience was foundational — I learned skills and gained experience that still serve me to this day.

Product management is the best job in the world. You create the future. And building products is always challenging and rewarding. To do it well, you need to excel in a lot of areas — strategy, vision, leadership, and persuasion to name a few. And this is something that takes many years to master.

This is something our Customer Success teammates at Aha! know well, having worked as product managers in previous roles. Prior to joining our team, many led product teams at all different types of organizations, from startups to Fortune 500 companies.

As I was thinking about my own experience, I wanted to share some stories from the team too. So I asked them what important lessons were learned early in their career. Here is what they said:

Bold learning
“My first job was humbling. At that time, product management was a new field and there was much to learn. As a perfectionist, I quickly realized that I would not grow without making a few mistakes along the way. It was scary at first, but I am a better product manager today because I am willing to try new things and learn from the experience.” — Julie Price

Intentional curiosity
“Receiving tons of requests from internal and external stakeholders made me realize the importance of curiosity. Without a fundamental understanding of what the problem is and why it needs to be solved, you are likely to have unproductive conversations with your technical and design partners. Even worse, you end up delivering a solution that does not solve the underlying problem.” — Matt Bilan

Organizational awareness
“I was in support before product management, so I had plenty of ideas for solving customer problems. But I did not understand how other parts of the organization influenced the new features we could build. Learning to work within the constraints of our tech stack, application’s UX, and deadlines for delivery — and when to push past them — was a big challenge at first. But now it is one of my favorite parts of the role.” — Nathaniel Collum

Clear communication
“Product managers interact with so many people — customers, UX, engineering, marketing, executives, and sales. I learned that you need to be thoughtful about what information to provide, which stakeholders to include, when (and how frequently) to provide updates, and how to best convey timing and target dates. Effective communication helps drive successful experiences and outcomes.” — Craig Pflumm

Team mindset
“I was a software developer before I became a product manager. I learned quickly that product management is an incredibly collaborative effort. It takes frequent and sustained coordination across multiple teams — you cannot work independently or in a silo and expect great results. If only I had a release Gantt chart available back then to visualize and manage everyone’s interconnected work!” — Deirdre Clarke

Considered kindness
“I learned how to say ‘no’ gracefully and with kindness. Most people want to help when they can. But as a product manager, you simply cannot agree to every request. I realized that if you give folks a good reason for why you cannot fulfill their request — maybe it is too complex or misaligned with current priorities — then they will usually accept the answer without being too upset.” — Todd Meyer

The best product managers constantly look for ways to improve and make meaningful contributions.

This kind of continuous learning is important in any career path but especially in product management. It is a dynamic and evolving field. This is why we continue to invest in creating resources for you — from our product management guide to our blog. Hopefully these articles help you as you move forward on your own product management adventure. Five years certainly moves fast, so try to pause and reflect along the way.

What did you discover during your first product management job?

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Ron Yang

About Ron Yang

Ron is a product guy. He is the VP of Product Management at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software. He previously founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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