Yes, I switched my career path from Finance to Business Analyst to Product Management and I have an interesting story to tell. Working as a finance analyst had been a natural fit. I loved crunching numbers, and enjoyed the challenges that my job role brought along.
My job responsibilities included finance analysis, risk assessment, analyzing business performance, market conditions and catering to the fixed income sector. Apart from that, I discovered my finesse towards problem solving, solution finding and development and monitoring of data metrics. I would often volunteer to speak to the client, empathize and fully understand their needs, then find a creative solution for them. The then managers of mine noticed my aptitude. They suggested I try for a Business Analyst role instead, since some of the required skills were inherited in me. Now if that sounds like bragging, hold your thoughts before you know how I leaped from a BA to Product Management.
My Business Analyst days went by smooth. I gained recognition and bigger pay cheque. My business skills bloomed and new skills mushroomed with the new role and responsibility and I started enjoying analysis, crucial decision-making and although it was an accidental switch, I moved up as an associate product manager.
Now that sounds like being next in line to the CEO of Product- a spot many MBA pass-outs aspire to seize. With my MBA Finance degree, and 7 years of cumulative experience in finance and business analysis, I was pretty confident about my new job position. MBA prepares students for investment banking, consulting, marketing, and business operations, but not for a job position with all these roles combined. What a Bummer!
Every company caters to different sectors, different types of customers, have a different target 2-3 years down the line. A mobile app focuses on acquiring users, track through merchandising value, but its not the same case for all enterprises. As a Product Manager, holistically, you have to manage the core strengths of a product and enhance it to meet the market demands. Your product cannot be ahead of time or behind competitors. You need to create value for stakeholders, customers, and every party that is involved. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.
Product manager knows what it’s like to do everything and be responsible for everything. The expectations from the product manager change from company to company and there is no set criterion or rulebook. How new or old is the company, what are its long term goals? What is the nature of leadership? These simple questions sometimes have complex answers and getting everything right and aligned can never be facile. You can never ignore the true complexities of an issue.
Lockdown was the time to contemplate my core strengths and weaknesses and when I identified the skill gap to dart to the next level, i.e., “The Product Manager”, I knew there was a little groundwork required. I had the soft skills, I acquired the core skills. Be it empathy (not only for your customers but also teammates and stakeholders), communication (both verbal and non-verbal), nurturing relationships (internal and external) or prioritization- I knew I couldn’t be more ready.
I aced my communication skills because as a PM I didn’t want to ask for a slide and get a swing delivered! It was important to understand how my team and stakeholders are as important as the customers. I had to exhibit leadership for a collective effort in meeting the product goals and roadmaps. I could transfer my past experiences into the new scenario and I knew how my existing skillsets could translate to the new role.
But along these lines, I knew how to work like a product manager but not how to think like one. Now is that really crucial, you ask? Here’s my answer. As an analyst, you know the ‘hows’ to every question but when you become a product manager, you got to play the ‘whys’ of the solution. They need a reason for the product to exist and utter clarity and conviction on that. You got to master the ways of approaching a problem and build stuff that people would want to buy and your sales team will be able to sell.
Well, I knew I needed some external help to abridge those skill gaps or I’d say to gain core competencies. I did a lot of reading around, from blogs and eBooks to journals, spoke to almost every existing product manager I knew and realized I need to change my thought process to be a successful manager of Product. Realizing there’s a gap in what I’m doing and what might be expected by me in my next role as a PM, I researched about online product management courses and found Pragmatic Leaders was hosting a free webinar. I attended the webinar that gave me more insight about the product role.
Since I wasn’t certain if this was the next step I wanted to take in my career, I looked for options that wouldn’t require a big economic investment. The income sharing program or pay after placement TBH, was the biggest attraction to me at that moment. Little did I know that after connecting with my mentor Mr. Rahul Jain, I would find such a change in my thought process and approach towards a product.
With an amalgamation of live sessions with the mentor, senior leadership at Pragmatic, industry leaders in product landscape, fellow students and recorded videos helped me up my game at analytical and critical thinking.
Finding the Right Product Management Course
I glanced through other product management courses as well but most of them offered product management related videos and they were basically video watch time completing courses and had nothing to do with mentorship. The 1:1 mentorship, small classroom or cohort, and then this pay-after-placement agreement- I was considering a switch at that time, and the course offered by them made real sense to me.
My mentor elucidated the idea of prioritization like never before. In his words, it is not necessary to choose between A and B, you can balance and accomplish both. A product manager has to be an expert in getting things done, and knowing what needs to be done. Managing a product through different stages and your approach can make or break you as a PM. A product manager has to lead without authority. Nobody reports to PM, but nurturing the relations is what it takes to be able to rally the organization behind it.
In my few months of product management online course, I also learned how to make strategic decisions. If you cant make strategic decisions, you can’t really make a long-lasting roadmap for your product. From evaluating data, spotting trends, have hands-on approach for data metrics, tracking, to making product lifecycle decisions. It’s just a lot to take on without guidance and 1-on-1 mentorship.
A Word for Aspiring Product Managers
PG diplomas and Executive diplomas can help an individual in making the transition from doing to leading. You will know it’s time for you to change from being an analyst to being a product manager. The right product management course online can help you make that switch swimmingly. Having a good mentor, a lot of reading around, and industry experience helped me fill up my skill gap. There has been a thorough change in my thought process. Instead of jumping into finding a solution to a problem first, now I leave solutioning to someone else. How I thought about problems and solutions- case study based approach of Pragmatic Leaders helped me in changing my perspective.
Many Business Analysts consider transitioning to product management. If you have your career goals aligned, it can be one of your best career decisions. I’m happy I made that switch. It was a practical step. There were hurdles, and I’ll never say it was easy. It took hardships, time and right mentor and guidance to get where I am today. But every bit of the effort that went into it was totally worth it.
I’m a bit ambitious person. Although I’m enjoying being a product manager for now, but they say Product Management is the breeding ground for CEOs. 5 years from now, I aspire to be a senior PM or lead PM with the guidance of my mentors. They still keep guiding me as and when required, I will strive to be in a leadership role very soon.