How to Become a Product Manager

How to Become a Product Manager - The Comprehensive 2023 Guide By Product Managers, For Product Managers. In this guide, we cover the most valuable skills, activities, and exercises that will help you build your PM skill set to become a world-class PM or simply land your first job as a product manager.


The Comprehensive Guide By Product Managers, For Product Managers & Aspiring PMs

"How to become a product manager" cannot be answered entirely with a simple formula, but there are plenty of steps that you can take to increase your odds of landing the job. This guide is meant to level your expectations and give you actionable advice on the road to becoming a world-class PM. 

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding the Role of the Product Manager

  2. Top Skill Sets For a Product Manager

    1. Empathy and Understanding the Customer

    2. Communication and Influence

    3. Innovation and Thinking Big

    4. Agency and Resourcefulness

    5. Data Analytics

    6. Organization

    7. General Business and Financial Knowledge

  3. Common Product Management Tasks and Activities

    1. Product Strategy Development

    2. Roadmapping and Prioritization

    3. Performance Monitoring

    4. Go-To-Market Strategy Development

    5. Stakeholder Management

  4. Honing Your Skill Set and Preparing For The Interview

    1. Product Sense and Product Execution

  5. The Best Option for Becoming a PM or Leveling Up Your Skill Set

  6. Recommended Reading

Understanding the Role of the Product Manager 

The product manager is the orchestrator of the product life cycle. They play a pivotal role in building things that solve customer problems and generate a return on investment. As the orchestrator, the responsibilities of a product manager fall across a broad spectrum, including design, research, marketing, engineering, sales, operations, support, and anything else required to successfully discover, build, launch, and improve a product offering. 

While product managers must balance various skill sets and knowledge, a great PM will always prioritize and specialize in their understanding of the customer. Through deep empathy, they must be able to define the target customer and understand their feelings, thoughts, behaviors, influences, motivations, goals, and frustrations to discover their unmet needs. As the PM refines their understanding of the "why" behind these unmet needs, she can innovate to solve them. 

Product Managers must also be comfortable with navigating uncertainty and working within constraints to deliver the best return with their available resources. A great PM can create a masterpiece from a blank canvas through their ability to provide clear direction backed by their deep understanding of the market, the customer, and the business. 

Top Skill Sets for a Product Manager 

As the product management discipline grows, many have been eyeing it as an opportunity to start working in tech without a technical education or background. While product management doesn't necessarily require tech experience, the more you know, the better. Below, we list some key areas you will need to develop to prepare yourself to become a PM. None are deeply technical, but experience building products yourself never hurts. 

Empathy and Understanding the Customer 

Customer understanding is the most essential skill that a product manager brings to the table. The ability to deeply empathize with and advocate on behalf of the customer is table stakes for success in the role. If you aren't comfortable getting to know and understand people of all backgrounds and ideologies, then product management likely isn't for you. On the other hand, if you thoroughly enjoy exploring new and unique perspectives, actively listening, interviewing, and probing for the underlying meaning behind customers' thoughts, then product management gives you an outlet to do so regularly. 

Communication and Influence 

Product managers do not bear the breadth of their responsibilities alone. Instead, they rely heavily on their ability to work with, empower, and influence their peers to deliver exceptional products. Though "manager" is in the job title, PMs rarely have direct reports. Instead, they must leverage their influence to bring together the right people with the necessary skills to accomplish a shared mission. PMs will work with sales, design, marketing, engineering, finance, management, and all functions required to deliver for the customer. Most often, these peers are busy with plenty of other responsibilities, so the onus is on the PM to come to the table with well-reasoned decisions backed with evidence and a solid story to win the assistance they seek. 

Side note: This is where a technical skill set can be tremendously valuable for a product manager. The ability to communicate with engineers using their language will make it far easier to win trust, respect, and influence. It will help you to communicate technical needs more precisely, understand necessary effort, and avoid asking for the impossible. If you aren't technical and don't plan to become technical, I recommend spending some time with a few engineers. Talk to them about their frustrations and expectations with product managers. This will help you work with them in a way that avoids friction. 

Innovation and Thinking Big 

There is a big difference between making small improvements to existing solutions and bringing something new and innovative to market. To excel as a PM, you must stretch your mind beyond the boundaries of what currently exists, explore the edges of what's possible, and then execute to bring it to life. Innovating is far easier said than done, as there is no playbook for this type of thinking. Instead, you must rely on your knowledge of the market, your understanding of your customer, your technical understanding of your constraints, and your ability to leverage experts and your team. This, mixed with some well-guided confidence and intuition, will serve you well. Experience will help you strengthen this muscle over time as you continuously look for new and novel ways to solve the problems that you discover. Jump down to the "Exercises" heading to find ways to strengthen these muscles with or without on-the-job experience. 

