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The importance of functional roles like project or product management has become a hot topic these days, and an especially desirable skillset in the consulting and contracting space. But what do these roles typically encompass, and how can you break into the field? What advantages can data analysts or other technical professionals potentially have during this process?

What is Project or Product Management?

If a company has a set project or product they’re looking to accomplish or bring to market, they may be looking to a specialized professional to better define the scope of their goals and manage the process through to completion. Especially if the project or product has a set end date, the company may look to hiring contractors or consultants rather than bringing on full-time staff, especially since this type of role necessitates experience with logistical and functional planning in order to stick to a timeline and manage deliverables for the team within a set timeframe.

Typical Background and Experience

Degree types for these roles can vary significantly, because the most important component is typically prior experience with a specific type of project, product, or industry. Some roles may be looking for very specific background experience in certain technical areas (such as data-driven products) or others may seek out those with significant experience in a given industry, such as Healthcare or Finance, since industry knowledge can be so crucial to success.

There are also technical vs. functional managers, where some roles may require specific technical background (such as data analytics or data engineering) whereas others may prioritize hiring someone who is a strong communicator to facilitate cooperation between business units and make sure they’re all meeting deliverables. Technical areas can even be relatively niche, which can be something to watch out for if you’re looking to pivot within this space – it can be easy to find yourself siloed in one particular area if you’re continually accepting positions that are nearly identical in their requirements and don’t allow for growth of your skillset outside of that.

What Skills do Companies Look For?

While there are a wide range of degrees and experiences that may be relevant to this field, it’s very common for interested professionals to pursue certifications, such as PMP (Project Management Professional), Agile, SAFe, CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management), etc. Both project and product managers will need to have solid communication and negotiation skills, as well as strong scheduling and time management capabilities, among others.

Typical resumes will focus on metrics to evaluate management effectiveness, and specifically for product managers, companies will want to see that you’ve been able to take an idea from conception to market. Other desirable skills for product managers can include things like feature prioritization, resource allocation, market assessments, translating business-to-technical requirements, and more.

Two important skills in particular are self-awareness and relationship management. Self-awareness in project management involves staying objective about priorities in a given project, which includes being aware of your own preferences for features or ideas vs. what your customers (internal or external) may want. It’s important to stay focused on the goals of the project or product, which may not always line up perfectly with your own ideas or preferences. Relationship management involves forming connections with and balancing the needs of both internal and external customers, and is probably one of the most important skills a PM can have. You’ll be working with a lot of different people and managing their time, negotiating resources, resolving potential conflicts during the process, and working together towards a common goal, all of which requires strong relationship management skills.

Developing Project Management Skills

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in project management, it’s important to first develop an understanding of the types of skills that these roles require (such as those mentioned in the previous section) and to see how you may be applying them in your current role. If you’re not already in a PM role, you can still seek out opportunities in your current position for hands-on learning to practice and apply these skills. You can also look for industry events in your area, or look into degree programs or certifications that may be relevant to the types of roles you’re aiming for.

Career Paths and Advantages for Data Professionals

A typical career path may see a professional starting a role as a project coordinator, then moving into product or project management. While there are plenty of career opportunities for those who prefer to remain individual contributors, some will also divert to become a manager or team lead – which might also be referred to as PMO or project management organization.

Another path that we’ve seen in our experience is that of a data analyst or technical professional who may already be working within the company looking to undertake a given project or product journey, who begins to take on a lot of these PM responsibilities. Pivoting into project or product management can almost be a natural progression for data analysts or other data professionals, since they have the technical background and industry experience to execute the project, and then continue to develop the management and functional capabilities to see it through to completion.

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