From UX to Product Management: A Roadmap for Success

Product Management
Exponent TeamExponent TeamLast updated

As a capable, experienced UX designer or UX researcher, you spend your time thinking about how a product affects the user experience. You are constantly considering potential and real problems, testing out solutions and evaluating those solutions for effectiveness.

You know the details of what makes a product work and how consumers interact with it. Building a consistent user experience built on user stories gets you out of bed in the morning.

An obvious next career step could be moving over to product management to focus solely on the products themselves.

But how easy is it to transition from being a UX designer or UX researcher to product management (PM)? Let’s look at what is involved in making the switch, how hard it might be, and what it takes to make the leap.

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Can You Transition from UX to Product Management?

In a nutshell, yes, you can transition from being a UX designer to product management if you are prepared, have the right mindset and are willing to develop the right skills for the job.

Many UX designers try to swap out their UX hat for a PM position instead.

But those who are successful look at the key characteristics of an effective, capable product manager before switching career paths.

Successful product managers are ready for a creative challenge.

Many UX professionals can find themselves creatively stagnant working only on one product.

Those who want to move into product management may find that the constant creative challenge will be enough to keep their creative juices flowing longer.

They can lead a team rather than just being part of a team.

Of course, many UX professionals may have shown leadership in their current positions.

As a PM, excellent communication skills and leadership will be an expected part of the position.

If you are coming from UX and are a capable leader with the ability to communicate effectively, you'll have a much easier time with the transition from UX to product management.

Good product managers can strategize and see the bigger picture.

An effective product manager will be comfortable looking at the bigger picture to uncover priorities, the scope of products and the challenges it presents.

You should be ready and comfortable with this mindset shift.  

Is it Hard to Transition from UX to Product Management?

Just like moving from any career path to another, you will have to overcome some inherent challenges if you want to transition from UX to PM.

First, focus on enhancing the job skills and expectations of both: customer problem identification, product validation and experimentation.

These shared core abilities should be strong and apparent in your everyday work as a UX designer.

Those who want to transition easily from UX designer to PM will also want to offer to take on some work from a product manager and then share that information with the team.

Doing this will show your interest in the PM career path. You'll show off your abilities to get the work done (or show yourself what you need to learn).

Learning from Your Peers

One of the ways to make the transition less challenging is to learn as much as possible from your peers.

Real, authentic interest in what engineers, sales, marketing, finance, risk & compliance, customer support do every day will help you see the bigger picture.

It will also show you are open to learning new information that will be needed and part of a product management position.

Be generous with your time. Offer to pitch in with projects that may cross over and will allow you to expand your knowledge base.

Meaningful interactions that get to the heart of what matters in other roles will help you develop empathy. Being a great product manager often means bringing many teams together to solve complex problems.

How Long Does It Take to Transition from UX to Product Management?

Moving from one career path to another, albeit related, career can take time.

But how much time depends on how much you know, how quickly you are willing to learn, and if you are willing to take risks to make the jump.

On average, it takes about 2 years to successfully transition from a UX designer role to product.

If you are highly motivated and are willing to put in the work to make the transition as quickly as possible, you may find that this new career path is available to you faster.

But for most, those wanting to transition must make plans and expect bumps in the road.  

Here are some questions to ask yourself to learn how long it may take to fulfill your dreams of being a PM.

Are you willing to take on more duties right now?

Consider an honest self-reflection about what type of workload you are willing to take on.

When transitioning to another position, it is a smoother transition if you can not only learn about the new position before taking it on but also practice some of those skills.

If you want a relatively fast transition, you will need to be ready and willing to take on more duties now as you anticipate a change.

Can I ask my boss for a pathway to a PM position?

Making a job jump can be scary but looking for a new career path within the same company can be less daunting for some. If you enjoy the company you are with and it is large enough to have a potential PM position pathway for you, consider asking your boss to help facilitate a move to a product management career path. This may be easier in bigger companies but it is possible in many situations for employees that are successful and accomplished within their current positions, potentially speeding up the transition process for some.

Are you willing to move to another company or a startup to ease the transition?

Even if you are considering changing career paths, you may not have considered that you may also be required to move to another company to ease the transition to product management.

But moving to another company or even a startup where employees have to be a jack-of-all-trades to get the new business off the ground may be just the opportunity you need to transition quickly.

Business goals for startups are dynamic and will give you plenty of opportunities to show off your skills.

You may be valuable as a hybrid UX/PM in a small or startup who will appreciate the skills and abilities you bring to the table.

You can gain on-the-job experience in product management while still utilizing your proven UX skills.

How well can you manage others?

Different from simply being a good leader, a good manager has excellent communication skills and can use them to help those under their responsibility to be successful. They're not the same job.

If people management is not in your skill et, work on ways to improve this ability so that you will be ready and able to take on a PM position.

Look for small management opportunities within your team or learn from those who already are excellent managers.

Honing this ability will not only prepare you for a job in product management. It will also show your current bosses that you are open to learning and growing professionally.

This makes you an excellent candidate to consider for open positions in the future.

Are you a good leader?

While some people are born leaders, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to be a better leader if it doesn’t come naturally.

Knowing your strengths is critical in any career and so is honestly evaluating your weaknesses.

If you are a proven leader, your transition may be quicker as future bosses may see that you will be able to effectively manage others on a team.

However, many people do not yet possess strong leadership skills only because they have not yet found a time to hone those skills easily.

Leadership traits can be sharpened and flexed in a current position by asking to take the lead on smaller projects or tasks.

Upper management will likely see this attempt to enhance personal leadership abilities as an attempt at positive professional growth—this will only boost your ability to challenge yourself in their eyes!

4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Become a Product Manager
The product manager career path isn’t for everyone. If you need structure and predictability in your role, being a PM may be stressful!

