8 Things We Wish We Heard Before Getting Into Product Management
Monday morning quarterback. Hindsight is 20/20. Wise after the event. All describe a universal and cliche concept — it is easy to understand something after it happens. Although it is not possible to travel back in time, all of us possess a powerful tool to increase our clarity and improve our chances of success. It requires learning from people who have already accomplished what we aspire to. This is especially important when you are entering a career without a clearly defined path, such as product management.
There are plenty of product management tips and best practices online. But the lesser-known wisdom that will truly help you propel your career forward is harder to find.
Product management is consistently ranked amongst the best jobs in the U.S. for its high earning potential, job satisfaction, and large number of job openings. The role only continues to grow in popularity as folks discover the joy that comes with product building and making a meaningful impact on customers.
But there is no single path or handbook for succeeding as a product manager. Experience is gained on the job rather than in a classroom, and responsibilities can vary considerably depending on industry, organization, and team. You largely have to define your own career journey and what you want to achieve.
Our Product Success team knows firsthand the challenges and struggles that product builders face. We are all former product managers and are fortunate to speak to product builders across a wide range of industries every day.
Whether you are an aspiring or early-career product manager, you are likely already familiar with many of the common best practices: listening to customers, empathizing, collaborating with cross-functional teammates, and so forth. This is all valid advice. But becoming an extraordinary product builder requires you to dig deep and embrace the unconventional. This is how you succeed in such a challenging and competitive space.
We asked a few members of the Aha! team to share their unexpected recommendations on how to succeed in product roles, beyond what you may have already heard or read online:
Deviate from the path
"Do not be afraid to take an atypical path to a product manager role. At two different companies, I started in customer success before transitioning to product management. This allowed me to become an expert on the product and gain valuable context from speaking directly to customers about their challenges. No matter how you enter the field, remember that there is no one 'right' path. Having a variety of experiences and skills can make you a stronger product manager." — Austin Merritt, Product Management
Embrace (smart) shortcuts
"I found my way into product management as many of us do — somewhat by accident. This meant a lot of on-the-job training and just-in-time learning. I wish someone had told me there is a fantastic wealth of resources, tools, and templates available for new (as well as seasoned) product managers. Free resources like the Aha! product management guide and our downloadable templates are invaluable and can help you accelerate your skills quickly and dramatically." — Caryn Woods, Product Success
Be willing to say no
"Early in my career, I worked closely with product managers as a scrum master. I was always struck by how often the best ones said 'no' to seemingly good opportunities to enhance the product. Backlogs are full of valid customer requests, enticing ideas, and promising features. You cannot prioritize them all, so you need to get comfortable with pursuing only the select few that will really drive value forward." — Erik Johnson, Marketing
Tune into nuance
"Sometimes, what a user says they need help with is different from the true issue they are facing. It is important to find out what is really causing their problems. This can involve asking more questions to understand the root cause of their issue, paying attention to specific words they use, and even looking for clues in their facial expressions. Your goal is to figure out what they really need from your product — beyond what they initially say." — Todd Meyer, Product Management
Solve actual problems
"Only solve problems that exist. Some product teams waste a lot of time solving for edge cases that may never be uncovered. This often leads to new settings or changes to user flows that end up making the typical use cases more complex and cumbersome. Instead, learn to identify when enough is enough and ship just what is necessary. This is how you stay productive and help the team deliver what matters." — Julie Price, Product Management
Forget external validation
"Product managers get into this field because they want to help people. But you will likely never see the fruits of your labor. Sure, lovability notes are wonderful and engagement activity is exciting. Yet I will never actually witness how much time my customers will save or their career highlights. I have to trust the process and find joy in the hard work of product management — the research, data analysis, customer interviews, feature definition, and more. Find joy in the process of doing the actual work." — Nathaniel Collum, Product Management
"Let go of defensiveness as much as possible. When leading a product team, it is easy to tie the product's success to your own value or to become increasingly protective of the product — such that you are no longer open to new ideas. Embody your authority, but never to the extent that you close yourself off to feedback from other cross-functional groups or stakeholders in the name of preserving ego." — Reilly O'Connor, Product Success
Ignore industry trends
"Developing interests and hobbies outside of the product space actually makes you better at work. I play Dungeons and Dragons, write short fiction, and am teaching myself to draw. These hobbies made me a better storyteller — a key product management skill — and help me pay attention to the world around me. So sure, feel free to read the latest business book or attend that product-related conference. But remember to leave your comfort zone and have a little fun, too." — Nathaniel Collum, Product Management
Product management is deeply fulfilling and also challenging work. We hope that these tips inspire you to forge your own path as you embrace a career in product.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to grow their career in a meaningful way. If you are ready to expand your product development skillset, take a look at the classes and tutorials we offer through Aha! Academy. Learn product management best practices directly from our team of product experts, earn an Aha! Roadmaps certification, or attend live tutorials for tips on making the most of Aha! software.
Reflecting on others' perspectives will help guide you as you advance in your career as a product manager — making tradeoff decisions, prioritizing features, and figuring out how to best deliver value to your customers. Enjoy the adventure and remember to share what you learn along the way with future product builders.
Product managers really, really love our software — find out why.