I know this may be a broad question, but I would be curious what the main challenges you faced going from a more technical role to a more broad program management one. Would you mind I ask?
Hey Lucy, I don’t mind at all.
Three challenges come to mind as I made the switch from engineering.
The first was learning to focus on the goal and the outcomes that solutions would provide. Coming from engineering, I tended to automatically think about implementation – including cost and feasibility.
The initial re-framing challenge was figuring out the most impactful thing that we could work on within a business-viable timeframe. Once in product management, the analysis on the right problem to solve became one of the more important value-adds I could provide my team. Good product managers ground their reasoning in data and human psychology.
When it comes to program management, there’s a much higher emphasis on execution. This is because very few companies provide the space for new product managers to have the scope to make choices that can have a significant impact. So the work revolves more around tactical rather than strategic thinking.
Recognizing personal value
The second difficulty I encountered was having a clear sense of my personal value to my organization. In engineering or sales, you can see what you have built. Be it code, software, a marketing campaign, an algorithm – you just know when you’ve set the quality bar high, when you’ve succeeded at a job.
The emotional rewards are very different when you can see something and say: ‘That’s mine – I made that’. In product management, some of that gets lost. As a product or program manager, your influence is all you have. A product leader makes things happen: we focus the organization, the team or the startup on the important changes needed, affecting collaboration through leadership.
We live for those moments where we see the picture coming together, the collective work connecting – that’s what makes us and the team happy. The difference is that that pleasure fades quickly. It takes an effort to start celebrating smaller, day-to-day moments as we build up towards larger milestones.
The importance of alliances
The third challenge was the time that it took me to recognize the importance of people, relationships, and alliances. To build something that affects millions of lives, you have to find your strategic partners, be it inside or outside the company. You have to have a track record, be able to connect on a human level, and find ways to interweave your own goals with those of your partners, even if they don’t completely align.
In engineering, it is easier to just demonstrate something in code, and then shop it around. In product management, I mostly had to rely on key people to produce that initial form of proof, before I could shop it around. That level of dependency can feel limiting, and every time you change roles, it can be challenging to rebuild that network of trust and mutual benefit.
I hope that helps and I’m happy to dig in deeper if you’re interested.