How is Product Management Different from UX?

Plenty of skilled UX professionals have made the move over to product management and that is because they share many necessary skills and abilities in their everyday work. A product designer solves user problems in many of the same ways a PM does.

But how are they different from each other?

Let’s look at the core differences between product management and UX jobs.

  • Strategy: A product manager is focused on creating and honing the product strategy while UX designers don't consider product strategy work.
  • Goals: Product management thinks about setting goals and keeping teams on task to achieve both short and long-term goals and focus while product designers work toward getting to the goals set for them.
  • Leadership: Product management professionals need strong leadership skills to manage and direct teams towards the best strategies and goals for a product. A UX product designer will be part of a team but will not manage others professionally.
  • Operational Skills: A product manager will work with operational skills while a UX professional will focus on craftmanship.
  • Communication: A PM will need to regularly communicate with users through multiple channels to collect feedback to give the team as part of the product improvement strategy. UX, however, will work with the feedback they are given to create and test changes and tweaks to products in the design and development process.  

UX to APM jobs

Your transition from UX to PM can be smoother and potentially quicker if you prepare for the job you want by joining an Associate Product Management (APM) program.

UX designers that choose to begin their product management career by participating in an APM program will see at least three clear immediate benefits of taking an APM job as a transition into this career path.

The Best Associate Product Manager Programs (2021 APM)
This guide provides an explanation of the associate product manager role and an overview of the 15 most popular APM programs.

APM Programs Give Immediate Experience

Since no higher education programs focus specifically on product management, these APM programs are an excellent way to get immediate experience with the career while learning from experts in the field.

Many large companies like Google, Facebook (Meta), Uber and Twitter all have Associate Product Management programs. These typically last up to two years while providing excellent training in the field.

These programs usually work on a cohort system that works on a rotational schedule to expose participants to varied aspects of the product world during each quarter, month or session.  

Participants in APM jobs will work directly with professionals in just about every department connected to product management like software development, engineering, marketing and operations.

APM Programs Come with Salary and Benefits

Jobs in APM programs typically pay very well both during the program and afterward.

The fast-paced, learning-heavy environment of Associate Product Management programs is challenging. But these jobs compensate employees very well for their expected hard work.

Those that complete APM programs are not only well-qualified to hit the ground running as in Product Management. They will also likely be more skilled than other candidates who may not have had as much experience and mentorship as they honed their skills in this field.

Companies that have APM programs are willing to offer lucrative salaries to graduates of their program as full-time PMs. This is because the company created and monitored the experience and capabilities of their APM participants.  

If you're thinking of applying for an APM role, you'll need to write a great product manager resume.

APM Program to Full-time PM

Another huge benefit for UX designers pursuing an APM job as a pathway to a product management position is the mentorship opportunities they provide.  

Many companies may only have a small number of PMs or sometimes even just one. An APM job provides training alongside a group of others not only discovering and learning about the product management responsibilities, but also learning from other PMs.

This can be great experience if you've worked as a product designer for years.

APM jobs have a built-in cohort of other product managers to learn from, learn with and lean into in future jobs as a community of trusted experts.

UX or PM? Which Job is Right for You?

Changing careers even within closely related fields can be a difficult decision with many variables to consider.

As a UX designer, you already have the skills to be successful in your job and you may also have some skills and abilities that will make you successful in a position in Product Management.

But deciding between the two jobs is not as black and white as possessing skill sets.

In fact, some UX designers advocate that UX and PM roles should combine completely!

Let’s look at the basics of each job as well as what type of personality and career path each job is best suited to.

What does a UX professional do?

A UX professional is skilled at translating the product requirements laid out by the PM into workable product solutions.

A natural creative, UX designers spend time creating alternative product flow versions and tweaking the assets and flows. UX designers focus on the product development process.

The common basic tasks of a UX professional may be:

  • user research,
  • user testing
  • journey flows and IA,
  • wireframing and prototyping,
  • and visual design and usability testing.

UX professionals work on a team on product validation.

Who is Best Suited to a UX Career?

The career of a UX professional is best suited to a creative designer who thrives on finding solutions to problems and adjusting products based on feedback.  This feedback could come from a product director or software lead.

Or it may come from user testing and user research projects to gather notes from real users.

Someone content in the field of UX will be comfortable working with developers as well as a team of fellow UX professionals.

What Will You Work on as a Product Manager?

A Product Management position will include a wide variety of tasks. Some of the typical activities of a Product Management job are:

  • Defining strategy for product and the associated vision
  • Conducting research
  • Planning for goals, focus and strategy implementation
  • Setting priorities
  • Working with product development teams
  • Talking with users for product feedback
  • Communication with teams, departments and stakeholders

Who is Best Suited to a Career in Product Management?

Those who will be successful and content in Product Management positions will be comfortable being in a constant state of learning. The purpose of Product Management is to keep an eye on the big picture as it relates to product success.

A PM job will require strong leadership and team management. This position will lead a group of UX, developers and other departments towards a common goal of managing all aspects of the product.

PMs will work with all aspects of the design, development, marketing and sales of products.

A PM who is adept at working with a wide variety of departments will enjoy this position.

PMs should also have excellent communication skills since all forms of communication will be a large part of a PM job.

Those suited to a job as a PM will also have the ability to understand how to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable goals and focuses for the team to accomplish.

Someone who will be content as a PM will find consistently seeking feedback from users important and easy to accomplish as well.

UX vs PM: Making a Change

Changes to career paths are more easily made when you are honest about what you are good at and truly enjoy doing professionally. Have a clear picture of what the job expectations of a new career path may be.

When thinking about a transition from UX to product management, take all aspects of the job into consideration. Try to shadow other product managers to understand if you'd enjoy being a PM.

Have you made a successful transition from user experience to product?

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