Bart Krawczyk Learning how to build beautiful products without burning myself out (again). Writing about what I discovered along the way.

How to become a product manager: A 12-month plan

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How To Become A Product Manager: A 12-Month Plan

In recent years, product management has become one of the hottest IT jobs out there. The promise of getting into the tech industry and securing a high salary without strong technical expertise is tempting to many.

As a result, it also led to abundant resources, tutorials, entry-level courses, and career paths to get into product management. Just google “how to become a PM,” and you’ll see thousands of results and tutorials. It’s just overwhelming.

To make it easier, here is a semi-prescriptive plan you can follow to become a product manager in roughly 12 months. It’s not fool-proof and will require hard work, dedication, and a bit of luck on your part, but it’s a better approach than jumping from resource to resource.


Table of contents


Disclaimer: You might not get hired in 12 months

First of all, let’s set clear expectations. It’s a 12-month plan to develop the skills required to become a product manager, not to get a job as a PM.

From my perspective, becoming a product manager is about developing a specific way of thinking and approaching problems. It’s all about becoming an outcome-oriented, problem-driven experimenter with a strong business sense.

If you fully commit to the plan, you should develop the ability to think and make decisions like a product manager within the next 12 months.

Landing a PM job is a different story. It depends on multiple external factors, such as:

  • Your past experience
  • The country you work in
  • Your CV and interviewing skills
  • Your network
  • Market conditions

And that’s just to name a few. Although this career development plan will make finding a job as a product manager easier, you are not guaranteed to find a job.

1. First 3 months: Understanding the basics

During the first three months of the journey, you should seek answers to two questions:

  1. What is product management all about?
  2. Is it for me?

Product management seems fancy and perhaps even easy from the outside, but once you start digging deeper into it, you might realize it’s a completely different field than some might expect.

These three months will help you understand basic product management processes and vocabulary, building solid fundaments for further learning. And if you decide that product management is not for you after all, the knowledge you get here should be helpful in many different places.

Be warned, though. The first three months will be reading/listening heavy. The goal is to fully immerse you in the product management world and thinking. The content will also overlap a lot, but that’s on purpose. Discussing the same concepts from different perspectives will help you get a solid grasp on the basics.

Below you’ll find:

Introductory course

There are many introductory courses for product management, but if we were to recommend one, it would be Product Academy by productschool.org (don’t confuse it with the ProductSchool.com) for the following reasons:

  • It’s free. Although the membership costs $49/month, the 30-day free trial is enough to finish the course
  • It covers the breadth of product management while diving deep on key areas
  • Both audio and video are of high quality
  • You get permanent access to the Slack community; although the community itself is quite small, the course author is active and eagerly answers all questions, so you get a free mentor to boot!)

Best entry-level books on product management

There are thousands of product management books, but the following are great resources to pick up if you’re just starting from scratch:

These can help you kick-start your PM career, but you should take any book with a grain of salt; they tend to depict product management in a somewhat idealized world. They’re excellent blueprints to show what proper product management should look like, but sometimes they fail to consider the human factor, company politics, corporate processes, etc.



As a sanity check, I’d recommend reading Product Management in Practice by Matt LeMay. Although the book seems to focus on mid-level product managers, it has a unique way of showing product management from a more grounded, realistic perspective.

Noteworthy articles

For high-level, basic concepts, you don’t always need a whole book to get started. You can often find what you need in the form of well/structured tutorials, guides, and expert-authored content such as the following:

The Scrum Guide

If you haven’t worked in the tech industry before, I’d recommend reading the Scrum Guide at least two or three times in your first months.

It’s not because scrum is some silver bullet; in fact, it’s somewhat obsolete, and almost no company implements it fully. However, most products are built in a scrum-like fashion, and understanding the scrum framework will help you understand how software is usually made.

Where to start?

For a prescriptive recipe for early success, I’d suggest reading the following resources in the following order:

  1. What does a product manager do
  2. Escaping the Build Trap by Melissa Perri
  3. The Product Academy course
  4. The Scrum Guide

2. Next 3 months: Deep dive into fundamentals

If you made it through the regimen described above during your first few months and still think product management is for you, it’s time to dig a bit deeper into the fundamentals.