Agency & Resourcefulness 

A big idea doesn't mean much if you can't execute. As a PM, you must thoroughly understand your constraints and determine how to maximize value within them. The constraints will rarely be the same and depend on many factors such as technology, finances, personnel, customer preferences, management, and even office politics. Defining these and exploring creative ways to deliver as much value as possible, given the context, is a big part of your job. It is also what determines the return on investment. A great PM regularly works around blockers to provide outstanding returns, largely thanks to their resourcefulness and agency. 

Data Analytics 

A thorough understanding of the customer and the market is critical to your success as a PM. This understanding is heavily reliant on your ability to leverage data to spot trends and patterns in things such as emerging market opportunities, customer behavior and sentiment, and effective resource management. As a PM, the analysis is only half of the battle. The other, and arguably more important half, is crafting that data into a story. You must get comfortable with using data as a mechanism to communicate, influence, and prioritize in a way that is palatable to your team, leadership, and the customer. To consistently tell engaging and influential stories using data, you must become extremely adept in your analytics skill set. 


As the orchestrator of the product, your teammates will look to you for organization and clarity. Priorities and their reasoning will need to be clearly documented and communicated. Plans will need to be written, justified, maintained, updated, and communicated regularly and at scale. Your job is to make sense out of ambiguity for your peers. 

General Business & Financial Knowledge 

While critically important, serving the customer is not the only variable in the equation for a successful PM. It's important that your products reach their intended business goals as well, whether they be related to growth, engagement, or monetization. It's your job to set these business metrics and ensure that your product can achieve them while offering the customer the best experience in return. You should be able to understand required capital, return on investment, profit margins, and a myriad of other metrics that are important to the commercial success of your product.  

These seven skills certainly aren't all that it takes to become a world-class product manager, but they are some of the most important to develop to get your foot in the door. As you continue refining your abilities, you'll continuously pick up specific skills that can help you progress as a PM. Ultimately, the most critical skill is to remain curious and learn constantly. 

Common Product Management Tasks and Activities 

Few days are the same in the life of a product manager. We are constantly moving between the seven stages of the product lifecycle, each with its own unique challenges and activities. While the tasks and activities that you experience will vary depending on your industry, company, and team, there are a few that all product managers should be comfortable with. 

Product Strategy Development 

The product manager must clearly define and communicate the product's vision. To do this, the PM needs to thoroughly understand economic conditions, the market, the competition, and the customer needs. These activities involve significant research from secondary sources and through administering your own scaled quantitative and qualitative studies. Expect to design and administer surveys, conduct customer discovery interviews, and spend a ton of time analyzing the results. Product strategy development is not a task with a set end and beginning. It occurs constantly throughout the entire product lifecycle. A great PM continually talks to their customers and refines their strategy to better meet their needs. 

Roadmapping and Prioritization 

The product manager is responsible for setting the direction for product development. This involves prioritizing products and features based on the insights that you gain from your product strategy development and research. A great PM will effectively leverage customer insights, business knowledge, and additional research to prioritize their roadmap. They will continuously test their reasoning and hypotheses with the market and adjust priorities regularly.  

Performance Monitoring 

Using their data analytics skill set, product managers will closely monitor important growth, engagement, and monetization metrics. They will develop their North Star key performance indicators, business metrics, and customer benefit metrics to analyze the product's performance over time. They will use these indicators to guide customer conversations and refine their roadmap as the product evolves. 

Go-to-Market Strategy Development 

Product managers will work with their marketing, sales, and finance peers to orchestrate a successful product launch. This includes planning many key details such as market positioning, pricing, and launch activity planning. The product manager will bring a clear definition of their target audience, the key value proposition(s), proposed business model and pricing, distribution channels, and success metrics. 

Stakeholder Management 

The PM acts as the bridge between the customer, the many different departments represented on their cross-functional team, company leadership, and all others with a vested interest in the product's success. The PM is responsible for keeping them all rowing in the same direction. 

Honing your Skill Set and Preparing for the Interview  

Once you feel comfortable with the skill sets and activities expected of a PM, the next step is preparing to ace the interview. No interview is the same, and it will largely depend on the company, team, and specific role. However, some key activities will help you prepare regardless of the context. 

Product Sense & Product Execution 

"Product sense" is a common term thrown around on the PM interview circuit. It is the ability to understand the needs of a particular product and what makes it viable for both the customer and the business in the face of extreme ambiguity.  

Product sense exercises aim to hone your ability in exploring all relevant options for a product, understanding tradeoffs, aligning stakeholders, and making informed, reasoned decisions. It is evaluated by the PM's ability to do the following things with limited information: 

  • Map key problems to reasonable hypotheses. 

  • Design high-level solutions with sound rationale. 

  • Understand the relevant pros and cons of all hypotheses. 

  • Understand which questions to ask next. 

It is notan exercise in guessing the best answer. 

Good product sense involves: 

  • A deep understanding of the goals of a product, both for the business and the customer. 

  • Consistent evaluation of how well the product serves those goals and which elements contribute or detract. 

  • The ability to identify opportunities to better serve the product's goals. 

  • Recognizing patterns regarding comparable product opportunities and their performance. 

