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The Product Manager Career Path: Trailblazing in a Data-Driven Economy

January 7, 2022

How do the products we use every day come to fruition? Through the hard work of talented and skilled teams of professionals led by versatile, multiskilled product managers. Product management is a growing field. Commensurate with this growth is a change-making, challenging, and steadily evolving product manager career path. From healthcare and life sciences to high-tech, software, and mobile apps, we rely on a host of complex, sophisticated (and hopefully easy-to-use) products to navigate our modern world. 

How do product managers earn their stripes, and what skills do they use to lead their teams in creating successful, useful products?

Let’s explore. 

What Does a Product Manager Do?

Product managers are the smooth edge of the hard skills required in product development. 

Product managers are akin to symphony orchestra conductors. They are maestros of integration, analysis, creativity, and leadership. Good product managers are visionaries who understand how each element contributes to the whole. They shepherd a product from concept to market, much like how an orchestra conductor shapes the individual notes on a score into an evocative musical performance. The conductor hears the music before it is played, the product manager sees the product before it is built. 

In short, product managers lead expert, cross-functional teams, working together to bring products to market that complement people’s lives. Product managers guide the nexus of business, technology, data analytics, and user experience. 

The Product Management Career Path

What are the nuts and bolts of launching a career in product management? 

We’ll break it down. 

Flexibility and Variety

The variety of product manager career paths are as diverse as the products we use each day. PMs often begin their product management careers by leveraging their expertise in one or more fields relevant to product development. These areas of expertise may include business, engineering, analytics, or computer science. Moving from one of these specific fields of expertise into the multifaceted role of product manager affords professionals broad influence and responsibility. PMs oversee diverse perspectives, across many disciplines, in a variety of growing sectors.   

Companies competing in such an environment depend on the unique skill set found in the expanding field of product management. As such, demand is growing. Now is a golden moment for talented product managers to find meaningful work based on their strengths, knowledge, and passion. 

Like the conductor who first played trumpet in the orchestra, product managers leverage their prior experience, expanding their skills and responsibilities to become the “conductors” of product development. 

Product Management Skills

As we’ve shown, successful product managers marshal a suite of skills that embodies an understanding of common technology, software platforms, and product lifecycle.

More specifically, the scope of competencies ​​PMs must nurture include:

Technical skills: Product managers bridge the gap between feasibility and the marketplace. Others have particular subject matter expertise. It is the PM’s job to understand the contours and language of each discipline involved in development. This broad technical understanding enables her to communicate the issues to a non-technical audience with empathy toward user needs. 

Business skills: Even the most clever product ideas languish without a clearly defined business justification and marketing plan. It is the product manager’s job to embrace both and communicate them to all stakeholders.

Data analytics skills: Data is the foundation of any useful product. Collecting, analyzing, and communicating data informs every aspect of product development. Product managers must have fundamental skills in data management, statistical analysis, and data visualization.

People skills: People skills tie it all ​​together. Without responsive leadership, teams will fracture into silos, stakeholders won’t understand the big picture, and product development will stall before ever getting to market. Product managers are insightful leaders. PMs have strong emotional intelligence and empathy for all perspectives. They are also adroit negotiators and dynamic problem solvers. 

Successful products are built with end-users in mind, solving their problems and meeting their needs. Without a well-rounded “people person” at the helm of product development, this ultimate purpose risks getting lost in the shuffle. 

MS in Engineering Management Product Management Degree Program 

The online MS in Engineering Management Product Management degree program at Merrimack College is the perfect trailhead for professionals ready to begin their product manager career path. 

The program is designed for maestros with either a STEM or business background and provides students with the skills and concepts they’ll use as they embark on the product manager journey. 

Merrimack College built the program on an experiential learning framework. The industry-aligned curriculum identifies skill gaps product managers have experienced in their careers and focuses on filling these gaps. 

Curriculum Highlights

Students build on their experience, learning pertinent product management concepts from industry experts. Merrimack divides the curriculum into business, data science, and engineering management cores, preparing students with the following competencies:

  • Developing product specifications 
  • Marketing and business analytics
  • Organizational decision-making
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution 
  • Creative, team, and organizational leadership
  • Foundations of data management, statistical analysis, data visualization
  • Data governance, law, and ethics
  • Data visualization
  • New product development and the principles of product realization

Equally important, they also benefit from a wealth of knowledge as instructors share their hard-won experience and perspective in product management.

In addition to the core curriculum, students choose from one of three specialization tracks that target the most in-demand product development sectors in today’s marketplace:

  • Lifes Sciences
  • Software, Web, and Mobile
  • Complex Technological Products

Choose Your Path, Launch Your Product Management Career

Students of the Merrimack College MSEM Product Management program emerge ready to work in today’s data-driven product landscape. 

The degree allows graduates to leverage their experience into new sectors, taking on new responsibilities and meeting their professional potential as visionaries and innovators.  

The career path of a product manager is that of a trailblazer, leading a team of fellow trailblazers, working together to improve people’s lives.