product managementIn this Friday Fifteen episode, I will help you understand if Product Management is for you, and help select the right kind of Product Management job.

In this particular episode, you will learn

You will learn a learn a 3-step process to understand your strengths, motivations and fears, give an overview of the kinds of Product Management roles and help select the right kind of Product Management job and role.

Detailed Transcript

Hey welcome to the fourth Friday Fifteen episode on The Design Your Thinking Podcast…and I’m your host, teacher and friend, Karthik. Hope you had a good week! If you are listening to this episode, you are either making products or looking to move to the product world. You are either a product manager who has been managing products for a little while and now looking to explore more product roles, or something who is thinking of switching roles and considering product management as an option.

No matter which bucket you fall into, this episode is for you. As you know, the Friday Fifteen episodes don’t follow any particular order. I pick topics based on what listeners and readers are interested in, as long as I see them relevant to the larger community. Today’s topic is one such. Many people have asked me why and how I got into product management. While there are many who are interested but unable to make the switch, there are others who are just confused if they should get into product management, or product design, or user experience or something else.

Thanks to the world of options today, there are numerous roles out in the market that aid to this confusion. “Product Consultant”, “Innovation Strategist”, “Product Strategist”, “Product Manager”, “Product Owner” and the list just goes on. I’ve been asked by many people who went on to do their MBAs from top B-Schools, but are unhappy with the roles they are in. Some have found their sweet spot by trial and error and gotten into careers and roles that they have always wanted.

So I decided to do this episode and help you navigate this maze and find out if product management is indeed something for you. Will you be happy making the switch? Let’s go and figure out by jumping right in..

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As in any profession, it’s more about yourself than the role, that’s important to pay attention to. Any job could be yours, if you did the right preparation, but it’s important to understand if you’ll be happy doing that job. So in today’s episode, I’ll share a set of 3 steps that will take you from where you are, to deciding to applying or not, to a product management gig.

In the next 10 odd minutes, we are going to see how to go about –

  1. Understanding yourself – your strengths, motivations and passion
  2. Understanding the product management job and its variations
  3. Bridging the gap between You and Your Dream PM Role

First, Understanding Yourself..

This might sound weird or a little philosophical, but how much do you really understand yourself? I was quiet shocked when I really took time to understand myself better. Introspection, as it’s called, is a great investment of our time every once in a while.

So what are we trying to understand about ourselves and why? A product manager’s role, as opposed to many other roles, is particularly a dicey one. One that can make or break products and companies. Sounds too dramatic, but the intention here is let you know that this role cannot and should not be described with a set of skills or knowledge areas. It’s a role that, to a very large extent, exposes our true personality, motivations and fears as we get more involved and start to grow.

Understanding yourself in terms of your strengths, motivations, fears, biases and passion is very key. Let me now walk you through a simple exercise you can do to discover these things about yourself.

Alright, let’s get right back.

The SWOT Exercise

First, start by doing a SWOT exercise on yourself. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, if you have’t heard of the term in the past. You can find a link to an article I’d written on SWOT in the show notes and download the SWOT template if you need to, to do this exercise.

Take a piece of paper, start writing down your top 3-4 strengths, 3-4 weaknesses, 3-4 things you think are opportunities and 3-4 threats. While you probably would understand strengths and weaknesses, let me quickly explain what opportunities and threats are in this context.

Opportunities are those things that have come your way or have access to – like a company-sponsored course or a chance to work on a new and different project or perhaps a new job offer or maybe a friend is asking for your help with something he or she is doing.

When we talk about Threats in your personal context, we are talking about things like professional threats like layoffs, slowdown in hiring, or perhaps you are getting disinterested in doing something in your current role that you will never want to ever do. For instance, I started to get disinterested in building solutions when I was in the solutions business. I was tired of building one-off solutions and not being able to go deep into a problem space.

Now that you understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, let’s try and understand your motivations.

Understand Your Motivations

This exercise, though sounds trivial, can sometimes take a lot of time sheerly because of too many things running in our heads. So, the best time to do what I’m about to tell you to do, is after a morning run or a session of yoga or when your mind has been out of the everyday churn….maybe when you go for a trek with your dog? You figure out a good way, but let me go ahead and give you your exercise…

Are you ready? Let’s do it.

Go back in time by a day and think of all the high moments and what you liked about them. Now go back a week, a month, a year, five years and your childhood. I’m sure you’ve had a lot of good times and enjoyed doing a lot of things. Need be, take a look at old photographs. Write down everything that comes to your mind.

Next, go talk to your best friend or someone you think knows you best. Ask him or her what they think are your strengths and describe moments they thought you were at your best.

You may wonder what these have to do with your job in product management? Tell you what? This has everything to do with being a product manager – you get so many hints about what you enjoy doing – from being alone to leading groups of people to doing creative stuff to a eye for keeping the house in order. Everything.

Now that you have written down your motivations, it’s time you wrote down one or more short phrases describing each of your motivation. For example, I spent my yesterday playing with my son and creating a doll house like in his favorite cartoon, Peppa Pig. It was a lot of fun and it just reaffirmed the fact that I enjoy dabbling with stuff, being hands on and doing creative stuff. And it also helps reaffirm another of my key motivation – entertaining people….even as young as my 3 year-old son!

