The Business Analyst position has been known to many as corporate’s version of Product Management. Vimeo’s Product Manager Ashley Chen advises people who wish to transition into Product Management to start gaining experience in the field through working at a startup. From there, they can learn skills and develop a wide range of knowledge in many areas that would make them a very effective Product Manager.
Product Gym: Since Product Management has been different in every company, what is your definition of Product Management?
Ashley Chen: People’s definition of Product Management is that they are the CEO of the product, but in reality, it is much more than that. You are the person that needs to know everything and helps everyone else do their job better. It means that wherever the roadblocks are, you need to manage those. If it’s Project Management, you have to be able to help time manage. If wireframes need to be done, you have to be willing to make them. You have to be able to talk strategy, especially when it comes to stakeholders.
I think one interesting part of the job is that wherein a lot of other roles, you start with small projects and grow into doing bigger and bigger things, but in Product Management, you are kind of thrown into wherever you are and you have to figure out how to best solve the problem. So in summary, you are the captain of the ship but you need to also help everyone else.
Product Gym: Is the challenge that there’s no way for you to know everything?
Ashley Chen: Exactly, and what’s crazy is that you don’t need to know everything, but at the same time, you are expected to be the person to have the answers. A lot of it is asking a lot of stupid questions. If you don’t know it, you have to make sure you do know it at the end of the day, because ultimately you are the one that makes the call.
Product Gym: What are some of the challenges you go through when you are out there to help, say, designers, or project managers, or engineers, be better at their job to reach the same end goal when it’s impossible to know everything there is about their jobs on top of yours?
Ashley Chen: At the end of the day, you are all working on the same team. Your job on the team is to ensure that everyone is accountable for what they need to do in order to be successful. You don’t need to read minds; you just need to be open and communicative to build trust and show them that you are on the same team so, it is in their best interest to share all the information they have with you so you can remove any blockers they have. It comes with a lot of humility and asking a lot of questions.
Product Gym: Before you graduated, you had a wide range of experiences from marketing to UX, do you feel that being able to dive into each of these verticals has helped you become a better Product Manager?
Ashley Chen: Yeah, I think one thing I’m happy about my background is that while I don’t have the technical skills that many people think Product Managers should have, I’m really comfortable talking to different types of people. Instead of having depth, Product Managers should have breadth in a lot of things. My experience has allowed me to be comfortable in having a lot of knowledge in many areas. It saves me a lot of time because I already understand how many of the things work and how they work together.
Product Gym: I’ve heard from some Product Managers that started off their career as Business Analysts say that it is corporate’s version of a Product Manager.
Ashley Chen: Yeah, I would agree with that. Especially at the company where I was working at the time, there were Product Managers who are customer facing and did a lot of the interviews to gather requirements and whatnot, whereas the Business Analysts would be the one turning them into stories, and writing requirements, doing the design work and making sure it was delivered on time.
Product Gym: Transitioning out from being a Business Analyst, did you have a chance to transition within that company?
Ashley Chen: No, so my transition from a Business Analyst to a Product Manager was really me looking critically at my career path. They had said they were planning on moving Business Analysts to a higher role but it didn't seem like it was going to happen for a while and I felt that I had learned everything I can as a Business Analyst; I knew that what I wanted next was to work at a smaller company.
The opportunity to work at a small startup kind of fell on my lap, since the startup wanted to find someone with more of a business analyst background to talk to the different teams, build the requirements, do the design, and etc. I recommend others to go to a smaller startup - you have more chances to iterate on your skills. If you’re comfortable with failing fast, then you’re definitely going to learn a lot.
Product Gym: How difficult was it for you to go from System Analyst to Product Management?
Ashley Chen: It wasn’t a very difficult transition. My role as a Business Analyst set a lot of the fundamentals I needed to move into Product Management, so I had a good understanding of how to run sprints, build wireframes, how to write a requirements document, and such, which are very practical skills you should have in order to enter a new Product Manager role.
Product Gym: People who are already business analysts that are having a hard time transitioning into Product Management within their companies are doing the work needed and just don’t see it going anywhere. What kind of words of encouragement or inspiration would you offer them to go outside of the company and make the leap to becoming a Product Manager?
Ashley Chen: If you already have those foundational skills to be a Project Manager and you really want to be a Product Manager, then go for it. The larger the company is, the more complex the problems are, in terms of the number of stakeholders or number of processes. Whereas in smaller companies, you can just cut your teeth on pushing out as many products as possible and learn how to own the entire process.
Also, to be frank, companies that need Business Analysts are typically large companies that pay really well and have specialized roles. If you are willing to take the leap into a smaller company, what you learned will yield more benefits down the line. But of course, if you don’t want to do that, then a good way is taking side gigs or taking an idea and creating an MVP product. By putting that in front of people, you can show you are able to manage and take ownership of an idea that you had and back up why you made the decisions you made.
Product Gym: Do you have any recommendations on books, blogs or podcasts that you’d like to share with our readers?
Ashley Chen: I really like “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager”, and “The Design of Everyday Things” was useful for me. If you are someone that wants to become a Product Manager in a specific industry, it is important to know who the key industry players are. “Cracking the Product Manager Interview” is a good one too; it goes into how you should present your Business Analyst projects and how to frame them to demonstrate your Product Management skills.
About Ashley Chen:
Ashley is currently working as a Product Manager for Vimeo. She has a B.S. in Business Administration and Management, as well as B.S. in Decision Science from Carnegie Mellon University. You can find her on LinkedIn.
Please schedule a call or attend one of our events to learn more about what steps you should take for to begin your Product Management transition today.
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