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Ravi Mehta and our team of coaches look forward to answering your questions!
Leadership & Career Coach | Startup Advisor | Former product lead @ LinkedIn, Citizen App.
Founder & CEO @ Scale Higher | Previously: EIR @ Reforge, CPO @ Tinder, Product @ Facebook, TripAdvisor, Xbox
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy
As you transition from the role of individual contributor (IC) PM to managing PMs, there will be a change in expectations and definition of success in your role. As an IC PM, your success is mainly defined by your ability to dive deep, show bias for action and perform timely execution. While as manager of PMs, your success will depend on your ability to delegate, think big, and grow and develop your team members. Navigating this transition is an art, which can be perfected with guidance and practice. It is also an iterative process, which must continuously evolve with the company goals, stage of the product and the working styles of the people reporting to you. From my personal experience, here are the key takeaways that summarize how one must evolve as one transition from IC PM to Manager of PMs:
In summary, as you transition from the role of IC PM to Manager of PMs, your focus should shift to effective delegation, big picture thinking and unblocking the team members, as and when needed. This is an iterative process and you must be open to learning and continually evolving in this role, based on active listening and learning from regular feedback from all the team members. In this role, you have to let go of a lot of tasks which you previously enjoyed as an IC PM. Letting go lets you delegate effectively amongst your team members, thereby freeing up the calendar to create more time for big thinking and unblocking your team members, when needed.
If you’re putting in the work, you deserve to be paid what you’re worth. Of course, this is easier said than done when you’re face to face with a recruiter or your manager. Because sometimes…a pesky little thing called impostor syndrome can get in the way.
Good news is that there is a proven process for getting the most out of your job negotiations. Here are our top tips:
Instead of having a me vs. you conversation, cultivate a collaborative tone. Focus on problem-solving toward a mutually optimized solution for both parties. Make it clear to the hiring team that you’re working hard to get across the finish line alongside them.
Demonstrate why you are worth the compensation that you are asking for. It is not enough that the company likes you, they have to understand why they should pay you what you are asking for. What are you bringing to the table? How will you create business value? Preparing a pitch or sharing a sample strategic approach can help make your value-add undeniable and concrete.
In a negotiation, it’s important to be pushing for what’s within reason in an informed way. You want to avoid losing credibility by asking for compensation that is entirely out of line with the market. Do your research so you know what compensation packages are typical for this role in the industry through websites like Glassdoor, Blind, or Levels.fyi. If you have mentors or know others in a similar role, ask them what they think is an appropriate range.
Remember: your prospective employer doesn’t go into the job offer process trying to give you an unfair package. They have other factors that they need to consider like titles, salary bands, standardized expectations, etc. They need to ensure that your compensation is something that the company can afford, and is sustainable in the long run. They also want to make sure that your salary is in line with what others in your role are making as well. Keep in mind their perspective and be flexible with some of the factors they may have more control over, like titles or bonuses.
You might not be able to get the exact compensation package you want because it may not be feasible for the organization at that point in time. However, it is not all about the salary, but how this role will impact the trajectory of your career. Remember why you want this role as a whole, and how it might set you up for further success in the future as you negotiate.
Broadly speaking, the responsibilities of a tech PM are in-line with a non-tech PM. As a PM, in general, your responsibility is to define the “what” and “why” of a problem statement, and work alongside your internal stakeholders to define the “how” and “when” of the solution.
The difference between the two roles lies in the execution and stakeholder management. While you’re not required to read or write code as a tech PM, you’re expected to define the details of technical feature specifications, navigate tradeoff decisions on engineering choices and unblock engineering teams by defining clear acceptance criterias.
To do this well, you need to have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of the engineering system design and technical architecture of the product. This applies not just to non-tech PMs transitioning to tech, but also to the tech PMs transitioning from one field to another.
For example, when I transitioned from cloud computing to machine learning (ML) as tech PM at AWS, I had to invest significant time and effort into understanding the key concepts and techniques involved in ML and natural language processing.
From my experience, here is an effective framework that will smoothen your transition into a new role as a tech PM:
Shadowing is often used as a technique to onboard new hires to a specific role in an organization. In my experience, shadowing has worked as an effective way to learn and acquire new skills that are more complex in nature, such as API design and ML development. Shadowing involves attending meetings where you can observe engineering discussions, trade off conversations, spring planning, feature breakdown and prioritization discussions. Shadowing should be non-obstructive i.e. you shouldn’t slow down the progress of the team. You should take rigorous notes and follow up with teams on your questions, preferably asynchronously.
Good engineering teams are disciplined about maintaining a detailed repository of internal documentation for engineering designs and technical architecture of the product. This documentation acts as a great resource for PMs to learn about the fundamentals of engineering concepts and the PMs must take full advantage of it. In addition to the technical documentation, PMs should also ask for access to all the relevant product requirement documents and feature definitions from the previous launches, when available.
The self-learning approach is a great way for PMs to accelerate their skill-set expansion and career growth. When I transitioned to ML as tech PM, I benefited a lot from the ML course collection by Andrew Ng on Coursera. I highly suggest finding targeted and self-paced courses that are aligned with your learning goals and are within your budget. Coursera and Udacity are my personal favorites when it comes to MOOC platforms, but there are a lot of open online courses available on a diverse range of technical topics. I’ve listed some of the most popular tech courses in the appendix below.
In summary, great tech PMs excel at defining the details of technical feature specifications, navigating tradeoff decisions on engineering choices and unblocking engineering teams by defining clear acceptance criterias.
The journey of transitioning to tech PM can be smoothened by following the best practices of i) shadowing your engineering teams and observing their discussions in a non-obstructive way, ii) diving deep into the engineering and technical documentation and asking questions asynchronous, and iii) self-learning approach via self-faced and targeted courses that are aligned with your learning goals.