These next three months will be less prescriptive. I’ll guide you on what areas to focus on, but the exact path depends on your background and past experiences. The journey will differ for a project manager, UX designer, developer, accountant, etc.

There’ll be some recommended readings, but at this stage, you need to be more proactive in choosing the exact resources, depending on your background and potential gaps in knowledge.

Don’t try to learn everything

I strongly suggest you avoid all the noise on the internet. It’s a bad guide. (Except for this guide, of course 🙂).

If you ask what you have to learn to become a product manager, you will hear that you need to learn almost everything, including:

  • Project management
  • People management
  • Leadership
  • Discovery
  • Pricing
  • Strategy
  • Roadmapping
  • Interviews
  • Negotiations
  • SEO
  • Scrum mastery
  • Coaching
  • Stakeholder management
  • A/B testing
  • Go-to-market strategies
  • Growth channels
  • Data analysis
  • Business modeling
  • Workflow management
  • Competitive analysis
  • Market research
  • Wireframing
  • SQL
  • And so on…

That’s both overwhelming and demotivating. People who say you need to learn everything about product management to become a PM are probably just trying to boost their own egos. Assuming you don’t want to start your product management career straight from being chief product officer (and if you want to, this guide is not for you), you don’t need all of this.

No one will expect an entry-level, associate product manager to be highly skilled in pricing and whole go-to-market strategies or to plan a three-year roadmap. The most important skills for early product managers include:

We already assume you have the basic soft skills, but to brush up, check out our guide on soft skills for product managers.

Delivery

Delivery is all about making things happen. It’s more focused on the “how” than the “what” or “why.”

Although a product manager is not a project manager, in reality, many companies adopt a hybrid approach where one person wears both hats. For early product managers, it’s pretty common to be more delivery-focused than their senior peers, who focus more on discovery and strategy.

For starters, I’d recommend the following:

  • Other articles on the LogRocket Product Management Blog
  • The Mountain Goat Software blog, which does a great job of explaining complex delivery topics in a simple way
  • Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn, which unpacks topics that are most problematic to entry-level PMs
  • You could also consider taking PSM-I and/or PSPO-I certification exams. It’s not about the certificate but about the learning process, and both PSM-I and PSPO-I force you to get a really solid understanding of the scrum framework, which will be useful even if you don’t work in the scrum

Discovery

Discovery is all about understanding “why” and using it to define “what.”

To oversimplify, discovery consists of four steps:

  1. Understand the problems users are facing
  2. Prioritize these problems
  3. Ideate potential solutions for the problem
  4. Test these solutions

In mature product companies, mid-level product managers are focused primarily on discovery.

For a starter, we’d recommend the following:

  • ProductTalk blog, authored by well-renowned discovery coach, Teresa Torres
  • Sprint book that depicts how the discovery process looks in the form of a condensed, 5-days long sprint
  • The MOM test to understand the difficulties and challenges of understanding users

Hypothesis-driven development

The most proper and mature product development process is a hypothesis- and experimentation-driven one.

Based on your discovery effort, you set a hypothesis, test it by experimenting, learn from it, and derive another hypothesis from it. By constantly repeating the cycle, you take steps toward creating a product everyone loves.

For a starter, I’d recommend the following:

Spend some time digging deeper and exploring these three areas on your own. You don’t need to become an expert, but you should at least be comfortable discussing these three product management areas.

3. Next 6 months: Get your hands dirty

After six months of intensive learning, you should have all the basics covered.

There’s no prescribed path from here. We could list another 20 books worth reading, but over-education won’t do you any good.

For the remaining six months, focus on these three areas;

  • Get some visibility — especially if you want to apply for a PM job soon
  • Get some practice — reinforce your learnings by putting your knowledge into action somehow
  • Explore — try different product management topics to discover which are enjoyable and which are draining. There are different types of PMs out there

Below, you’ll find a list of ideas to put your new knowledge into practice while gaining visibility. Depending on your particular context, some might be more relevant than others:

Just don’t try to do all of them at once; it’s better to do one thing right than to be a jack of all trades.

