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Monday, July 7, 2014

How to become a software product manager

The paradox many job seekers face of not being able to get work because they don’t have experience seems particularly acute for those wishing to become a software product manager. Because it’s such a critical job, many employers are loath to allow candidates from other disciplines like engineering to learn “on the job”. I don’t know of any sure-fire tricks for landing your first PM gig, but would propose that the following can help those already working in the area of product development (in development or QA, for example):

Let your organization know that product management is something you’re interested in
Seems basic, but many people fail to communicate career aspirations that entail a significant departure from their current job, fearing their dedication to their current position will be questioned. While that may be true in some orgs, there are non-threatening ways to indicate what you want in the future while reiterating your commitment to your current role. I once joined a consulting company in the Southwest part of the US and told them in the interview that some day I wanted to live and work in Latin America. A few years later my manager assumed responsibility for “LATAM” and guess who ended up living and working in Rio? Letting folks know what you want sometimes pays off.

Get exposure to software consulting
I spent several years as a consultant and feel it has played a huge role in my effectiveness as a product manager. As a consultant I had to engage with customers, understand their requirements and design a solution that delighted them and could be delivered on time and on budget. Repeating the process of identifying needs, designing a solution and developing it under tight constraints helped me develop reflexes that continue to help me do my job 15 years or so later. Becoming a consultant may not be possible or practical in your situation, but attempting to get exposure to consulting projects delivered by your company or partners might be feasible. Let management know you want more exposure to customers and attempt to build relationships with people in professional services.

Liaise with and learn from SPMs
If you’re in a role that requires collaboration with SPMs, e.g., development, marketing, support, invest in relationship-building with a product manager or product owner and observe how they go about their job. Note the things they do that you find effective and the things you don't; they'll be instructive once you make the leap. See if you can establish yourself as a key point of communication between product management and your organization. You can learn a lot and might get yourself on their radar for future PM vacancies.

Get trained!

There are multiple courses available on product management. Take one, even if it takes some clever justification like saying you want to understand the role better so you can collaborate more effectively. Product managers are involved in a broad range of activities so a solid conceptual foundation can help you identify areas in which you need to grow. Some organizations also offer certification, which might demonstrate to potential employers how serious you are about the PM discipline. I’m a member of ISPMA and find their syllabus comprehensive
(I also provide training based on it) and like their approach to certification (done by a third party). There is no shortage of other organizations that provide similar learning opportunities so do your research and pick one that suits you.

SPM one of your own ideas

We live in the era of start ups. If you want to become an SPM, learn about the discipline and apply your knowledge to a business idea you dream up. Even if your idea doesn’t make it to market as a viable product, you will get insight into the challenges of taking what intuitively seems like a good idea and demonstrating that it could be a successful product and then developing it. Taking on the role of a product manager or product owner for a group of developers (even if you’re one of them) will give you invaluable experience and knowledge you can’t get from books (or blogs!).

Immerse yourself in SPM knowledge and theory
There is a massive amount of free information available on the Web about virtually all aspects of product management. Start reading blogs, Web sites and news articles on SPM. Buy books, watch online videos and participate in related forums.

So those are my recommendations for increasing your chances of becoming an SPM. Looking forward to hearing suggestions from others and hopefully feedback some day that these this post actually helped somebody make the change.

You can find more information on me (including upcoming training dates) at


  1. As part of learning, what is your opinion about "Certified Scrum Product Owner®" course ? Is this a good starting point?

  2. Hi Anjana,
    I think a PO course is great way to get started. I personally consider PO a subset of PM (with a framework-specific twist!). More thoughts here:

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Nice Post & a good info. Persuing it is very beneficial Scrum Product Owner Certification Training on weekends USA This also increases the market value.