The first thing you need to understand is that a Product Manager is different than a Product Owner. Owning the product means you’re responsible for making the decisions on how the product will evolve based on input from stakeholders and customers, managing the product is making sure you follow a plan defined for you. When you’re the owner, you are trusted to make the right decisions. When you’re a manager, you’re enforcing the decisions other people made. Not a lot of companies have a good definition for these roles, it is up to you to make sure the expectations are clear during the interview process.
What are the best entry-level positions to either get directly into the role or to gain relevant experience for it?
There is no good answer for this. I’ve been working in QA for 12 years and saw a lot of different people performing those duties. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, I applied that to my last job and ended up being the Product Manager. It wasn’t intentional, it was a natural progression within that team. I would saw that knowing the Agile principles is a good step, take a CSM course, and go from there…
How deep should I develop my knowledge on the general technical concepts and specific programming languages and tools used by the dev team?
As deep as you’re willing to go. A Product Owner\Manager with good technical skills is extremely valuable. This allows you to both give direction to the dev team on what to do as well as understand what they decide to do. Notice I said give direction, not tell them what to do. It is not your job to tell them how to do their job, it is your job to coach and help them to make the right decisions based on what you want for the product.
There are several online resources that can give you definitions on things like microservices, but it’s better to be part of a team and see how they make those decisions, make mistakes, and fix them. That is the kind of experience you need to be a good Product Owner\Manager because that is how you can coach a team on how to do it successfully. I don’t know of a course that teaches these things, I’ve learned on the job (I’m a QA Engineer turned Project Manager - I never owned the product)
What should I learn to better listen to, understand and uncover the needs of a product’s customers and stakeholders?
Things you can’t really learn:
- have the customer’s best interest at hand
- be selfless
Things you can learn:
- how to say no (stakeholders are not always right, sometimes you have to fight back. If you have to fight back all the time, leave and get another job)
- you’re building a product to serve the customer, not to serve stakeholders. Stakeholders are usually interested in revenue, not service. I would advise you to stay away from said people as they tend to make bad business decisions.
- don’t work overtime (unless you’re getting paid for it)
- how to manage focus groups (listening to your customer is extremely important) → stakeholders, product managers\owners, developers, qa, etc. can get tunnel vision. They all know what the requirements are and things always seem logical. This is never the case with the end-user, you need to see things from their perspective, why something is not intuitive or why it goes against industry best practices despite being logical and efficient.
- how to manage people: you need to be a leader and a mentor, this allows you to successfully manage a team. Some people are natural leaders, others can learn the basics.
What should I learn to better communicate between the different groups involved in the product development? (i.e. Developers, Executives and Customers / Stakeholders)
This is where technical knowledge is also very useful, you should be able to translate technical requirements to your stakeholders and customers. What does the higher price for an XL ECS instance in AWS mean for system performance, site availability, why is it worth it?
Public speaking courses would be good, being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Writing courses would be good. If you can send a well-crafted email instead of having a meeting, please do that!
If you need to make a presentation, make it concise.
Reports and dashboards that can reduce meetings and provide instant access to information. You don’t necessarily have to build them but know how to manage and access the data.