Workin’ 9 to 5 (…and some advice from Product Managers)

Once you start thinking more about where you want to be than about making the best product, you’re screwed.
~
Linus Torvalds

Welcome back! So far, I’ve shared wisdom from subject matter experts working in Sales, Marketing and Human Resources. Next up in my series highlighting specific professions, I am featuring a profession that often crosses multiple departmental lines – engineering, marketing, design and executive leadership, just to name a few – and takes a lot of savvy to do well.

Once again, I sent out five questions to longtime Product Management professionals whose advice is great for both those at the beginning of their careers, as well as those who are considering a career transition to this profession. Unfortunately because of the holidays, I only heard back from two product folks, but with their valuable advice I still wanted to share!

The contributors to this week’s post :

  • Stephen Sklarew, Vice President of Product at Sage
  • Mike Kruse, Co-Founder of ProductCamp PDX + Product Manager at PreCash

Below is what they had to share with me (and a few tidbits from yours truly as well) about their work in Product Management, what they’ve learned, and tips for those looking into a career in this profession. Enjoy!!!

1. What helped you the most in getting (and succeeding in) your current job?

  • Sklarew: A Product Management mentor/coach got a Senior VP job at the company first, which opened a position working for him. He’s been an inspiration for me since we met three companies ago – always positive and passionate, incredibly intelligent, and loves to teach others.
  • Kruse: A technical background that allows me to earn the trust of the development team.

2. What is one of the most common misconceptions about working in Product?

  • Sklarew: That it’s a well-defined job. Product Management means different things to different companies.
  • Kruse: That the job is the same in all companies. Every organization has a different idea of the role and what are the most important skills. Hiring teams only look at your most recent position but you may be not demonstrating your entire portfolio of skills in that position.  They are looking for someone that is doing exactly what they need done in their current position.

3. What advice would you offer those wanting to get into this line of work?

  • Sklarew: Learn to make order out of chaos without getting side tracked and accomplishing nothing big – identify 3 big things will increase revenue or customer satisfaction (nps) and drive them home, then find three more.
  • Kruse: This position has evolved a lot over the past 5 years.  The emergence of product owner has swung the majority of the opportunities towards the in-bound side along with the need for a higher degree of system knowledge. Domain knowledge is highly valued – often more highly valued than the soft skills such as negotiation, managing vendor relationships, and consensus building.

4. How has the work changed since you entered the Product Management profession?

  • Sklarew: It started more hierarchical where managers managed people and staff did the real work. Now managers are expected to do both.
  • Kruse: An awareness (at least in the web and mobile market) that you can release your product to the market more often.  Historically when software was embedded or delivered on media through a channel you could not afford to make continuous changes

5. Why do you do what you do for a living? Any other dreams out there you still want to pursue?

  • Sklarew: I’m always learning and that keeps life interesting and challenging. Monotony doesn’t create happiness for me. My dream is to start a wildly successful company with a great team that loves what they do every day.
  • Kruse: Once a product manager, it can be difficult to stage your career development.  Advancement opportunities are limited. Personally I want to manage a client services organization.  I am also interested in intellectual property management.
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