How to use Product Management Side Projects to get jobs and internships

Most product managers would agree that side projects can provide valuable growth opportunities to build new skills and advance one's career.

You'll learn the role side projects play in career advancement, strategies for developing impactful side projects aligned with your goals, and how to integrate these projects into your professional narrative to showcase your expanded capabilities.

Introduction to Product Management Side Projects

Side projects can serve as a catalyst for product managers to enhance their skills, expand their network, and accelerate their careers. This article will provide an overview of what side projects are and why they are beneficial for product managers. We'll also explore different types of side projects product managers can work on.

The Role of Side Projects in Career Development

A side project refers to any project you take on outside of your normal work. Side projects are self-directed, worked on during personal time, and allow for experimentation and learning new things.

Some key characteristics of side projects:

  • Worked on outside of regular work hours and not tied to any company
  • Focused on developing a new product, skill, or personal brand
  • Provide opportunities to try different methodologies and tools
  • Allow product managers to build up their portfolios

Side projects can help product managers in several ways:

  • Develop new skills: From coding to design to marketing, side projects let you expand your skillset. This makes you more versatile and valuable.
  • Expand your network: By collaborating with others or sharing your work publicly, you can connect with new people. This is great for career opportunities.
  • Experiment freely: No bosses or company rules to follow. You can try new things and push your creativity.
  • Showcase abilities: A side project provides a tangible way to demonstrate skills to employers.

Unlocking New Opportunities in Product Management

Here are some of the key ways side projects can accelerate product management careers:

  • Build your portfolio: Side projects make excellent portfolio pieces to show skills and achievements. This can help with job applications.
  • Gain hands-on experience: Applying product management methodologies to your own project helps cement knowledge.
  • