Lauren LaVan, a student in the Evening MBA Program and Senior Product Manager at Amount, tells us about product management and offers advice for those interested in the field.
- February 09, 2021
- Part-Time MBA Blog
I started my product management journey during my tenure at Morningstar. It’s a bit of a long story but my role naturally evolved from an analyst position into a project management role and as a project manager, I was often working with the product team trying to convince them to get my projects scheduled on their roadmaps. Product turned out to be something I was fascinated by. My role came about because of informal conversations I initiated and the network I had built within the company (fortunately, Morningstar is open to transferable skillsets). It turned out I ended up being a good fit and jumped into an Associate Product Management role on one of our software products.
One question I’m often asked is if I have a computer science degree—I don’t. I studied finance and psychology in undergrad and have worked with stellar product managers who come from all sorts of backgrounds, however, when building software in the fintech space, understanding technology is a must. I had to be transparent that, while I didn’t have this experience, I had other relevant skills to offer and was interested in learning. I was lucky to get partnered with a phenomenal tech lead in the beginning because I learned everything I needed to know about that side of product management. Fast forward a handful of years and now, I’m a little over three months into my new role as a Senior Product Manager at Amount.
Product management often means different things for different industries and even companies. Amount is a technology company focused on accelerating the world’s transition to digital financial services. We help our partners modernize, digitize, and streamline their banking products and services.
As a Senior Product Manager at Amount, my goal is to champion product functionality that solves real customer pain points and drives revenue growth. I help to identify customer needs, suggest ideas, and work with leadership to prioritize the next offering we’ll build, and then ultimately partner with the design and engineering teams to bring that vision to life.
One thing I particularly love about the product space is that I get to be involved in so many different areas of the business. I not only work with and oversee the success of my teams by providing high level requirements and strategy, but I also have the opportunity to partner with our sales and support teams to bring our customer’s voices to life and work with our training and project management teams to ensure a successful implementation. I also have the privilege of managing and mentoring other product managers on the team, helping them to realize their full potential and share best practices.
While there isn't necessarily a concentration or a specific class dedicated to product management, there are many relevant courses and I think the reason for that is as a product manager (PM), you need to be confident wearing many different hats — thinking critically about a problem, being empathetic and understanding users’ needs, devising a long term plan but also knowing how to get there — all skills that can be learned through a variety of disciplines. There are a few courses I have taken so far at Booth that would be beneficial for aspiring (or current!) PMs to consider:
Building the New Venture
I took this course with Lindsey Lyman. Although more traditionally recognized as an entrepreneurship class, I thought it was product management in a nutshell. How do you validate an idea, figure out and be confident that someone will find value in it and buy it, implement it and scale it? This course really takes you through the product life cycle and provides a ton of value from a product management perspective.
I was initially surprised at how much overlap there was between marketing strategy and product management. My class was about marketing as the entire business, rather than just thinking about marketing as the function. Much of the class focused on thinking about who you’re serving and what your core competencies are, and being a good product manager.
I also plan to take: Application Development, Technology Strategy, Persuasion: Effective Business Communication and Innovation Leadership
"Own something. No matter what role you're in right now, look for an opportunity to own something...be proactive, raise your hand to take on projects and show that you can own something end-to-end."
The Booth Product Management Club - they bring in phenomenal product managers who have a variety of insight into what the job is like. Everyone in product has a slightly different experience so participating in these events is a good opportunity to learn about various styles and also gives individuals a chance to connect with each other. Since product is becoming a “hot” career choice, building a strong network around you and connections within the industry will become even more crucial.
Built@Booth- this club helps students understand the venture capital business and entrepreneurship more generally. In my opinion, there are many useful parallels between entrepreneurship and product management.
Leadership in Practice - This is a series of workshops that cover topics like navigating roadblocks and having tough conversations. As an aspiring PM, you should look for anything that can enhance your leadership skills. The engineers and designers don’t report to me, but they build my product so knowing how to create a high performing team, in my opinion, is imperative to your product’s success.
Industry specific events - Pick the industry you’re interested in (or that you want to work in) and keep an eye out for events. Product managers need to know what's happening in the industry and are responsible for understanding the needs of their clients. It’s also a great opportunity to talk with other product folks to share ideas and continue to build your relationships.
I have two pieces of advice—own something and dive in.
Own something. No matter what role you’re in right now, look for an opportunity to own something. That ownership mentality and being able to see something through from beginning to end is imperative for a role like this and is industry agnostic. Be proactive, raise your hand to take on projects and show that you can own something end-to-end.
Dive in. I do think there’s a bit of a misconception about product management-—people tend to think of product management as a glamorous job. While I suppose the definition of glamour could differ, my advice is to know that it takes a lot of grit to succeed in this space; be willing to dig in and do any job on the team and show your scrappiness when necessary. Have the appetite and attitude to do whatever it takes to help your product and team succeed.
All that said, the best part is when your team ends up building something really great, something that makes a difference. It’s very gratifying.
Read more on Product Management:
Evening MBA student Taylor Barker on Booth’s Technology Group’s Tech Product Management and Product Marketing Management workshop.
Weekend MBA student Austin Teerman talks to us about his career and PM-related classes and extracurricular activities at Booth.
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