By Heream Yang
Product managers sit between the software engineering and marketing teams, helping to keep both divisions on the same page and shepherding products from conception to launch (and beyond). The product manager career path is versatile, offering the opportunity to work anywhere from a scrappy startup to a large global tech company.
MBA graduates typically enter product management roles as Product Manager, Associate Product Manager, or Senior Associate Product Manager. Candidates with previous industry experience can pursue specialized functions. For example, people with a background in software development might want to pursue a Technical Product Manager role, a more advanced position.
While it’s still an area of growth, more and more MBA graduates are pursuing careers in product management as tech companies recognize the value of having well-rounded product managers trained in skills beyond software coding. Specific responsibilities do vary from company to company, but there are five foundational capabilities every aspiring project manager should master:
Product managers are a tech company’s quarterbacks, guiding their teams from a product’s conception to its launch by using roadmaps that outline business strategies and objectives. “Your role is to take the information from the marketplace and from customers and translate that to the engineering team… and then translate that back to the product that’s going out to people,” explained Amanda Fend, Senior Associate Director at the Career Management Center (CMC).
It’s important for product managers to be able to develop strategies that account for both the company’s overarching mission and the intended impact on end users. “I would describe (product management) as balancing the company’s strategies and visions with the customer experience, so making sure that we’re giving the customer a best-in-class experience (while) also driving the strategies and initiatives of the business,” said Sarah Goodyear (MBA’16), Senior Product Manager at Asurion.
Product manager jobs involve regular cross-functional collaboration with engineers, marketers, salespeople, and employees in various other departments to ensure the success of a product from all business angles. This cross-functional work often appeals to MBA graduates, since the business school curriculum also offers students exposure to many different areas of business.
(Product management) is a good position for people that are interested in a lot of different parts of a business,” Goodyear explained. “They might not be totally focused on HOP (Human and Organizational Performance) or on Marketing and Strategy. They like all aspects of a business.”
Commitment to Customers
At the end of the day, product managers have the satisfaction of knowing that their work impacts the lives of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of end users. As such, the ability to effectively integrate user needs into a product’s overall vision and roadmap is critical to determining the success of a product.
“The most rewarding part (of product management) is getting to actually talk with customers and focus groups, and listening to how they are reacting to the products and services that our teams are building and then using their feedback to make changes that will ultimately make the product better,” Goodyear said.
Product managers straddle a fine line between the technical and business worlds. Some companies have strict technical requirements for their product managers, while others do not. “I don’t think you have to have serious technical skills before you (begin work), although I think it’s important, and probably becoming more important that you have some experience with data analytics and coding,” Fend explained.
Regardless of a company’s technical requirements, the ability to communicate well with engineers and technical staff is paramount. “Communication is big,” Goodyear explained. “(A key component is) being able to talk to a lot of different people at the company, so talking to a developer and understanding what issues they’re having, and being able to communicate that to someone who might be a VP of our products.”
Working in the tech space requires constant innovation. Product managers must be comfortable with navigating ambiguous situations and learning from failure to develop products that meet changing user needs and industry trends.
“Another piece of (product management) is just not being afraid to try things,” Goodyear said. “A lot of what we do is test and learn, so we’ll test small changes to a product based on what we hear our customers saying, or an industry trend. A lot of times it’s not perfect before we test it, but we do want to get some initial feedback on how it impacts our customers. I think just being okay with ambiguity, the fact that a test might not always turn out 100 percent how I expected it to (is) just part of the role.”
For more information on landing a product manager job, check out our recruiting timeline for Chris Morrow (MBA’18), a Senior Product Senior Product Manager – Technical at Amazon.