Support PMs in your company

If your company has product managers already, volunteer to support them. You can shadow them, help them with some mundane tasks, and, over time, take on some more complex challenges.

Even if you just spend an hour taking notes on a meeting, you still get the benefit of soaking in the context and learning by observing a real PM in action in the context you probably understand.

If the company doesn’t allow you to invest your company time in supporting other PMs, consider investing some extra hours on your own. Staying an hour late to help a product manager will give you more learning than another hour doing some online product management course.

Join a mentoring program

Getting a mentor that’ll set the right challenges for you is a great way to maximize your learning speed. All the better if you can get a mentor from your company.

If your company has no internal mentoring program, you can try to find someone online.

One way is to just ask on LinkedIn and other social media. Many people are helpful in nature, so you might find the right mentor there.

There are also websites dedicated to product management mentoring. However, they are often paid services. These include:

Build mock products

Behance is a platform used to share creative projects online. Although it’s most commonly used by graphic designers and UX designers, product managers can also benefit from the platform.

The idea is to pick a problem, go through a simplified product design process, and then document the journey as a Behance project. These usually include:

  • User research
  • User journey
  • Listing pain points and opportunities
  • Wireframes
  • etc.

Here are some examples show these projects look like:

Don’t be discouraged by the pretty UI of these projects. You can stop at the idea at the prioritization/wireframes level for product management-focused case studies. The goal is to show your thinking and structured approach, not fancy visuals.

Doing a few of these fake projects will help you strengthen your fundamentals. Plus, it can be fun, especially if you decide to talk with real people during the project, which I’d strongly encourage.

It will also give you something to showcase when looking for an entry-level PM job.

Pass on the basics and expand your knowledge

Teaching others is one of the best ways to strengthen your own knowledge. Don’t let your imposter syndrome discourage you.

It’s true that you are not an expert yet. You are not even an experienced product manager. But you are six months ahead of people who want to learn the basics. You can be a great mentor to them.

Share what you learned during the last six months, whether by:

  • Social media
  • YouTube
  • Blogging
  • etc.

Over time, you’ll start getting questions you can’t answer. Then research the topic, learn about it, and share what you learned again. Keep repeating.

This way, you’ll keep learning new things while reinforcing what you already know and building your brand online. It’s a win-win-win.

Create your own product

Last but not least, you can take a big swing and try building your own product. There’s no better product management boot camp than creating an actual product.

It doesn’t have to be a brand new, shiny social media platform or SaaS mobile app. You could write an ebook or create a digital course. It’s not what you build but how you build it.

If you decide to write a book and you start with proper discovery, then deliver MPV, and iterate on it regularly based on market feedback, then you are doing product management.

You could even bake a cake. Seriously! If you can discover some unmet needs of cake consumers, create a brand new recipe, and experiment with hypothesis-driven development, you are a cake product manager.

No matter what you decide to create, make sure you document your process along the way.

Remember, not everyone is an entrepreneurial product manager, and not everybody has to be. If you don’t have an internal drive to build your own product from scratch, just don’t do it.

Although the internet tends to scream that you absolutely must have a side project in your portfolio, it’s just one of many ways to start your product manager journey.

Summary and next steps

You did it! You spent three months understanding what product management is all about. You then dug deeper into core entry-level product management areas: execution, discovery, and hypothesis-driven development.

Finally, you put these learnings into practice in a way you found most optimal for you.

Good job — you are, whether officially or unofficially, a product manager! After all, it’s not about the job title. It’s about the way you approach building products and solving problems.

As for deciding the next steps, you are on your own now. An optimal path strongly depends on what you did in the second six months and where it led you:

  • If you built your own product and gained some traction, perhaps it’s time to go all in.
  • If you discover that you prefer the delivery part, maybe try pivoting to project management
  • If there’s a new internal opportunity in your company, perhaps it’s time to practice your interviewing skills

From this point on, you are on your own. Good luck on your path, wherever it leads you!

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Bart Krawczyk Learning how to build beautiful products without burning myself out (again). Writing about what I discovered along the way.

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