Product People in the News spotlights Kelly Gibbs, Product Manager at Civica and the unique backgrounds we commonly see in product management.
Product Management is often described by product managers as ‘a career I stumbled into.'
In this post, we speak to a product manager who transitioned into product from an unusual career.
Kelly is a trained librarian who graduated with a post-graduate degree in librarian studies from RMIT.
Kelly progressed into product management over six years ago. She is currently a Product Manager at Civica, responsible for the development and vision of an integrated Library Management solution software.
Kelly’s product career has enabled her to work in 2 countries; Singapore and Australia.
How does a librarian become a product manager?
It was a bit serendipitous really. I originally started my career in libraries. I'm a postgraduate qualified librarian. That makes me one of those domain product managers rather than a technical product manager.
I had always planned to work in libraries and museums and I had never realised that the software that underpins all of those organisations requires a caretaker.
I was approached more than six years ago now, by someone who worked at a software vendor, who was looking for a domain specialist to train and consult on software for running libraries, museums, galleries, local history organisations and so on.
I ended up stepping sideways into vendor life and getting a taste for what it was like to work at a tech company. I had a variety of different roles there.
I started as one of the domain experts consulting and training. Then I moved into leading the service delivery team which was all of the trainers, consultants, and folks who do software implementations for libraries. After that, I moved into the product team as a product specialist which brought me to Singapore.
I was thrilled when a product management role opened and I moved into that. It was a few jumps to product management!
It is really interesting though because when I graduated, a career in product management was not even an option on the table. It was all such a surprise to me.
It’s a bit crazy that that was the case because product management is a very, very cool job. I feel like if people were aware of the possibilities that come with the role, people would make more deliberate steps into the space, rather than stumble into product which is often the case.
What did you have to learn to make the transition into product management from librarian studies?
Librarian studies is a post-graduate degree. I did my qualification at RMIT and it was interesting because there were a lot of overlaps with the MBA that was running at the time. So, there is quite a business focus on some of the units.
It has a very specific career objective. Graduates plan to work in either a museum or a library. So people who go through that stream predominantly come out as qualified librarians.
I think a lot of the world doesn't realise that to be a librarian, you generally need a graduate degree. In North America, you need to have a Master's as a minimum. It’s a lot of education.
But, I think the tough part of the transition is switching your mindset to one that tries to balance the needs of the customer and the needs of the business. That's probably one of the biggest challenges.
Coming from the client-side, and being very domain-focused, I am very user-focused, which I think is a strength. But also, everything that you build should have a guaranteed ROI so it's that business mindset that I had to really cultivate.
If I could, I would be one of those characters that build all of the things to make all of the people happy. But product management is more of a balancing act.
Getting across the commercials of the business was probably my biggest challenge. I was given a great piece of advice by one of our Finance Directors. She told me pretty early on that commercial acumen would be one area that I would have to hone.
Getting across the commercials of the business is a challenge when that's not an area that you ever saw yourself working in.
I think the other thing that I had to learn was to improve my technical understanding. I beat myself up pretty hard when I first started in the product manager role. It was a massive mindset shift for me to acknowledge and accept that I'm not going to be able to know everything. I had to accept that rather than needing to know everything, my role was to understand who to talk to and when.”
Are there any other roles that you see to be an easy transition into product management?
I think one of the cool things about product management is that there is no single pathway into it. Every product will benefit from a different type of product manager.
I would say coming in from different avenues is perfectly acceptable as long as you have a holistic understanding of the business.
What skills do you believe transition well into product management?
People wrangling. I likened it to playing chess. I may not be operating the moving parts, but I'm pushing things around to where they need to be to get something shipped. It’s knowing how to talk to people and how to approach people at the right times.
For example, a software release is only as effective as its marketing campaign, or its salespeople who are pushing it. Product management is managing all those pieces in play
What are the next steps in your career plan?
I'm pretty content where I am at the moment. I don't feel any need to sidestep or step up right now. I'm right in the growth stage of my current role. And that's fantastic.
Eventually, I wouldn't mind working on another product. So I can flex my product management muscles.
Coming up as a domain product manager, and then working on a product that is specific to your domain is one thing, but I wouldn't mind seeing what it's like if I step into another product once I’ve gotten these skills down pat.
I would also like to dive deeper into strategy as well.
The other thing that I'm really interested in is Design Thinking. At Civica, we have an innovation lab called Northstar that I've just started to get involved in. And that's something that really lights a fire in my belly.
We are allowed to take bits and pieces of all of the different software suites that we have and come up with new solutions. We can then pitch new solutions to our bosses as part of that innovation lab.
I think getting more deeply involved with those innovative techniques and methods is something that I want to continue to pursue as well.
It’s important to understand how people land in product management so that others may learn from them.
A big thank you to Kelly from the team at the Association of Product Professionals.