Gaining Product Management Experience: The Power of Real Projects
Unlocking the Path to Practical Experience and Career Success
In the ever-evolving landscape of product management, theory can only take you so far.
Here is an (un) fortunate truth: you can read hundreds upon hundreds of product resources, but the only thing that will matter is actual experience.
But how do you get Product Management experience, when getting hired as a Product Manager required previous PM experience?
Here’s the secret: real-world projects are the beacon guiding you towards becoming a proficient product manager.
In this article, we'll explore the optimal way to bridge the gap between theory and practice, demonstrating how even seemingly simple endeavors can help you develop valuable product management skills.
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Real Projects Count as Experience
What is the optimal way for you to transfer your theory to practical experience? The answer - building real-world projects. They are the clear indicators that you have the ‘product chops’ to actually be a Product Manager.
The challenge now is to find ways to transfer your learnings into practical experience. And it doesn't have to be the popular bank-breaking programs available online. It can just be something simple. The important is that you are able to demonstrate that you have the product chops.
Something as simple as creating a newsletter, then growing it towards monetization is already valuable experience. If you are able to track your newsletter stats and arrive at a product decision backed by data, that resulted into a monetizable opportunity, then that already speaks so much than consuming endless blog posts. A tangible example that you were able to establish a monthly revenue stream is what hiring managers would like to hear.
Another great advice is leveraging no-code/low-code tools. There are dozens of software (e.g. Bubble.io, Flutterblow) available at a minimal cost that lets you build an app despite having no technical coding experience. Something like connecting a Notion database using Zapier (or Make) to a Webflow landing page is already halfway through an MVP. Coupled with some branding & prototyping tools like Figma or Penpot, and you can transform your idea into a functional live product.
As with anything, the most important part is to 'start'.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Try to solve a real customer problem: When trying to start a project, it's crucial that you are solving a legitimate pain point. Always remember that problem spaces are always contextual, and you will find your greatest learnings from speaking with actual people who experience these problems themselves. Avoid boilerplate projects because they don't have the important nuances that real-world problems will have.
2. Work with people. Learn from them and build relationships: Mastering product is all about maximizing your value while being the heart of an organization. Product Management cannot exist in a vacuum because the nature of the role requires you to work with people of varying professional disciplines. In starting a real project, it is exponentially beneficial if you can get to work with other people. They can provide you with different perspectives owing to their diverse backgrounds. This is quite important when building products that service a wide array of customers.
3. Show your work by building in public: When doing a project, it's not enough that you just focus on the technical aspect. Part and parcel of being a product manager is knowing how to craft stories for your stakeholders. That includes your potential customers. The best way to learn what 'ticks' is by writing to an audience, live. This gives you an avenue to receive consistent feedback and 'iterate' your writing and messaging skills - fast. Not to mention, it's fun! Understand that no one will advocate better for you other than yourself. The benefits of relationships compound over time and you can start building your own network by showing the cool things you're building.
4. Keep learning: Ultimately, tech is a fast-moving industry. What you know today may be unmarketable in 5 years and pretty much obsolete in 10 years time. The way to insulate yourself from this is to ensure that you up-to-date with industry standards and constantly upskilling. Such is simply the tradeoff in working with a potentially lucrative industry. Follow product thought leaders and set time aside every day reading blogs or product news. Keeping up is a lot more important than you think and there is virtually no downside to learning.
Summarizing our Learnings
Landing your first Product Management role can be difficult. That’s why you have to push for personal initiatives that will make you stand out from the crowd. Real projects can help you with that.
By solving genuine customer problems, collaborating with diverse teams, sharing your work with the public, and continuously learning, you not only gain practical experience but also create a compelling narrative of your capabilities.
So, don't just read about product management—start your journey by building real-world projects and set yourself on the path to success.
Are you an aspiring Product Manager? The Co.Lab program is the perfect place to gain real-world, cross-functional experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
If you want to shift to tech, especially from a non-tech background, you need to either have good domain knowledge, lots of transferrable skills, or have something to bridge the skillset you have currently and the requirements of the roles that you are looking for.
One of the programs that provide those is Co.Lab's 8-week Product Management Bootcamp, where you can get real-life work experience by building a live product of your own with a cross-functional team in an agile environment. Learn how to build your tech skills with a supportive community and pre-vetted industry mentors to carefully guide you along your tech journey.
Want to test out the waters first? Dip your toes into Product by joining the 4-week Product Management Sprint instead.
It may be difficult to make the shift into tech, but that’s precisely why you don’t have to do it alone. Be part of the community! Follow us on on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for the latest updates.