49 / The Many Paths To Product Management


There’s no clear career path to product management. And while that sounds like just another obstacle keeping you from your dream job, it should actually come as a comfort to all you PM hopefuls. Here’s why.

It’s about equifinality, which simply means that the same end result can be achieved by many potential means and from many points of entry along the journey. It’s one of those grad school textbook terms you never expect to encounter again – until, perhaps, you’re talking about the path to product management.

The term resurfaced recently, thanks to Lena Sesardic, who joined Sean and Paul on this latest episode of ITX’s Product Momentum Podcast. Lena’s own journey is a story of equifinality; she is Croatian, but lived portions of her life in Europe, the Pacific Rim, and North America. Her professional life is equally diverse. Once an innovation lab product manager and entrepreneur, Lena is now a product management consultant and author. Her recent book, The Making of Product Managers, offers an up-close look at 20 real-life humans whose varied paths to product management should inspire us all.

So hang in there, you product designers and technologists. Take heed, marketers and web developers, and you mathematicians and high school educators. If product management is the field to which you aspire, it’s very likely someone has come before you to show the way.

But don’t take it from me. Tune in to hear it in Lena’s own words. Here’s a bit of what you’ll learn!

[03:24] As a product manager, I found that writing a book is a lot like building a product. Iteration was a really big part of it, and adding important features too.

[04:46] It doesn’t matter what you did before. There’s likely to be a parallel that you can draw on, and there’s no limit to who can break into product.

[06:39] PMs require such a huge, diverse skill set. Decision-making, analytical, communication skills.

[06:58] There’s also less tangible, equally important, PM skills.

[08:32] Experience isn’t just the number of years, but it’s actually what have you done. Get a taste of everything.

[10:32] Diversity of experience is key in terms of prioritization. You really need to get the full picture, to be able to look at the problem from every perspective and think about the holes in your ideas.

[12:40] PMs get to own their role because the job of a product manager is actually carving out what their job description is.

[14:22] Predict the organization’s needs. Insiders are privy to how the organization is operating, growing, and changing. So as an insider, you might be able to predict when things are going to be needed – and step in to fill that void.

[15:49] The product manager is the glue that holds the team together.

[18:09] If you can crack the code to become a product manager, you can be a good product manager – and you deserve to be one.

[20:27] Innovation through Transplanting. Taking something that’s working in one industry, spinning it a certain way, transplanting it into another industry. Just like that, you have a new service and it’s actually Innovation.

Lena’s Recommended Reading

The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.

Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan.

The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Learn if Your Business is a Good Idea when Everyone is Lying to You, by Rob Fitzpatrick.

About Lena

Lena Sesardic is originally Croatian but grew up in Asia for most of her life before moving to Vancouver, B.C. in 2009 to study Economics at the University of British Columbia.

She first started working in Product Management in early 2017 while being part of a startup-like team within a large financial technology organization. She then led an innovation team at a customer experience management company.

Presently she works as a Consultant in Product Management at the financial technology organization where she previously worked, while pursuing personal projects on the side. Her latest personal project is her newly launched book, The Making of Product Managers.

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