Silicon Valley Times

The guide on How to Transition to Product Management for anyone

Abhishek Aryaman

Abhishek Aryaman

Product management has become one of the most sought-after roles in the tech industry, with demand for skilled PMs surging in recent years. This growth is driven by the need for companies to innovate and stay competitive. Despite advancements in AI and automation, the role of a PM remains irreplaceable due to the essential human elements of empathy, creativity, and strategic thinking that are crucial for understanding user needs and developing product visions.

PMs are vital in large companies, helping to differentiate products in crowded markets by bringing product visions to life and acting as the voice of the customer. They translate user feedback into actionable insights, driving decisions that enhance user satisfaction and loyalty.

Transitioning into product management can be challenging, requiring a unique blend of skills and experiences. In this article, we explore key steps to transition effectively into product management, guided by insights from Abhishek Aryaman, a leading PM at Lyft, who shares his journey and offers valuable advice for aspiring PMs.

Question 1: How do you transition into a product management role for someone who has no technical skills or has no idea what being a PM is?

Answer by Abhishek Aryaman:

“The interesting thing about being a PM is that there’s no set path. It’s not like coding where you can practice and eventually get good at it. There are a couple of ways to break into product management. First, if you’re a student, you can get PM internships. Then, when you graduate, you can enter an APM (Associate Product Manager) or RPM (Rotational Product Manager) program. These programs are highly selective, and very few PMs get in through them. If you do get in, these programs train you over about two years, and you graduate as a PM.

Another way is to see if your company is a product company, meaning they have PM roles. If you’re in an industry like consulting, as I was, there are no PM roles, so you can’t transition internally. However, if your company does have PMs, you should try to work with them, shadow them, and get to know them to move internally.

If internal transitions aren’t possible, find a company that you resonate with and that has PM roles. For instance, I was a consultant working on organizational restructuring and digital transformation, which somewhat related to PM work. I moved to DoorDash and started in a strategy and operations role. From there, I transitioned into product management. My experience building a peer-to-peer delivery system for college students called Mule helped in my transition to DoorDash, as I understood the operational marketplace well. This path led me to product management and further opportunities like at Lyft.

To summarize, there are three main ways to transition into product management:

  1. Enter an APM program if you’re a grad.
  2. Understand if your current company has PM roles and move closer to them.
  3. Move to a company that has PM roles and then transition into them.”

Question 2: What skills do you need to transition into a PM program or be an effective PM?

Answer by Abhishek Aryaman:

“So, there’s nothing set in stone when it comes to the skills needed for product management, and every PM is different. Each brings their unique skill sets, leadership styles, and product management approaches to the table. What you need to understand is whether you have the base skill set required to be a good PM, and then consider what unique attributes you can bring that will set you apart.

Let’s delve into the base skill set first. This involves having product vision and execution capabilities. Product vision is about strategic insight—thinking long-term and understanding how tactical actions contribute to a broader strategy. Can you create a roadmap for a product? Can you think about the future impacts of your decisions? On the other hand, execution is about managing and delivering projects that align with that roadmap. It involves organizing a team, managing projects, and ensuring everything runs smoothly.

Leadership and communication skills are critical here. You need to effectively lead diverse teams, which include user experience researchers, designers, data scientists, and engineers. Empathy is also essential to understand and build what your users truly need.

Beyond these basics, what truly sets a PM apart is their unique strengths. Maybe you’ve built your own app that achieved significant user growth through effective digital marketing, highlighting your growth PM potential. Perhaps you have excellent design skills or come from a data science background, bringing strong analytical capabilities to the table. Every PM has their fortes, and these are what make each one unique.

To summarize, focus on building a strong foundational skill set that includes product vision, execution, leadership, and communication. Then, hone in on your ‘superpower’—the unique skills and experiences that differentiate you from other PMs.”

Question 3: What would you tell people looking into transitioning to product management?

Answer by Abhishek Aryaman:

“As we spoke, there isn’t a definitive path to becoming a PM. You’ll have to chart your own course, but fortunately, there are many paths that can lead to a great PM job. Here’s how you can navigate this transition:

Understand Your Starting Point:

The journey to becoming a PM varies greatly depending on your background. For instance, a designer, a data scientist, and an engineer will each have unique paths. It’s crucial to assess how your current role relates to product management and leverage those connections.

Create Demonstrative Projects:

Building projects that showcase your PM skills is highly effective. For example, I created Mule in college and scaled it to thousands of users, demonstrating my ability to lead a product. If you’re a designer, showcase your design skills through tangible projects. If you’re an engineer, build sophisticated products that highlight your technical capabilities.

Network with Transitioned PMs:

Connect with individuals who have successfully transitioned into product management, either within your desired company or in the broader industry. Learning from their experiences can provide valuable insights and guide your own transition.

Focus on Interview Preparation:

Preparing for PM interviews is crucial. Companies typically conduct vision and execution interviews, alongside leadership or behavioral rounds. For vision interviews, familiarize yourself with different frameworks and find what suits you best. For execution interviews, practice various questions and engage in mock interviews with experienced PMs. This helps you gain perspective from the hiring side and avoid being in an echo chamber.

Utilize Available Resources:

There are numerous resources, including books and online communities, that delve into the specifics of product management. Additionally, many communities offer free mock interview sessions with PMs, which can be incredibly beneficial.

Leverage Referrals and Internal Transfers:

Once you’re prepared, aim for referrals and optimize for internal transfers if possible. Historically, internal transfers have been highly effective for securing PM roles. Use these strategies to maximize your chances of success.

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