How to Become a Product Manager
August 16, 2022
Want to become a product manager? Start by acquiring real-world experience in the field, then earn a Master of Science in Information Management to enhance your knowledge and expertise—and advance your career.
Consumer wants and needs fuel market-driven economies, a process that determines which products fill the marketplace. This phenomenon doesn't happen organically (or magically), however. It requires forecasting, strategizing, and execution on the producer end. Much of that work falls to the product manager, the person responsible for determining which products come to market and then making it happen.
A product manager can be—and often is—involved in the product development process from beginning to end. They utilize market data to determine which products are most likely to succeed. Then the product manager evaluates the organization's existing products to see what fits within this metric (and what can fit if properly altered) and determine which new products should be developed to meet needs. They then oversee the assorted teams responsible for bringing a product from conception to realization. A product manager may even be involved in shaping and implementing the campaign that introduces the product to the public.
Product management skills are valuable and in demand across many industries, including:
- Aerospace (median salary at GE Aviation: $145,000)
- Energy (median US salary: $130,000)
- Finance ($99,632)
- Information technology ($93,039
- Software development ($100,829)
- Transportation ($83,658)
In this article, we detail how to become a product manager and cover these related topics:
- Necessary product manager background/experience
- Product manager skills
- Paths to becoming a product manager
- How a Master of Science in Information Management program prepares you for a successful career as a product manager
- What is a Master of Science in Information Management?
- Top Master of Science in Information Management programs
How to become a product manager
Product management jobs entail massive responsibilities. Product managers must create a roadmap for the entire lifecycle of a product. They need a skill set that includes knowledge of problem-solving, market research, the development process, marketing strategies, and user experience. From the entry-level PM position of associate product manager to senior product manager positions, the product manager provides expertise and guidance to all other members of the product team.
Necessary product manager background/experience
According to Zippia, close to three-fourths of product managers have a bachelor's degree (an associate degree is sometimes acceptable), while fewer than one fifth have a master's degree. Most employers expect you to have some sort of degree and it's helpful if it's in the field where you want to work (e.g., a bachelor's in computer science if you want a career in software development).
Additionally, most jobs require some work experience in product development. Again, it's to your advantage if that experience is in the field you're pursuing. Given the scope of the PM role, the more you can demonstrate a full understanding of the field, the more confidence your potential employer will have in your ability to handle the broad responsibilities of the role.
Product manager skills
The role of a product manager is sometimes compared to a film director (see this article for a particularly detailed breakdown of this idea). Certainly, the job descriptions are similar in one aspect: no matter how many other people are involved in the production, you will be held responsible for the results.
What skills are necessary to be a successful product manager? The Harvard Business Review defines them in three categories:
- Core competencies: These involve much of what you will end up learning in your studies, including intuiting the types of products the market desires, developing a product roadmap for the product vision, assessing the current marketplace, allocating resources, calculating pricing, laying out the product marketing, and identifying metrics for success.
- Emotional intelligence (EQ): Emotional intelligence helps facilitate your dealings within the company and externally and supports your leadership, communication, empathy, and presentation skills. Emotional intelligence allows you to determine customer needs and utilize customer feedback. But it's also what makes it possible for you to communicate with the various internal stakeholders who accompany you through the product life cycle, from the engineering team to the product owner to the UX designer—developing a shared vision and product strategy that everyone understands and endorses.
- Company fit: Knowing what skills and expertise you have to offer and how they meet and serve the company's expectations helps you find the right company to work for and results in a healthy business relationship.
Paths to becoming a product manager
The first step for aspiring product managers is to obtain an entry-level position within your chosen industry, seizing every opportunity to display your knowledge of the industry and its products. Demonstrate a firm grasp on your particular market; flash you technical and leadership skills as well. Do this and management is more likely to see you as someone worthy of greater product management roles, from associate product manager up to senior product manager. The more confidence you can inspire in various stakeholders, the further and higher your career path will go.
How a Master of Science in Information Management program prepares you for a successful career as a product manager
A Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) program prepares you to take on product management responsibilities in companies of all sizes and all sectors, as well as "how to conceive, assemble and maintain information-based strategies and operations that fulfill a common, unified purpose across an organization."
An MSIM program readies you to fulfill the responsibilities of a product manager, by teaching you:
- Systems and design thinking
- Change management, to help your development teams adjust to the necessary strategies
- Systems design and analysis, to form the roadmap for your product's lifecycle
- Product/project value proposition and success metrics, to ensure that your project remains on the right track
- Cross-organizational integration and strategic alignment, to guarantee that everyone in your organization is always on the same page
Obtaining product management certification also lends credibility, reassuring your employer that they have the right person leading the project.
What is a Master of Science in Information Management?
Information management is a relatively new discipline, made necessary by the sheer volume of digital information generated in both the private and public sectors. Information has become a commodity unto itself, which is why the field already has its own specializations.
An MSIM schools you in a mix of technological know-how, information metrics, and business savvy—and prepares you for a career in many different sectors, including tech, energy, aerospace, and healthcare.
Master of Science in Information Management program admissions criteria/prerequisites
Owing to the highly technical nature of information management, a BS in engineering, mathematics, data management, computer science, or information technology increases your chances of being admitted to your program of choice. As well, many schools require that applicants have a certain number of years of relevant professional experience.
Prerequisites vary depending on the program, but the majority require you to complete a bachelor's degree and submit official transcripts from an accredited institution showing a GPA of 3.0 or above. In addition, applicants must submit letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and, in some instances, GRE or GMAT scores.
What will I learn in a Master of Science in Information Management program?
Information management is a constantly evolving field and challenging IM subjects like cyber security and information bias sometimes make it necessary for professionals to refresh or enhance their skills and knowledge base. The University of Washington's MSIM curriculum includes the following courses:
- Analytic Methods for Informational Professionals
- Data Analytics
- Data Management
- Foundations of Cyber security
- Foundations of Information Management
- Introduction to Data Science
- IT Architecture and Cloud Computing
- IT Management
- Management and Strategic Leadership
- Policy and Ethics in Information Management
- Statistics for IT Managers
Top Master of Science in Information Management Programs
Given information management's amalgamation of tech knowledge and business know-how, it's not surprising that both business and technology programs offer MSIM programs. Many schools offer in-person, online, and hybrid programs. Below is a list of some of the most highly regarded MSIM programs in the country:
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Indiana University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- New York University
- University of Maryland - College Park
- University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
- University of Pennsylvania
- The University of Texas at Austin
- University of Washington
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org