How I Started My Product Management Journey

I’m a firm believer that successful Product Managers come from all walks of life, and I’m always fascinated to hear the stories of how fellow PMs got into the profession. Therefore, it only makes sense that I re-launch my blog with my story.

In 2007, I was hired as a full-stack developer with Northrop Grumman’s commercial division as part of a team developing and maintaining steel supply chain software which was being used by some of the largest steel mills in the United States. While part of a multi-national corporation, we basically ran as a startup with an office of about 30 to create and support everything across three different key products. Just as I was learning the ins and outs of the system, 4 months in, our team lead quit. It was a bit of an interesting scenario as the rest of our team had been with the organization for less than a year, and the team lead suddenly went from being a controlling “I must approve all code changes” micromanager to one who barely showed up for half the day in his final weeks. We ended up self-organizing under our business unit manager for about 6 more months, and I ended up emerging as team lead and taking on those responsibilities.

At the time, I thought it was because I was one of the most skilled developers we had and I had gained an in-depth understanding of the system through my own research. And, yes, that’s probably a part of it, but I was also one of the youngest members of the team. Now, looking back I see where my inadvertent Product Management journey began.

  1. I was willing to prioritize – I spent a fair amount of time identifying the most critical work for our team, queuing it up for the development team, and making sure we set target dates. It was definitely more of a Kanban approach to Agile than the more common Scrum seen today, but it was effective for us and quickly turning around solutions for our customers. Early on, these were definitely more technically stilted, but definitely changed to be more focused on business outcomes, because…
  2. I was willing to talk to our customers – While we had a support person on the team that was our customer’s first contact when issues arose with the application, I was the one who had regular conversations with our customers about pain points, upcoming needs, and helping identify where we could help keep them ahead of the curve.
  3. I was willing to market – Our product lines didn’t have a formal marketing team, but we did have a website we maintained, and I jumped at the chance to help better represent our products and try and reach new products.

When we on-boarded new team members and I introduced myself, at the question “What do you do?”, I remember usually responding “I wear many hats”. At the time, I had no idea what Product Management was. I just felt like I was doing the job of several different people (ok, I probably was), but I loved being at the center of it all, directing the team and delivering value to our customers. I was still writing plenty of code, and enhancing our systems myself, but it was only years later that I learned I was doing Product Management on top of that.

And that’s how I inadvertently got into a career in Product Management.

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