How to transition from Project Manager to Product Manager

How to transition from Project Manager to Product Manager

In their 2019 trends survey, the Product Management Festival found the range of different roles that product managers were in BEFORE they started in product management, and the list is quite long (see image below)

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Product Management Festival Trends & Benchmark Report 2019

In their study, the transition from Project Manager to Product Manager was the most frequently followed career path. I’m one of the ones who had been a project manager in a previous life, although not directly before my first product management role.

What skills do project managers bring to product management?

There are two main reasons that there are considerable numbers of project managers who make the transition into product management:

  • Proximity to product roles
  • Shared skills

When it comes to shared skills across roles, the following are perhaps most relevant:

  • Organized
  • Process driven
  • Logical
  • Structured
  • Good with documentation
  • Experienced with stakeholder engagement
  • Can handle prioritization
  • Good communicator and team player
  • Good at managing scope creep

What skills gaps might a project manager have?

Of course, being in a different type of role doesn’t expose you to the full range of skills that are required when you’re in an alternative position, and the following are the most typical skills gaps for project managers:

  • Finding creative solutions to problems
  • Focusing on the customer and not the delivery
  • Delegation of delivery to others
  • Thinking strategically rather than operationally
  • Being research and data driven
  • Being able to drop plans and respond to new inputs
  • Making decisions and not just managing them

How to fill a skills gap

When it comes to findings ways to fill skills gaps, there are a few areas in which project managers can work to gather the necessary expertise, including:

  • Taking on a support role — which will allow a closer proximity to the user and the needs of the business
  • Work alongside a product manager — which will expose them to decision making and more strategic thinking
  • Start looking at existing projects with a more data driven approach — which will start improving analytical skills and focusing on data driven decision making

For many of these steps, the important thing is to speak to others in the business and find opportunities to help them and gain the experience needed to fill the gap.

Talk to the existing product management team and, of course, your line manager, to find the moments to pick up new skills that will count towards your future product role.

Supportive content to fill a skills gap