There is no clearly defined path to becoming a product manager. When I started, I was a graduate student in history at the University of Michigan. It was the product itself that seduced me—newspaper microfilm transformed onscreen to become searchable history. Product management is not a career path I planned or even something for which I could have gone to school. It is still something that most people learn on job, although there are now several certification programs available.
Product managers come from engineering, sales, development, editorial, or even like me from a humanities background. Some are highly technical; others not so much. The good news is that you don’t need to know how to code to be a product manager. But all great product managers are great storytellers .
Product managers need to inspire and persuade people across all departments towards manifesting a common vision. The best way to do that is with a great story. Stories have been told for thousands of years. Stories inspire hope; they provide meaning and purpose. Shared purpose that keeps people going through the many obstacles that impede a product’s progress. It’s what will get a product team through the Slough of Despond and up Difficulty Hill and beyond.
Product managers face an overwhelming amount of data from customer engagement reports, web analytics, research reports, market data and statistics. But great product stories move well beyond requirements or epics or data gathering. A story helps create the meaning behind all that data. Stories inspire us to action—finance to fund, developers to build and customers to buy.
Elements of a Great Product Story
Keep it simple! All great product stories address the why should I care question.
Who is your hero? Put your customer at the front and center of your story. Your hero must be relatable and he must be believable. Ask open ended questions, the more the better. What are his or her struggles?
What is your hero’s world like? What does he want it to be like? Remember the audience for your story is often inside the office, at least initially. Recreate your hero’s world for them. Details count! Create an immersive experience for your audience.
No story works without conflict. What are your hero’s problems or obstacles? This is the heart of your story.
What empowers your customer to become the hero of his story? The best stories become collaborations. Share your story as often as possible with customers, with advisers, with development, with finance and with sales.
When “your” story become “our story,” you are on the way to becoming a great product manager.
If you liked this post, please share it and follow me on Twitter at @mlharper.
Earning your “Geek Cred”: Advice for Women in Product Management Next Post:
So You’re The First Product Manager?