Ask Women in Product: How can an engineer break into Product Management?

Resume writing photo by vinnikava via Twenty20

Answer from Eleanor Stribling

The short answer

  1. Imagining what should be built before what could be built;
  2. Working with stakeholders outside of your usual sphere; and
  3. Explaining why you want to change roles in a way that shows you truly understand the challenges.

The long answer

1. Imagining what should be built before what could be built

  • How talking to customers shaped your approach to the problem;
  • What metrics you used to measure success that were directly related to desired customer and business outcomes and why you chose them; and
  • How you explained the solution clearly to non-engineering stakeholders.

2. Working with stakeholders outside of your usual sphere

  • Consider taking on a project like the one I described above. Other equally viable venues include a company hackathon, doing “ride alongs” with your PM, or other cross-functional projects.
  • Listen more than you talk at first. Understand what other people’s jobs are like and who their stakeholders are. For example, when you talk to marketing folks, you will learn about the metrics they use to measure success, what their main stressors are, and what big events they are planning.
  • Learn to pitch ideas with your stakeholders’ point of view. When you understand your stakeholders’ priorities, you’re better able to pitch your ideas to them. You’ll know how to highlight the benefits that their buy-in will bring. For example, for Henry in Marketing who has to come up with content for a big customer event in three weeks, show him how your project could offer useful material for him to present there, or in the future.
  • Find opportunities to talk to customers as much as possible. You must learn to look at your product from the perspective of your customers. Ask your PM and designers if you can join customer calls. Put your hand up to go to events. When you attend events, write up notes, try to spot themes or trends, and offer recommendations on the next steps. Volunteer to refine some use cases and walk through them to get your PM’s feedback. Volunteer to ask questions rather than being a fly on the wall.

3. Explaining why you want to change roles in a way that shows you truly understand the challenges

  • Have an idea of what you think you’d be good at and where you might need to grow;
  • Can explain why you want to work on our product and how you’d make it better; and
  • Have an understanding of the challenges of being a PM and are ready to take them on.

In Closing

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A global community of women working in Product Management.

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Women in Product

Women in Product

A global community of women working in Product Management.

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