The Co.Lab Product Management Mentorship Experience

Learning how to be a product manager is difficult because there are many ways to be one. At Co.Lab, we found one way that works. Read on to find out more.

Co.Lab Team
July 8, 2024

Learning Product Management has never been easier. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of free resources available online. From online courses and LinkedIn coaches, to product spec templates and case studies — you can always find something to help uncover what you’re looking for.

Yet, learning Product Management still remains difficult. 

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Product Management sits at a unique point on the learning curve. Executing PM functions has a wide variance precisely because it is a highly contextual profession. Not only do different companies solve different problems, different companies strategize and run their companies differently. 

What may be a good product decision at one company, can be especially disastrous if applied on a different company. For example, many tech companies thrive in a very fast iterative environment. A ‘ship first’ culture, being the norm. Through constant iteration leveraging fast feedback loops, companies are able to perfect their products faster. It’s an amazing feat of human ingenuity taking into consideration the micro decisions that are made fluidly in a large organization, and in such a short amount of time.

However, this kind of practice won’t fly in tech companies operating in certain industries. Fintech products should be wary of government regulations and violations of local, national, and international monetary statues. If not careful, they can unknowingly cross some lines and be met with hefty fines. Products in the healthcare space should also be wary of HIPAA and Data Privacy transgressions lest they risk long and (very) expensive litigations for every violation. 

And that’s only at the macro level.

Zooming out of the picture, a Product Manager has to deal with an ever-changing office politics environment to champion their product’s cause. Some internal miscommunications can be solved with a light chatter during lunch. Others will require HR intervention. 

Product Management is a tough nut to crack. So what .. now?

Let’s talk about mentorship

While learning from books and building out your structural Product Management foundation is no doubt important, learning how to PM is best learned in a hands-on, ‘trial-by-fire’, experience. After all, not all product decisions can be made in a vacuum.

And mistakes are costly, not only for the neophyte PM, but also the company they work for. Mistakes would mean delays; delays would mean losing a good percentage of the market share. In worse cases, a PM can also be directing the organization in a diametrically opposed direction to the ultimate detriment of everyone else in the company.

Of course, new PMs would often not get to unilaterally swing the conductor’s baton, but this applies nonetheless in small tactical, day-to-day office contentions. 

It’s the primary reason why mentorship is critical to a successful product career.

Instead of learning through your mistakes, a fledgling product manager can be handheld by an experienced PM to the right professional and career steps, while avoiding seemingly obvious potholes in retrospect. 

Mentorship Experience at Co.Lab

Many product managers can be found ‘‘winging it’ precisely because there’s no one right way of doing things, the same way that there’s no one ‘right way’ of building a business. There is no universal structure that provides the optimal way to build, grow, and maintain a business — only guiding principles.

Product decisions are made with hundreds of factors in mind. Things like available corporate resources, competitor’s GTM strategies, technical competency of employees, are just some of them. So while it’s fully impossible to duplicate  a company’s success, it’s totally possible to replicate an experienced Product Manager’s decision making and unique ways of willing their team towards the finish line. 

That is why at Co.Lab, we wholeheartedly believe that personalized mentorship is the secret ingredient to fast tracking a career in product management. It’s a vital component of our program that we have doubled down on in the last few years. 

From left to right: Naema Baskanderi (Product Manager at LaunchGood), Siobhan Özege (Financial Performance Product Manager at Clio), Emili Siu (Product Management Consultant at Product People). 

Mentorship at Co.Lab includes personalized mentorship sessions with pre-vetted industry mentors. We just don’t get anyone. They need to have demonstrated sufficient domain knowledge and have exhibited a long history in a mentorship capacity. All of our mentors have 3+ years of experience working in an agile tech environment. Co.Lab mentors come from top tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Coursera, Wattpad, Clio, Loblaw Digital, and Ancestry, among others

With Co.Lab mentors, students get the opportunity to dig deep and learn from actual product professionals. Students are provided 8 weekly mentorship sessions, which can be 1:1 (or with the PM's team) depending on the preference. These are scheduled check-ins to ensure the product development is guided properly throughout the program. Smarter students will leverage this relationship to expand their network, receive testimonials, and gain an objective perspective of how they measure up in the current job market.

Looking closer, this dynamic is almost similar to mentorship you could get from a workplace environment. Compared to general mentorship where topics can be surface level, the Co.Lab setup allows the mentors and the mentees to discuss the nitty-gritty details of building an actual product. The working dynamic is not sterilised of external, real-life factors, that is often the challenge when learning purely theoretically. Both sides have contextual nuances that they are able to leverage into a valuable discussion on how to develop a good product mindset.

There will also be 8 submission reviews, one for each weekly submission requirement, that their mentor will personally inspect and provide feedback.

By the end of the program, a mentee is also entitled to a resume review which can be in a session or done asynchronously. This unique mentorship set-up is what students - across product management,  design, and engineering - find valuable about the Co.Lab program. 

From left to right: Confidence Udegbue (Director & Head of Product (& UX) at Freeletics, Richa Jain (Senior Technical Product Manager), Erica Walker (Product Manager at Spotify)

In the words of one of our 8-week Product Bootcamp PM alumnus, Didier Lopez-Presiga (now technical product manager intern at Acuity Brands): 

My mentor, Naema Baskanderi, was by far the best PM mentor I've had. She's very knowledgeable about the PM role and industry, gives excellent feedback and ideas, and is very sweet. She listens and then adds her two cents, which usually improves things. I would highly recommend Naema as a mentor to other aspiring PMs.

And while most of our mentors have strong Product Management background, the benefit is not precluded to other technical disciplines, as a Software Dev alumnus, Mary Hubert also finds value in receiving mentorship:

My mentor was really, really wonderful. She gave invaluable advice every time I spoke to her and seemed so glad to do so!

The same way Product Design alumnus, Sua Lee, does as well:

Aniththa provided clear, constructive feedback and was always available to answer questions or offer support. Her mentorship style was both encouraging and challenging, pushing me to reach my full potential while also fostering a positive and collaborative environment.

Co.Lab also believes that there is value in mentorship even after the program ends. That is why we offer regular post-program career opportunities for our community. This year, we had 8 mentors review 100 resumes, partnered with Microsoft to provide mentorship & networking opportunities from MSFT employees, hold regular webinars with top product management domain experts like Lewis Lin (author of Decode and Conquer), and even send some of our alumni to exclusive post-program coaching sessions, like PM alumni, Fnane Berhane, had with Product with Kevin:

Kevin took the time to actually get to know me before we really dove into any coaching which I appreciated. He styled our sessions based on my coaching preference but also held me accountable to the goals we outlined.

In Closing

Mentorship is a leadership skill that builds strong teams. It’s a two-way mutually beneficial relationship where mentees receive the support they need and the mentors become comfortable in a leadership role.

It is especially indispensable in Product Management where context-based problems require a higher standard of critical thinking, business acumen, and problem solving — none of which can exactly be ‘taught’  effectively without drawing from real-life experience. Which can be really difficult to have if learning is confined in a sterilised environment. 

That is why at Co.Lab, we put special emphasis on obtaining real-world, cross-functional collaborative experience guided by the best mentor for you. We believe that this is the best way to learn Product: by providing a safe nurturing space to learn from mistakes but closely mimicking an actual job environment. 

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 because you’re going to be owning a product life cycle . Follow us on on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for the latest updates.

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