The Accidental Product Manager
I was recently asked a question by someone who had accidentally become a Product Manager.
“My situation is this: I’ve been working as a BI/analytics consultant at a small company for just over a year and I ended up leading most of our implementation engagements. Under my boss’s direction, I began work on an e-learning solution about 8 months ago, and after producing that content I created sales materials, was involved in creating a site/app, designed a UI, led pilots, did some R&D, and BAM! we have customers and some buzz around our product and I’ve been designated Product Manager.
Everything to get to this MVP was really whimsical and figure-it-out-as-I-go but now I am staring down at this broken product that now has a few customers in it and seriously sweating. I’m drawing requirements on graph paper to get features built by our contracted dev team, googling ‘what is a design brief’ so I can get tell our designers what to build, and talking with customers to figure out what to fix/build next.
I need to figure out how to take the right steps to level up my skills and I took a front-end development course this past weekend, I am halfway through the lean product playbook, and have been consuming every single article I can get my hands on. I’m enrolled in a react course to learn how our app is made which should help a bit too.
My ask is for any resources that I can consume this weekend to help me learn – books, podcasts, courses whatever! Also any advice from the front lines about if it really is ever this messy and anything you wish you’d known right when you started. My boss is super busy and isn’t a product manager himself so I feel a bit out in the cold trying to find my way and I really want to do this right. If you’re still reading, thank you so much!”
I decided to post my reply here in case it helped others in a similar situation:
Congratulations on launching your product!
As this is a site that traditionally focuses more on Projects then Products, let’s be clear on the difference between the role of Product Management vs that of Project Management. Despite having identical acronyms (both get shortened to PM) they are different roles and require different skills. Project Management is about taking creating an environment to deliver something unique(ish), and then ensuring you get it delivered within boundaries (traditionally time, cost and quality). Product Management is about developing a product that people want, then growing/evolving it and eventually sunsetting it.
Within both disciplines there are scores of techniques and approaches that can be deployed and where to focus depends on the challenges you are currently facing – and how much time (and money) you want to spend researching and reading!
On the subject of money – it sounds like your organization has transitioned you into this role – it is not unreasonable to speak to your employer and ask for support in terms of training.
Here are a few options for you to consider filling your weekend with:
Free Product Management training
Perhaps one of the most exciting prospects about becoming a Product Manager accidentally is that you learn your trade rapidly by getting stuck in and experimenting. Unlike many professions that demand months or years of training, you get to see immediate results and learn quickly what works and what doesn’t. There is a lot of Product Management training out there and some courses are better than others. Some focus on primarily on the role of a Product Manager in Scrum environments, whilst others take more of a business-centric approach.
Our online HotPMO training site has courses aimed at PMO professionals, but we don’t currently offer anything for Product Managers. Perhaps we should add it to our online training backlog! In the meantime, there are some great resources on Coursera that can help, including this course from the University of Alberta that you can audit for free: https://www.coursera.org/specializations/product-management
Useful books for Product Managers
- Sprint: Jake Knapp
- Project to Product: Mik Kersten
- Measure what Matters: John Doerr
- The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
- Product Management in practice – Matt Le May
- Strategize: Roman Pichler
Useful Product Management Blogs
Useful Product Management Podcasts
I hope you find these resources useful. Best of luck with your reading/learning, and I hope your product continues to evolve and grow.