Ask Women in Product: How do I plan my Product Management career?

Photo by KoysoStudio via Twenty20

Answer from Whitney Doyle

Whitney Doyle is a Senior Product Manager at Lifesize and formerly a Product Manager at Rosetta Stone. You can find her on Twitter at @tolleywk

Manage your career like you would manage your product

If you are interested in a career in Product Management, chances are you are someone with great ideas, the determination to bring those ideas to life, and you may even have the business acumen to make your ideas stand out from the competition. Dreaming, planning, and making it happen are skills that lie at the heart of Product Management, and those are also the same skills that you can use to plan your career. So why not approach your career in a similar way that you would manage your products? Below, I will share with you examples of how I planned out the first five years of my PM Career.

Start with your big-picture vision

The first step in achieving any goal, including your career goals, is having a big picture in mind. As a Product Manager, you know that it’s those big “moonshot” ideas that get your teams and stakeholders excited and bought into the vision for your product. Similarly, your big-picture career goal should be something that inspires and motivates you.

Determine where you are today

Once you have a better understanding of your desired destination, it’s time to figure out where you are now on your metaphorical Career Roadmap. After all, you wouldn’t expect Google Maps to give you efficient directions to your destination if it doesn’t know where you currently are.

Create your Career Roadmap with SMART goals

As a Product Manager, you know a thing or two (or two-hundred!) about roadmaps. It’s that holy-grail document that everyone wants to get their hands on because it holds the key information about their future and lets them make informed decisions today. When it comes to your career, wouldn’t you like to make informed decisions today? By creating a roadmap for your career, you can!

  • Identify the nearest and shortest-term goal. What do you want to accomplish in the next 6 months? For example, in my PM Career roadmap, my first six-month goal was to:
First six-month goal: Harness my brand. Become more confident in my voice. Grow my network of supporters.
  • What would you like to accomplish by the end of 12 months? Mine was:
Goal for the first 12 months: Fully master Project Management skills at the ticket level and know it like the back of my hand
  • What about the 18 months that follow? Assuming you have achieved the first two goals, what would you like to tackle in the following 18 months? That milestone in my PM Career was:
  • Talk to colleagues in the role that you want to achieve. Ask them about their career path, what they wish they could have done differently, what they learned along the way.
  • Seek out mentors who are doing what you see as your big-picture goal; ask them for advice.
  • Keep in mind that hardly any two career paths are the same, so don’t be afraid to forge your own path and create your own roadmap!
Whitney’s five-year career roadmap

What if I don’t yet have a big-picture vision?

While no two career paths are the same, there are things you can be doing that will help you advance in your career while you’re figuring out your big-picture goal. I encourage every career roadmap to include a continuous focus on developing your professional brand and nurturing your network of supporters.

Develop your professional brand

As a Product Manager, you work hard to define your products’ key value propositions and communicate what differentiates them from other solutions in the market. Similarly, you should apply this attention to your professional brand. What is it that sets you apart from other Product Managers? What value do you provide? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, that’s okay. Here are some tips to help you get started in creating your professional brand:

  • Ask your colleagues and managers past and present for feedback on what they appreciated the most about working with you on a recent project.
  • Listen for common phrases or themes from the feedback.
  • If you haven’t built up a lot of work experience yet, pick a role model and identify what it is about them that you admire most. What traits do you also have or would like to strive for in your professional brand?
  • Try that brand out for size. Does it feel right? Does it feel forced? If it doesn’t feel natural, make some adjustments or fine-tune it.
  • Routinely check in with yourself to assess if your actions are reflecting your brand. If they aren’t, then change your actions or modify your brand to be more accurate.

Nurture your network

Another thing that you should always be doing throughout your career is building a network of supporters around you. While you’re still working out the kinks on your big-picture goal, there’s nothing to stop you from building and growing your network. The people in your network can help and inspire you. Once you have defined your goal, you will reach it much faster when you have support.

Further Reading

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Women in Product

Women in Product

A global community of women working in Product Management.