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A career in product management: what, why and how

Zahidul Chowdhury Rahee | December 10, 2022 00:00:00

Product management, not to be confused with project management, is an exciting and lucrative career path in today's world. The role does come with generous salaries, rewarding work, good perks, and is highly demanding. It requires a unique combination of hard and soft skills which makes it very difficult to find good candidates. The demand for this role is ever-increasing in Bangladesh, too, thanks to the rise in tech startups, software companies, and digitization projects. General interest among young professionals has also surged although many are in the dark as to what the role entails.

A lack of talent pool is also stymieing the growth of the tech industry overall. Individuals working in FinTech, Blockchain and Web3 among other domains are struggling to find capable individuals to lead their product- management operations. A product manager is someone who conceives new and innovative ideas, builds and launches things, and also leads growth efforts. Without a solid product team, tech companies are bound to fall short on their potential.

The definition will differ depending on whom you're asking and can be often confusing. One of the most-heard definitions of Product Management is that a Product Manager is the "CEO of the product". But most industry veterans would disagree because although it may sound fancy, the reality is often very different. Product managers simply do not have any direct authority over most of the things or people required to build a successful product. However, product management still is a very lucrative and appealing career path for people with creative minds, who want to build things that people use every day. The role varies widely depending on the industry, and even between different organizations in the same domains and markets. But we can agree on some core principles that are consistent across most product-management roles.

Product management sits at the crossroads of technology, business, and design. The job of the product manager is to create a strategic vision for new or existing products and to define actions that help materialize the vision. The execution of the defined tasks also is on their shoulders - this means that the product manager manages and coordinates between all relevant parts of the company to achieve the desired outcomes. This is an extremely dynamic role, unlike almost any other roles out there, covering a vast range of responsibilities.

Why choose it as a career: Product management promises a highly satisfying career if you can do it right of course! Product managers really own their products -- the good and the bad -- and have the ability to improve the lives of countless users through their work each day. They can go home each day and tell themselves, "I built that today". The joy that comes through uniting people towards a shared goal is amazing.

Another beautiful thing about a product- management career is that there is literally no barrier to entry. Anyone and everyone can become a product manager. Sure, if you have a business or a Computer Science degree, it helps, but there are too many examples of people succeeding without those. All you need are some core competencies that we're going to discuss in the next section.

A lot of entrepreneurs or CEOs have started off as product managers - Satya Nadella of Microsoft or Sundar Pichai of Google for example. Product managers are seen as future leaders of the company and their position also demands them to be a ringleader.

Last, but not the least, the job pays well and the number of jobs is increasing worldwide rapidly. Product School, a global leader in product-management training, recently published its third annual future- of- product- management report. According to the report, 43 per cent of companies are hiring more PMs. This view is also supported by McKinsey & Company, who said, "The role of the product manager is expanding due to the growing importance of data in a decision-making and increased customer and design focus, and the evolution of software-development methodologies". This increased demand has in turn increased the average product-manager salary - which now stands at around €60,000 in Germany and £62,000 in the UK.

Product managers in general also have greater freedom and control over their work-life balance. They are often perceived as capable of managing their own schedule and are not micromanaged in most companies.

How to build a career in Product Management: One of the most common misconceptions regarding becoming a product manager is that you need to have technical skills (more specifically, you need to know coding) to become a product manager. This is not true, at least it's never a must. But, let's focus on the things that are -

Business acumen: Product managers need to have a strong sense of the business. He/she needs to be comfortable in understanding business strategy and priorities, key performance indicators, and financial metrics of the business, and pricing, among other things.

Strategic thinking: Thinking clearly, and in a structured manner, is the key to building a product-management career. Product managers should be able to analyze complex problems and come up with effective strategies to solve them.

Communication: Product managers communicate with customers, managers, engineers, designers, CXOs, etc. in 1:1 or group meetings. Good oral and written communication skills are an absolute must.

Relationship management: We discussed in the beginning that product managers often do not have direct authority. Then how do they negotiate with different departments, resolve conflicts, and influence others to work towards a shared goal? With their impeccable relationship management, of course. They also inspire team members to reach their full potential, contributing to building a successful product along the way.

Technical skill: The type of product a product manager is working on, the company and team dynamics will determine how technical a PM needs to be. There is no hard and fast rule about this. However, the more you know about the following, the better:

n UI/UX design principles (design tools like Figma, prototyping),

n Data analysis (SQL, data visualization)

n Basic knowledge of programming of computer science (HTTP requests, APIs, HTML, CSS, etc.)

n Basic proficiency in one or two programming languages (python, javascript, java, C#, etc.)

Most importantly, the real requirement is passion and a knack for problem-solving. If you possess those and are persistent enough, other things will fall into place. You can only truly learn product management by doing. So, the important thing is to start somewhere and work your way up!

Interested young professionals should be on the lookout on LinkedIn and other job portals for open 'Product Manager'/'Business Analyst' roles. Some of the companies that can help individuals to grow as PMs are

Daraz, bKash, Pathao, and Selise Digital Platforms. Emerging tech startups can be a good starting point as well.

Author has a BBA from IBA, DU, and a masters in Computer Science. He has been working in Product & Project Management for over 7 years, currently employed in Daraz-Alibaba Group as Regional Lead Product Manager.

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