I recently gave a talk for UX Akron on the similarities and differences between being a UX director at an agency vs a client-side product manager. I made that switch mid-year 2020, after more than 6 years as a UX director.
- A brief definition of what a digital product manager is
- The differences in terms of where I spend my time as a UX director vs a product manager within a given project
- The skills needed for a product manager vs a UX director
- Resources to learn more about becoming a product manager
At a very high level, a digital product manager is responsible for the product’s strategy (figuring out what the product should do), execution (making sure that happens), and measurement (how successful was that).
I also emphasized that a product manager role is a very intersectional role.
People sometimes come to the role from one of the surrounding circles shown here, or come from another role in the domain of the product manager.
Looking at the standard process of ‘discover > define > design & iterate > develop & deliver > measure’, I compared my time spent per project between when I was a UX director at an agency versus now, as a product manager. Note that these numbers are SUPER rough, but I think the charts get the idea across.
Product management skills
|Project Phase||Skill||UX Director||Product Manager|
|All||Time & Project Management||✓||✓ (across the full team)|
|All||Broad goal setting / strategic planning||? (some role)||✓ (own the goal/plan)|
|Discover||Qualitative discovery research||✓ (per project)||✓ (ongoing)|
|Discover||Quantitative discovery research||–||✓|
|Discover||Market & technology||–||✓|
|Discover||Idea generation / brainstorm facilitation||✓||✓|
|Define||Idea measurement / comparison||✓||✓|
|Define||Project success definition||?||✓|
|Define||Project scope definition||?||✓|
|Develop & deliver||Design / development hand-off, including requirements||?||✓|
|Develop & deliver||Ongoing development support||?||✓|
|Develop & deliver||Coordinated delivery with training, support, marketing, etc.||–||✓|
|Measure||Measure metrics and share outcomes||–||✓|
Broad expertise comparison chart
|UX Director||Product Manager|
|Able to complete competitive assessments||Ongoing competitor tracking|
|Basic understanding of technology & market||Stay on top of relevant technology & market trends|
|Domain understanding||Domain expert|
|Minimal quant data expertise needed||Data tagging & reporting competency|
|Interface design expert||Basic understanding of design|
|User research expert||Basic understanding of customer research; expert in their customers|
|Manage designers||Does not ‘manage’ careers (other than possibly of more junior product manager)|
Cracking the PM Interview, by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro
Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan
How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Becoming a Product Manager: LinkedIn course
Product School: courses, online resources, and events
We had a brief Q&A during and after the presentation. A few items that I wanted to share:
- Q: What drew you to the role of product manager?
- A: I liked the idea of a broader role, and one where I hopefully got to have more of a say in the decision-making of what actually ended up in the product
- Q: What was the hardest part of making the switch?
- A: Learning the domain. I’m a product manager for Accounting software, and I had no background in accounting!
- Q: What were some of the new skills you had to learn?
- A: In addition to accounting, the quantitative skills have been the biggest learning aspect for me. I really enjoy writing SQL queries! In addition to writing queries and using data apps, I also have to say in advance what my devs need to tag so I can measure success later.