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From Project Management to Product with Rexel Group Product Owner

There are many, varied paths to product management. One often taken is transitioning from a role in project management – but that process, although it may seem easy, brings with it many questions. What skills are transferrable? What’s actually useful to know? In our recent #AskMeAnything live chat on Slack, we got all the answers and lots more from a Product Manager who’s done it all herself! Read on for her insights and maybe join us next time?

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Tolulope Ayeni is an International Product Owner at Rexel Group, based in Paris, France. She made the transition to Product Management after 4 years as a traditional IT Project Manager and now has 5 years experience in Product Management within Banking, Insurance & eCommerce. She has a BSc in Computer Science and an MSc in Management of Technology Information Systems. She also organizes and facilitates agile product management workshops in a Business & Engineering School in Paris as a visiting lecturer.

Could you share some best practices for PM and designer collaboration?

What has always worked best for my team are design workshops with a focus on the problem and user/customer journey coupled with usability testing. As a PM, prior to the workshop, you must have gathered resources showing the problem we are trying to help the user solve. Resources could be customer feedback, surveys, interviews or anything that states the user’s problem. So in 3 steps: Know your problem, have a collaborative workshop to find a solution with your designers, test your solution with the user. The solution could be mockups and don’t have to be a finished product.

What professional certifications are most useful in a career transition from financial risk management to product?

Financial skills are good to have when transitioning to PM so you do not need to lose those skills entirely! There are many certifications out there like Agile Certified Product Manager/Owner or Scrum Certified Product Owner. However, note that what’s most important when transitioning is not just the certification but the experience. So it could be more valuable to look for opportunities to learn on the job.

What is your favorite thing about being a PM? What is the most challenging?

My favorite thing is the fact that I get to work with different skills and people who are experts in their field within the organization – data scientists, UX and UI designers, marketing specialists, developers, architects, salespeople, directors. My most challenging is getting those people to understand one another!

Can you speak more about your transition to product management?

After working as a Project Manager in the usual Waterfall methodology for 4 years, I thought “there has to be a better way of managing project outcomes”! I did my Master’s in Management of Technology Information Systems, where I was introduced to Agile and Product Management. I then worked with a consulting firm as proxy Product Owner where I was responsible for my products’ lifecycle. And there was no going back for me after!

I am a Master’s graduate and just landed a PM role with no previous experience. What resources would you recommend to do well in the first 90 days on the job?

Read a lot of product management articles. My favorites are http://mindtheproduct.com and Invisionapp.com/blog. Then read books on Product Management like The Product Book.

What is the best way to deliver requirements to the development team?

Always share the problem not the solution! And try to use visuals depicting the problem: diagrams and customer journeys.

What do you see as the main differences of PM in B2C vs B2B?

In B2C it’s easier to test your solutions and get feedback, in B2B you’ll need to do a lot more pushing to achieve that.

How did you leverage your project management experience to get into PM? Any advice on making that transition?

The most important thing you can leverage from project management experience is people management. The ability to manage different people with different needs and varying levels of expertise is paramount in product. But to successfully make your transition you have to be ready to unlearn some of your project management methods.

What are the specific tools and software used largely in the day to day work as a product manager vs. project manager?

As a project manager you are more into Gantt charts and Microsoft Projects; as a product manager, the toolkit is endless but your most important ones will be roadmap planning tools like Trello, Rally, ProductPlan and others.

Any final advice?

To all aspiring Product Managers, remember that you represent your customer in your organization. To make sure every product built is in their best interest, you have to always talk to your customers. In the end your product must bring value to your customer which will eventually bring value to your organization!

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