How do you go from analyst/consulting to PM? What even defines a PM?

After seeing this type of question pop up in a Reddit thread, I wanted to give my take. Even though I’ve never been an analyst or consultant, I know a ton of management consultants and went to b-school. I also stumbled into product management, so I’m able to connect the dots.

Let’s start with the second question first. What defines product management? There are a ton of great definitions out there – Josh Elman, Brent Tworetzky, etc. – my own definition is a someone who can help guide the team with a roadmap, empower the team to solve problems, and fill in for the team when there’s a gap to get things done.

I’ve often said product management is the liberal arts degree of tech. A PM needs to be a strong communicator, think strategically, understand enough of UX and development, have the ability to learn quickly, synthesize information, and more – a ton of “softer” skills which combine into a valuable member of the team.

There’s a few attributes I would call out:

  • A product manager is obsessive about the problem and not precious about the solution. Finding out the real cores of the issues and root causes takes a ton of effort – it’s a mix of primary and secondary research, testing hypothesis, understanding how your roadmap ladders up to a broader vision and solves the problems for your customers. As the saying goes, a well-defined problem is half solved.
  • When I say “guide the team,” that’s pretty loaded. It implies you have a vision, understand where we should go, and then be able to convince the team that what we’re spending time is bring value. A roadmap helps here, but that’s for a later post.
  • “Fill in for the team” means being part of the execution oriented areas – can you help find and file bugs? Can you deploy code fixes? Can you help UX with competitive research? If they need help to get what they need done, if you can, step in.

 

So how do you move into being a product person from a consulting background? You bring a lot to the table, so I’m just cherry picking a few things – this list is not at all exhaustive:

  • Analysis. If you’ve had to look at data and discern insights, that’s a big part of being a product manager. A PM should be able to get data independently, wrangle and clean it up, and use it for analysis. That’s a powerful skill.
  • Communication. As a PM, you’ll be interfacing with product leaders, non-product execs, dev leads, project managers, UX designers, and a whole slew of people – you’ll be changing audiences and contexts a lot – and it can be taxing! Tailoring your message and level of detail will serve you well.
  • Selling. To sell your vision/roadmap, you might need buy-in from directors or VPs. As a consultant, you’ve had to present your findings and a data-oriented story to convince people of a certain path. That’s going to come in real handy.

Packaging that up for your CV and networking is one step closer to being a product manager. You definitely have the raw skills, so now it’s about doing the product manager’s job – building a roadmap, empowering others to execute on it, and learning quickly to fit in when you need to. If you want to talk more about how to move on this, hit me up at @hey_dylan_.