Transitioning into Product Management

Only recently, dedicated  graduation paths for Product Management have been established. In fact, most Product Managers transition from other departments and functions. We’ve identified the most typical paths and interviewed product managers who have successfully done their transitions and shared their stories with us. 

From UX to Product Management

🙋‍♀️Reha Discioglu, Senior Product Manager at Quentic, previously UX Designer.

UX Designers and Researchers (UX) already work closely with the Product Management and Engineering teams. We’ve seen in some companies there are halftime UX and halftime product management roles, or companies where UX takes on product management tasks, such as prioritization, stakeholder communication, and user interviews, which makes it a rather natural transition from UX into product management.

There are definitely transferable skills such as customer interviews, customer journey mapping, mock-up sketching, and prototyping.
Still, there are things to watch out for. It’s important to identify the skill and mindset gaps as early as possible. Very often, those are the business acumen, cross-functional facilitation, as well as technical side of things. Even for a generalist type of Product Manager, it’s helpful to, for instance, understand practical and fundamental Engineering principles, ask the right questions, and understand the technical practices, such as “migration” or “updating a library”.

When it comes to the difference between B2B and B2C, everything can be different. There can often be much more stakeholder management in B2B than in B2C, which means a higher level of soft skills is required. The balance between what buyers and users want can be challenging to find. And it’s tougher to summarise customer problems in B2B, where although having the same problems when using the same solution, each B2B customer has their particular organizational setup in the system and in reality. Whereas in B2C, oftentimes the focus is either on retention, engagement, purchase rate, etc. Last but not least, in B2B, it’s not easy to ignore “angry customers”.

From Marketing to Product Management

🙋‍♀️ Eva Gao, Senior Product Manager at Quentic, previously in Social Media Marketing. Marketing activities encircle our products: generating leads, communicating features, advertising the values, gathering feedback, etc. If a marketing expert is curious about how the product comes about, why these benefits are for this audience group, and how to take part in shaping the product, it’s probably the time to transition into Product Management.

There are definitely transferable skills that assist a smoother transition:

  • Marketing is full of data, e.g., website and email engagement, lead acquisition funnel, event participation, etc. Knowing how to handle data is a valuable skill for Product Management as well.
  • Marketing is often customer-facing. It takes experience to be able to confidently have a fruitful discussion with the customer. Coming from Marketing certainly helps.
  • Marketing can also involve Product Management. Designing and running a website, coming up with effective ideas for emailing, and writing the best-in-class product communication letters all relate to product management activities.

Still, there are things to watch out for:

  • Asking enough “why”. A marketing expert reads a lot of data as mentioned above. But data often shows behavior patterns, not the underlying causes and pains, which are essential for Product Management. Don’t stop after reading the data but start practicing solid problem-digging skills.
  • Wave goodbye to “done”. In Marketing, there are set dates where things are done, e.g., a conference, a press release, or a survey, whereas, in Product Management, we would have to think that this conference is always running, and we are always improving it. There’s no moving on to the next conference but moving on to the next improvement of the same conference.

Let’s discuss how to break into Product Management from Marketing. Note that here we focus on the transition, not how to land a job in general, i.e., your CV structure or job application platforms.

  • Point out and demonstrate transferable skills. The above-mentioned skills might not be obvious to the hiring managers straightaway, thus a reminder would do them a favor. After pointing them out, add examples of how those skills were utilized in the previous role. Be concrete, and use data and storytelling.
  • Show motivation. The hiring manager would wonder, if everything’s fine, why would someone leave the previous role and start new? Let the motivation speak. It’s the Pull, not the Push – the Product Management job is calling.
  • Be honest. Regardless of transferable skills and motivation, there will be skill and knowledge gaps. It’s better to already be aware of them than dismiss them. Communicate to the hiring manager that the gaps have been identified and the plan for filling the gaps.

From Domain Expert to Product Management

🙋‍♀️Mariana Furnari, Product Manager at Quentic, previously ESG Analyst.

When a product is handling problems of a specific domain, say ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) or FinTech, it’s often helpful to have a Product Manager who has previously worked in such domains and could use their expertise to better shape the product. And for the experts, extending their knowledge into a product can be a way to stay in the domain and make a higher impact.

Domain knowledge is no doubt the first transferable skill. As well as any other fronts of the job that involves product management tasks, such as talking to customers, analyzing data, working in a cross-functional team, etc. Even though the mindset might have been different. For example, although talking to customers, the goal might have been trying to explain a principle, even convey a value, instead of listening to their pains, still, empathy towards customers comes more naturally than not having a touch point with customers.

Although it’s never too late to learn on the job, it’s still helpful to first understand the key principles of product management, before transitioning. For example, everything from watching online videos about life as a Product Manager to reading blogs and books about product management practices.

There are also many things to watch out for. First of all, passionate domain experts may find themselves being lonely among a group of “backlog”, “ticket”, and “requirement” talkers. Once stepped into product management, it’s no longer about the knowledge of a subject, but the knowledge of the customers. Shifting this mindset requires both a deep understanding of what product management is, and the willingness to step down from the throne of the domain expert. Secondly, cross-functional collaboration can be on a much higher level in product management than before. It takes teams of people with completely different mindsets and motivations to pull a product together. The ability to work with all of them is highly required for product management. As with all Product Managers, practicing resilience would help make it through.

Further Reading


Transition to Product Management

Where do PMs come from?

Brian de Haaff | Aha Blog

Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

So you’ve decided that you want to be a Product Manager. That’s great! The problem is, you’ve never worked in product before, and you’ve got no idea where to start.

Ellen Merryweather | Product School

Making the Move from Project Management to Product Management

 (Yes, it Can Be Done)