Now that you’ve done the SWOT and understand your motivations, you are in a far more better position to pick the kind of product management role you want to be doing.

So, are you ready for the next leg?

Understanding the product management job and its variations

Alright, welcome back. It’s now time you understood the product management job and role better. So, here you go…

I always like to talk about the Venn Diagram popularized by Martin Ericsson where he goes on to describe the role of a Product Manager as a combination of Business, Tech and User Experience. That’s a very nice way to look at the role as most often these are the three schools and disciplines from which product managers come.

In other words, you either come from an engineering or tech background, a business or subject matter expertise background with an MBA perhaps and / or a background in user experience or design.

That said, in practical purposes, the day-to-day roles and responsibilities could vary from one job to another. For the sake of this class, I’d like to talk about 5 of these variations, based on how I’ve seen companies hire product managers for:

  1. Manage engineering backlogs and releases
  2. Focus on customers – success, request and more
  3. Focus on helping sales and marketing succeed
  4. Focus on product strategy and roadmap
  5. Manage products or product lines working with executive management

Each of these are focus areas and I tried to list them in the increasing order of probability of finding such roles.

Manage engineering backlogs and releases

Manage engineering backlogs and releases is the first of the focus areas. You can see such roles with the titles like “Product Owner”, “Product Release Manager” or just “Product Manager”. If you were to be hired in such roles, you are expected to be good at project management and have a liking to get into details of every day engineering tasks like managing backlogs, creating stories and planning sprints.

Focus on customers

The second kind is the PM that’s focused on customers. This role is most often found in enterprise software companies where the focus is heavy on managing existing big customers, their requests and supporting the internal customer success teams. Again, this role requires you to be extremely good at listening to people, attention to details, a strong sense of direction and managing critical situations.

Focus on Helping Sales and Marketing Succeed

The third kind of PM role is one that’s focused on helping sales and marketing. If you are hired on one of these roles, you are most likely expected to be on your feet, traveling a lot with your sales and account teams, buddy with them and understand customers and represent your product team. As I said, if you love traveling, talking to people, working odd hours while having a strong interest in learning the business and being able to translate between technical and business talk, you are probably going to love this kind of a role.

Focus on Product Strategy and Roadmap

The fourth kind of PM role is the one that’s focused on product strategy and roadmap. If you’ve done your MBA you are most likely going to get hired into this kind of a role. This one is more focused on the product business side with you doing market research, customer research, competitive research, interviewing customers and more. Again, you don’t need to have an MBA, but a strong experience on the business is what is being looked at.

Manage Products or Product Lines Working with Executive Management

The fifth and the last kind of PM role I’d like to talk about is the one that manages multiple products and product lines. These roles are more focused on upward management, working with executives like CEOs and sales heads. If you are looking to get hired on such roles, you are expected to be strong with your business and communication skills. A lot of soft skills like negotiation and persuasion skills is more important in such roles.

Alright, that’s calls for a sip of water….and a quick musical break!

You still there? Alright! So now you know how to understand yourself and also understood the kind of product management roles you can expect to see. Now its time we looked at how you can bridge the gap between the two.

Bridging the Gap between You and Your Dream Product Management Role

By now you’ve probably understood yourself and your motivations better. You are also aware of what kind of product management gigs are available. Of course there are more nuances to these roles, but you at least know the 5 broad kinds of roles. It’s now time you bridged the gap.

Let me teach you a simple technique so that this exercise doesn’t become a yet-another-exercise and you actually see results.

First, define your goals. Based on your SWOT and the role you’ve picked to focus on, define a maximum of 3-4 goals with a reasonable time – I’d prefer having timelines not more than 12 months. Now, break down the goals.

  1. Take a piece of paper and divide it into 4 columns
  2. In the first column, write down your goal. Say you have something like “Be good at project management”….just making it up for you
  3. In the second column, write down what you need to do in order to meet the goal. It could be something like “Signup for a course / workshop on Agile Project Management”, “Signup for a Scrum Certification” and something like that
  4. In the third column, write down what are the steps you need to take tomorrow to get what you’ve written down in the second column to reality. Maybe you need to get your manager’s approval if you have to take time off or expense a course.

Religiously follow this method every day and track what you did and what you need to do next to move closer to your goal. That’s it!


Alright, that’s all I have for today. I hope you found some value in today’s class. The first and the third steps is definitely applicable to any profession. I hope you go and put this to action, and let me know how it goes! I wish you very good luck with your career!

If you liked listening to this episode, do subscribe to The Design Your Thinking Podcast and leave us a Rating and Review in the iTunes store. No, this is not a scripted readout – I really really mean this. That’s the only way you can help me do more and better episodes. Just go to

You can find the transcript, links to some articles in the show notes at

Till I see you in the next episode, Stay Tuned, Stay Inspired! Keep Pushing! Cheers!

Show Notes

My article titled “SWOT to get valuable product insights” –

Shows on understanding your purpose and building a happy startup:


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