There are a lot of things about being in product management that can’t be learned from books or articles. They’re the kind of things that you pick up over time, and when you look back later on in your career, you realize there were some important lessons in there and wish someone told them to you earlier. Learning from many product managers, here’s a list of the top things they wish someone had told them before starting a product management career: 

What I didn't Know About Product Management - A woman arranging  notes on a whiteboard

Table of contents

  1. Role of a Product Manager: it’s not “one-size-fits-all”
  2. Protect Your Calendar at all Cost
  3. Empathy is Your Key to Success 
  4. Measure Accomplishment and Progress
  5. Learn How to Say “No” 
  6. Learn to Investigate Problems
  7. Tell Stories to Share Your Product Vision 

1: Role of a Product Manager: it’s no “one-size-fits-all” 

There are many different types of product management roles, and they don’t always look alike. A person working in product management might be responsible for the overall vision for their company’s product, but not actually responsible for building it themselves. They could be involved in marketing strategy and planning, customer service operations, business strategy, the list goes on and on. The fact is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of what an “ideal” Product management title is. Every product manager is different and books paint just one side of the story.

The best thing you can do when you’re looking at product management jobs or applying to them is to understand what each role will entail so that you can find the one that fits your skill set best. Knowing where your strengths lie will help determine which positions truly align with your interests and career aspirations—and ultimately make sure that you’re happy in this exciting field!  

2: Protect Your Calendar at all Cost 

protect your calendar as a project manager

Protect your calendar at all costs. Protect it because that’s the only way you’ll be able to do your product management job well and end up with a healthy work-life balance that allows you to enjoy life outside of work too. This is one of the most important things you can do to protect your time and make sure it’s used wisely. 

As a person responsible for product management, you need time to focus, work on strategy, and work on your vision. If you don’t protect it, you can say goodbye to your time and your lunch! Be on top of your schedule and make sure you leave blocks of time every day both for taking care of admin tasks and for vision planning. You can even use tools such as Calendly to help plan out your available time! Otherwise, you will always be working from behind! 

Don’t let yourself get distracted by non-essential tasks, either: no one cares if there’s an extra button on the homepage! Focus on the big picture goals and ensure that everything taking up your time provides some measurable step towards getting those things done! 

3: Empathy is Your Key to Success 

As a leader in product management, you are working with your team daily, so it is important that you build relationships with everyone on the team. Your success in product management is dependent on other people’s success, so it’s not just about you doing your job well, but also making sure that everyone else around you is doing their jobs well as well. For this, empathy is the key. Empathy for your users, your team, and stakeholders. You’ll work with so many people that you can’t forget part of your job is to understand them and to put yourself in their shoes! 

You’re going to be talking to people all day long, so you will need to make sure that you are being empathetic in everything you do. This means being respectful, polite, and kind while you communicate with others. It also means making sure that you’re not speaking over anyone else or interrupting them when they are trying to talk. 

Empathy is one of the most important skills for any successful product management professional because it helps you understand what other people want from the product or service that you’re working on. This will help ensure that everyone is aligned on how they want the project to go forward. 

4: Measure Accomplishment and Progress

measure your goals as a product manager

You need to be able to measure product management progress, so it’s important for you to set a few goals. Ask yourself: how will we know if we’ve succeeded in this goal? What will success look like? 

Once you have a few goals, make sure that your team defines the metrics needed to track their progress on those goals. This can be as simple as using Google Sheets or Excel spreadsheets, just make sure whatever tool is being used is flexible enough that everyone can see what they need right away, so there aren’t any delays in reporting progress back up through management channels.” 

5: Learn How to Say “No” 

A common mistake that product managers make is to say “yes” to every request they receive. Remember – everything you say “yes” to is a “no to something else since you don’t have infinite time. Saying “yes” too often sets product managers up for failure early on, and they end up with an unmanageable backlog and no schedule flexibility.

If you don’t know how to say “no” early on in your career as a product manager, your backlog will come back to haunt you later when you’re drowning in work. Most important: Be honest with yourself, if the tasks feel like an overload to you at the moment. Be polite but firm. A simple “I’m sorry, at this time we won’t be able to accommodate your request,” should suffice when rejecting a feature request or idea from another product manager within your organization.

6: Learn to Investigate Problems 

One thing product managers learn early on, besides that their time is limited and valuable, is that not all problems are really worth solving. First and foremost, if things go wrong with your product, you will need to be able to identify the problem and quickly figure out what caused it. But understanding how to evaluate which problems to invest time and money into solving is essential for being a successful product manager. 

So before jumping into solving a product management problem, do a very good analysis on whether the problem you are solving is really a problem worth solving and investing in. 

7: Tell Stories to Share Your Product Vision 

We all know that data and facts are important in product management, but if you don’t work on your ability to tell stories, you’ll have a hard time convincing others about your vision. People want to hear stories, not facts! 

People need to see the big picture, and product managers should be able to paint it for them. Your team needs to understand the how’s and why’s of their work so that they can effectively execute it. It’s your job as a product manager to help them do that by giving them a clear understanding of why their efforts matter—and how they fit into the larger picture. 

To get the rest of the team on board with your ideas, you need to be able to communicate them in an emotionally compelling way. By telling this story about the product, you help guide your team and stakeholders to imagine the product with you, and with this shared vision, bringing the product to life is much more seamless!

Equip Yourself to Grow & Evolve as a product manager! 

There are so many things that you experience as a product manager that no one tells you about. When something fails in a product or feature, as the product manager, you’re the one who will have to answer for it. Usually, it doesn’t fail because of one bug, product, or feature failures usually happen because a bunch of things don’t work as planned. As a product manager, you need to be aware of everything happening in your product area. Having a solid grasp of both the product and the market helps avoid potential problems. 

However, most important is that you are compassionate and patient with yourself in your product management journey. Allow your career to grow and evolve over time. You can’t know everything, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. 

What experience have you gained in the everyday course of your work as a product manager?

Which advice has helped you the most? Tell us in the comments and help other readers with your experience!

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This article is written by Ventecon Technologies GmbH. Ventecon Technologies GmbH provides AI software for product managers that helps them to prioritize what to build next and achieve tomorrow‘s product success. Learn more