The tech industry today is not only growing exponentially and faster than we can keep track of but is also chock full of sub-fields, with new ones popping up continuously. For this reason, those in the enterprise product management profession must recertify their degrees and certificates at least every two years to remain relevant and keep pace with the frequent changes.
The good news is that there are many valuable positions for you to fill in product management. There are highly competent professionals in the industry who may know a lot about technology but not necessarily be “tech wizards'' as such. These professionals often fall into the category we know as the “Scrum Master.”
This is not to say that a Scrum Master is a Luddite—not at all. However, they are more oriented towards working with people, especially teams of engineers, on an interpersonal level in order to help be distraction-free, remove and mitigate barriers to productivity, keep the morale high, and coordinate communications and meetings with the team and other members of the production process, including the owner of the final product.
Such a person is a lot like the coach of a sports team who may or may not be a professional athlete in her or his right, but understands the game and, more importantly, knows how to motivate players and get the best performance out of them. If this description sounds appealing to you, then you’re probably wondering how you can get started on a career in product management.
Here, we will describe the process and focus on how to become a certified Scrum Master, since these professionals are at the very heart of the software development process. But first, we need to lay the groundwork with some basics.
Becoming an Expert in the Agile Organizational Process
To work in product management, you’re going to have expertise in the Agile organizational process, the Scrum methodology, and an in-depth understanding of what these organizational technologies are and how they work. You’re going to find that these processes are largely about creating a psychological environment that is optimal for productivity. If you know anything about what a life coach does, it may be apparent that this is a lot like what a Scrum Master does for the software development engineers with whom they work directly. A lot of what product development professionals do is both “subjective” and subject to change—and the former doesn’t mean that you won’t be held accountable for the results you get.
At the end of the day, they cannot be held responsible for their engineers’ quality of work. However, if as a Scrum Master you consistently work with teams that have substandard performance, your career is likely to suffer. This is something that all product management professionals should keep in mind. That being said, our purpose here is to prepare you for a career in product management. Let’s get started!
Step 1. Read the Right Books
Presuming that you’re going to work toward becoming a Scrum Master in the Agile process, you’re going to need to get your SAFe training certification and complete any requisite product management training coursework. This is in addition to the rather high-pressure reality described above. Therefore, a good place to start is by reading books written by the industry’s best thought leaders such as Don Norman, Marty Cagan, and Clayton Christenson.
The Design of Everyday Things
In The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman writes about usability and design is more than just product management. This book is good to get you started on looking at things from the point of view of their usage, environments, and why they are used and acquired by people. People buy products in order to solve issues, which differ from person to person. Basically, two people buying the same product might be facing different problems but the basic encouragement could be the same. Someone could buy a car to simply travel from point A to B, while another person may do the same just to look good. Similarly, since there are as many software products as there are computers when you’re on a project, you should know who the product is being made for, what they want, and what they don’t want. This book is a good place to learn that.
How to Create Products Customers Love
In this book, Marty Cagan answers what a product manager makes of their time related to tasks, responsibilities, and specifics of product management. This book is another good resource to help you decide whether or not this field is for you. The title is among one of the books that are considered required reading for would-be product managers as it can help people be on the right track and inform those who aren’t right for the field. It would save us all a lot of time and heartache.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
In product development and the world of business in general, The Innovator’s Dilemma is a well-known reference. If you’ve been part of the product development scene, you may think you know enough things to skip this book. But we would argue otherwise. A thorough reading of this book can provide you with a requisite foundation of industry knowledge, helping you understand the job of a product manager as well as all the many other people you would need to collaborate with.
Step 2. Read the Blogs of Product Management Thought Leaders
The above-mentioned books are important to your education as a product management pro. Although books are updated every once in a while, it's not as often as you will be expected to renew your certification and SAFe agile training as a Scrum Master. What’s great about blogs is that they are regularly updated with industry news, new insights, and new developments in the tech and Agile process. You really do need to be a regular consumer of these blogs.
Marty Cagan’s Blog
Cagan is still an active thought leader, and it’s nice to hear the thoughts and insights of a respected author who doesn't just rest on his laurels- because resting on one’s laurels does not fly in this industry!
Ken Norton’s Blog
No doubt, you’ve heard about Ken Norton. He is famous for his admonition to “always bring the donuts.” He’s also somewhat of a big shot at Google, so you can rest assured that he has a lot to say that’s worth listening to.
One of the most prolific technology blogs out there is TechCrunch, covering the widest possible range of subjects. But asking you to read everything they put out all the time would be unrealistic, though you should at least try skimming through their headlines and read anything related to product management. Their material is often based on important news in the industry, and you would be remiss to miss it.
If you read one blog on the regular, it should be ProductHunt. They cover new software products on a regular basis and if you’re not at least scanning their headlines, you are definitely going to miss out on something important and embarrass yourself at the water cooler.
Step 3. Learn to Think in a Product Management Mindset
If by the time you’ve done everything we’ve asked you to so far, you’ll feel at home with the idea of being a product management pro—congratulations, the field is almost certainly a good fit for you! If not, it might be a good time to bow out and do something else. The best product engagement pros think in terms of form and function all the time. They don’t switch off; It’s not madness, it’s passion. If you don’t have it, this might not be for you.
If you do have the passion or feel you should develop it and manage to do the same, great! The next thing for you to do is start pursuing your formal education in product management and become a Scrum Master.
Step 4. Become a Certified Scrum Master
Scrum Masters are the heart and soul of any successful Agile organization. Their job is to meet with, motivate, and aid the software development team they are assigned to; ask the engineers about barriers to them completing their work; protect them from distraction and diversion, and do whatever it takes to boost morale.
To become a scrum master, you must do the following:
1. Learn the basics of Scrum
2. Choose your Scrum certification
3. Attend a Scrum training course
4. Register for the examination
5. Study for the Scrum exam
6. Pass the Scrum exam
7. Renew your certification every 7 years
You may need to start by obtaining your CSM certification, which is the most basic Scrum certification. However, it is not enough to become a fully qualified Scrum Master. To do that, you will need to successfully complete SAFe Agile product management courses. You must understand you may need to be certified in scaled Agile training for product managers. In most cases, you will also need a product management certification.
This can be a long process, but that’s why we recommend reading the list given above to make sure you have the passion and the mindset to carry on successfully. If so, you are sure to love helping software designers succeed as certified Scrum Master.
If that’s the case, we look forward to seeing and welcoming you among the next groups to complete the certification process and become a qualified Scrum Master!