There are three key elements to an effective product sense ability: 

  • Empathy: Do you understand how users will likely react, especially when the user is nothing like yourself? This also extends to how competitors and stakeholders will react. 

  • Domain knowledge: how well do you understand the behaviors and preferences of the target market, the competition's offerings and the needs that they serve, and the technological limitations and opportunities? 

  • Creativity: Can you think big and quickly hypothesize novel solutions to customers' unmet needs? 

Product Sense Exercises: 

Pick a variety of products and run through the following exercises: 

Metrics Practice 

Think of a specific product currently on the market. Consider who built the product and the outcomes that they aimed to achieve. Then, begin listing success metrics or goals for the product as if you were the person who built it.  

Consider the following metric types: 

  • Customer benefit metrics: how will this serve the customer that it is intended to serve, and how can we measure this? 

  • Business metrics: how will this serve the business that developed the product, and how can we measure this? 

  • North Star metric: If you could only pick one metric, which best tells the story of the product's success? 

Key Tips Think through the following as you're exploring metrics: 

  • Who purchases and uses the product? What motivated them to buy or use it? Is it a luxury good or a mass market good? Is it used for entertainment, productivity, other?  

  • Look at the PR & marketing material for the product to get ideas. 

  • When choosing a product, you can turn on "hard mode" by picking a product for which you are not the target audience. For example, maybe you're a young single male analyzing a baby stroller.  

Product Teardown 

  • Use a product and pay close attention to the specifics on how it works, what it does that is new or unique, and what it does that is common or low-value.  

  • Form your own opinion on how their design helps or hinders them in achieving the goals that you've hypothesized. 

You can learn more about product teardowns here. 

Review Highlights 

  • Read the product's reviews. Why do people love the product, and what do they wish was better? 

  • How well is the product delivering on its main value props communicated to the customer? 

  • Is the target market understanding the intended features and goals of the product? Is their experience, whether good or bad, relevant to what the product aims to achieve? 

  • Write down why you agree or disagree. 

 Cross Training 

  • Write a bunch of products across many different categories on separate cards. 

  • Pull out two cards at once and brainstorm ways that ideas from one product could apply to the other. 

  • For example, Yelp has an active map where you can search by location. Maybe WebMD could make a zoomable map of the human body to identify symptoms and their associated conditions. 

Take It a Step Further

 Plenty of mock interview videos specifically cover product sense exercises on YouTube. Start the video, listen to the prompt, and construct your answer. Once you've written out your answer, listen to the participant's answer and the feedback that they receive from the interviewer. Run through these exercises regularly and listen closely to the frameworks from the mock interviews and how they are applied. You'll start to notice your patterns of thought evolve quickly. 

Product Execution Exercises 

Product sense is the big idea, and product execution is your ability to get it across the finish line. The product execution exercises are similar to a portion of product sense but focused more-so on developing and tracking success metrics relevant to your intended audience.  For this exercise, you will not be imagining new products or features. Instead, you will assume the role of a PM that oversees an existing product.  Choose a product, and ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Who was the product built for? Try to get as specific as possible. 

  • What are the business goals for the product? Break these down into growth, engagement, or monetization-related goals. 

  • Create business metrics based on the goals related to growth, engagement, or monetization. 

  • How can we segment our target market? Think beyond demographics. Hypothesize the different customer journeys that occur across segments. Consider a particular persona's motivations, influences, behaviors, goals, preferences, frustrations, and unmet needs. 

  • List the specific unmet needs that the product addresses for the different personas or segments. 

  • Create customer-benefit metrics related to these unmet needs. 

The more time that you spend on product sense and product execution exercises, the better equipped you will be to speak the language of a product manager in your interviews. The more time that you invest, the more you will get out of the exercises. 

The Best Option for Becoming a PM or Leveling Up Your Skillset 

If you prefer a more structured learning environment, direct teaching and mentorship, and immediately applicable knowledge, then consider the Dynamo Product Workshop. 

The Dynamo Product Workshop will equip you with the specific frameworks necessary to confidently approach challenges across the product lifecycle and ace PM interviews. We will go beyond what is covered in this guide to ensure that the core concepts click and accelerate your path to becoming a world-class PM. 

We also have options for those who want to introduce product-led thinking to their teams and organizations, accelerating performance by placing customer-led outcomes in the driver's seat. 

Recommended Reading 

If you want to explore further, I recommend checking out the following resources. 

Build, a bookby Tony Fadell, the Founder of Nest and "father of the iPod." 


Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager, a short and timeless blog post by Ben Horowitz, elite product expert and cofounder of Andreesen Horowitz (a16z). 


Zero to One, a book by Peter Thiel, cofounder of Paypal, Palantir, and Founders Fund 


The Lean Product Playbook, a book by Dan Olsen, product expert and FAANG C-Suite consultant 


Continuous Discovery Habits, a book on customer empathy and frameworks for establishing consistent feedback loops by Teresa Torres 

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