How technical do I have to be to become a Product Manager? This is one of the most common questions I get from young professionals interested in a career in Product. It’s also one of the biggest factors that prevents individuals (particularly women) from even trying to apply for certain roles. I understand this hesitation completely because nobody wants to be put in a position where they land the job but then have no idea how to do it.
Employers and recruiters aren’t helping the situation by writing job listings for the “unicorn” employee, even though they know this person doesn’t exist. They list “must-haves” next to “nice-to-haves” without distinguishing what is TRULY necessary to do the job and what can be learned later. It makes the whole process painful and wildly unproductive for both sides.
That being said, generally speaking, the Product Manager position isn’t a technical position. However, Product Management roles are all different depending on the size of the company, the product you’re working on, the team dynamics, and so many other factors. Usually, when a company needs a PM to be more technical than usual, they will call the role a Technical Product Manager role. Otherwise, as long as you have a basic understanding of that company’s core platforms, you should be okay.
There’s also certain programs that are a given across the board. If you’re not familiar with the digital tools that PMs use every day, that would be the best place to start. Here are some of the most popular tools along with some alternatives. That way, if you’re limited on time, you know which ones you can skip because you already know a similar program.
As a PM, one of your most important jobs will be sprint planning. Since you own the product roadmap, and are in the best position to understand both the customer and business needs, it’s up to you to prioritize the work for your engineering team. That means that you’ll be writing tons of tickets, grooming the backlog, commenting on tickets in UAT, and generally making sure nothing blocks engineers.
Jira is the most commonly used software for managing sprints and software development teams. You can sign up for a free account to start familiarizing yourself with the basic features, but chances are your company will have a much more complex setup with multiple projects and different boards and workflows. The free account, along with the walkthroughs on YouTube, should get you comfortable with the basic functionality to get you through the day-to-day.
As a PM, you’ll be doing tons of writing. Whether it’s training material for your users, or technical documentation of a feature, you’ll be doing a lot of technical writing.
Confluence (made by Atlassian, Jira creators) goes hand in hand with Jira. Oftentimes, tickets are linked to longer functional specifications that are found in Confluence. The program has basic word processing functionality along with features and widgets that allow you to create an informational space.
Some PMs do more design work than others, but it’s guaranteed that you’ll need to put something visual together at some point.
Figma is popular amongst Product teams because of its ease of use and wide variety of features. As a PM, you probably won’t be expected to design a website from the ground up, but if a designer hands over designs like these you should understand how to navigate the design system. You’ll need to know basic things like how to get the specs, export information, and link to important details.
With distributed teams operating around the world, remote work is here to stay! Since it’s impossible nowadays to get everyone in a room to whiteboard, we’ve had to evolve.
Miro is a popular tool for all kinds of brainstorming from cost-benefit analyses to user journeys. The product also works with popular video conferencing software like Zoom to combine real-time conversation with virtual whiteboarding.
Keeping the product roadmap up-to-date is an important task for PMs. The roadmap is your bible and it gives you a quick and easy way to communicate your vision to anyone at anytime.
Productboard is a relatively new company that has a specialized product to make it quick and easy for you to create and manage your product roadmap.
Data & Analytics
Good PMs will use data for their decision-making whenever possible. As such, it’s important to get comfortable with navigating analytics platforms.
Google Analytics is one of the most widely used analytics platforms used by businesses of all kinds. If you’ve worked with GA at some point in your career, and have a hold of basic concepts and know how to navigate the dashboard, then you’ll be fine.
PMs are at the center of all the crosstalk happening at an organization. As such, you have to be good at communicating with people and leveraging different tools to mesh with different communication styles.
Slack is the golden standard of chat. All the different features allow you to organize your Slack in whichever way makes sense. Whether it’s sharing a stupid meme or the day’s release schedule, you’ll need to be a Slackmaster.
I hope this list has been helpful. Namaste!
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