Q&A: How to Grow Your Product Management Career in an Uncertain Economy

Ask a Product Pro


  • Joe Ghali answered 5 audience questions that he and Elad Simon (of Craft.io), did not have time for in our recent “How to Grow Your Product Management Career in an Uncertain Economy” webinar.
    • How to Switch Your Product Management Career from One Domain to Another?
    • Product Manager vs Product Marketing Manager
    • How to Get Started in Product Management with No Experience?
    • How Can Product Managers Better Communicate with Stakeholders?
    • Do Product Management and Product Owner Roles Need to Be Separated?


Following Up On Webinar Questions

In our most recent webinar, “Growing Your Product Management Career in an Uncertain Economy,” we had more questions than we had time.  Joe Ghali and Kate Fuchs of 280 Group teamed up with Simon Elad of Craft.io with an hour full of great insights on product management as a career path, and how to address different challenges along that career path, especially an uncertain economy.

Growing Your Product Management Career in an Uncertain Economy

The webinar was full of an hour’s worth of fantastic industry insights, and while the team was able to respond to several questions throughout, we know many still went unanswered.  With that in mind, Joe Ghali, a principal consultant and trainer from 280 Group, took the time to record responses to 5 of the top questions that we did not get to in the webinar.  Without further ado, here are the questions and Joe’s responses.

How to Switch Your Product Management Career From One Domain to Another?

In terms of product management:  the techniques that we teach at 280 Group at least, they’re agnostic.  It doesn’t matter if the industry is B2b, B2c, or B2B2C, there are inherent skills that you can take with you no matter what industry you’re in.

What’s important to focus on are soft skills.  For product management, the important soft skills often are things like communicating effectively, being curious and learning more about the user and what their needs and pain points are.  And then, how do you articulate those needs in the form of different product management artifacts like personas, user journey maps, etc.

In short: product management skills are not industry specific and if you improve at the right soft skills you’ll be able to take them anywhere in your career.

Where Do You Draw the Line Between Product Management and Product Marketing?

At 280 Group we have a simple distinction between the two: the product manager is responsible for getting products onto the shelf, while the product marketing manager is responsible for getting product off the shelf.

To dig in a little deeper: the product manager identifies the needs of the customers, the different segments, the pain points, etc. Product marketing is going to work on marketing strategies, how to build messaging for different customer segments, understand channels, best practices, value proposition, as well as the product’s packaging.  The two roles should work hand in hand, but again, product management get’s products on the shelf, product marketing get’s products off the shelf.

How Can One Get into Product Management with No Work Experience?

The simple answer is mentorships.  See if there’s someone within your organization that’s willing to work with you and be a mentor to you.

There’s a couple of advantages to this.  Number one, you get to ask them questions and get to pick their brain; you get to see what it’s like to be a product manager.  And two, it gives you an opportunity for them to get to know a little bit about you.  Maybe there are opportunities that maybe you’re not aware of.  It can help you in your product management career.

Also, look at some exposure.  See if you can attend a product, meet up in your area, or, you know, send some emails on LinkedIn, introduce yourself, see if you can do a virtual coffee or meet some folks in person and just pick their brain. Let them know that you’re interested in product management and see if there are different ways to get in.

Now, in terms of the experience part of it, I have always found that starting out any career in customer service gives you a humongous leg up in terms of building out your product management knowledge and expertise because it allows you to get to know your users and customers a little bit better. And that’s a terrific starting point for a career in product management.

How Can Product Managers Better Communicate with Stakeholders?

Stakeholder management is probably the single most underrated skill as a product manager.   Effectively communicating with senior leadership needs to be less about “telling” and more about “demonstrating.”  As a product manager you represent the voice of the customer and it’s easy to tell stakeholders what you’re doing when the better way is to get them involved.  Don’t just talk to senior leadership about personas, empathy interviews, or customer visits.  Show them, “look, this is what product managers do.”

The better way is to make stakeholders a part of the process.  Bring them along in your journey as you build out those personas, as you get some key themes for your customer visits, as you build out those artifacts like customer journey maps, and more.  This way, when it comes time to building out your roadmap or prioritizing feature/outcomes in your roadmap, the buy-in from senior leadership is easy to get, as they’ve been involved in the process.

Again, it’s all about demonstrating what a product manager does instead of telling leadership what product managers do.

Do Product Management and Product Owner Roles Need to Be Separated?

This is a very controversial question that gets asked on numerous blogs, forums, etc.  Here’s my short answer: it depends.

That’s probably not the answer you’re looking/hoping for, but there’s good reason for it.  If you have a mature product and you work in a large organization, then it most definitely makes sense to break apart the product manager role and the product owner role. Here’s why: If you are looking to innovate and continuously build new features, there needs to be someone in the organization that is hyper focused on the user.

In this scenario you need someone, (a product manager), who is going out and talking to customers, evaluating market research, they’re looking at analytics and data.  They’re basically building what is known as the product backlog. What is the list of ideas or problems to solve?

On the flip side is the product owner.  They’re making the day-to-day execution happen. They’re taking those ideas and they’re breaking them out into epics, user stories, putting them in the sprints, and prioritizing them.

So, in a larger company, break them apart.  In a smaller company, or a startup on the other hand, it may be that you combine both the product manager and product owner role.  Either way you go is there needs to be a focus on what’s going to happen in the future, as well as making sure that your development team are working on the right products, the right features, and the right user story. So, if you’re big and established, break them apart. If you’re small, you’re a startup, you’re lean, then it totally makes sense to put them together.

About the Author

Joe Ghali is a Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group. With over 15 years of experience in Product Management working for Fortune 100 & 500 organizations, he has been part of several significant product launches. Joe’s experience as both a Product Manager and Product Owner is rooted in the belief that the most successful products result from strong Product and Agile teams who are transparent, collaborative, and vulnerable. And the key to those high-performing teams is strong Product Management leadership at the helm.

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