Help me mentor a budding product manager
February 28, 2015 12:38 PM   Subscribe

What are good educational resources for a college undergraduate interested in a career path that involves product management in the technology sector?

We have several student employees in my university sub-department, some in technical roles like programming and system operations, and others in marketing roles like copy editor, graphic design and social media management. While chatting at an unconference event, one of the marketing student employees stated that her preferred career path is product management. She is working on a degree in Econ with a C.S. minor, and I think could be a good fit for what I think a product manager does.

So yesterday we had a guest visiting, who works as a product manager in industry. Knowing her interest in product management, I asked our guest what a product manager in their company does, and she took the bait quite well, asking follow-up questions, and mentioned that she's applying to several product management internships.

So we have a portfolio of open source projects, and ever since our conversation at the unconference I had been thinking it would be good to identify a program in our portfolio that could use the attention of a product manager / product owner, and yesterday's group conversation re-affirmed that as an option. However, the reality is that if I propose this experiment to management, I would likely end up mentoring her.

However, my own knowledge in the area is lacking. While I'm one of the few full time staffers who listens to business podcasts, the only book I own that's even tangentially related to product management is The Innovator's Dilemma. It's quite an influential book, to the point where people hate the overuse of the term "disruption," but it's a far cry from the resources I have for student system administrators like The Practice of System and Network Administration or the Linux System Administration Handbook.

Can anyone recommend essays, blogs, books, lectures, classes, and software tools for undergraduates interested product management?
posted by pwnguin to Work & Money (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The Lean Startup is one I have been reading.
posted by matildaben at 1:00 PM on February 28, 2015

I recently went to a General Assembly-sponsored talk on Product Managment that was basically "IAMA: Product Manager," and the speaker recommended these:
Spotify's whitepaper on agile methodology at scale
Making Ideas Happen
Nir Eyal's book Hooked and his blog
Watch this video on how Google sets goals
The Lean Startup (previously mentioned)

She also recommended getting familiar with some tools: ProductPlan, Validately, and anything that will help teams manage sprints (Slack, Trello, Asana, etc.).

I'd also suggest searching LinkedIn for product managers in your local area to see if there's someone in your network who might have the practical knowledge that you wish you could give, and ask if they'd be willing to participate in the product kickoff meeting and be available for a few emails a week on PM roles/responsibilities/etc.
posted by katya.lysander at 3:32 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

One issue is that "product manager" can mean different things at different companies (not as bad as "program manager," but still bad). For example, katya.lysander mentioned stuff that helps teams manage sprints. In my experience (mostly big consumer-facing tech companies), that's more the realm of a project manager than a product manager. Yes, the product managers are ultimately responsible for prioritizing the backlog, but most of the ones I work with don't deal with day to day management of sprints, etc. Also, some companies have separate roles for product manager and product owner, with the product manager being more business-focused, and the product owner taking on the eponymous Agile™ role with a lot more of the sprint/backlog/inception/retrospective stuff.

Knowing about all of these things is valuable, but it's also probably not a bad idea to figure out what type of product manager this student wants to be, to help narrow down the range of stuff to focus on.
posted by primethyme at 4:13 PM on February 28, 2015

I recommend the blog at Silicon Valley Product Group. along with Marty Cagan's How to Create Products Customers Love.

Value Proposition Design and Business Model Generation are both good references.

Also, if your student is female, she may enjoy joining the systers mailing list -- an international community of technical women. There are all sorts of women doing various types of jobs in technology including product management.
posted by elmay at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2015

Response by poster: elmay: "Also, if your student is female, she may enjoy joining the systers mailing list -- an international community of technical women. There are all sorts of women doing various types of jobs in technology including product management."

As it happens, systers/ABI is a client of ours. I don't know if I've ever mentioned their resources to her directly, so I probably should.
posted by pwnguin at 9:56 PM on February 28, 2015

Playing To Win by Lafley & Martin was once recommended to me here. Half my team’s read it and it’s changed how we approach strategy and product.
posted by migurski at 8:32 AM on March 1, 2015

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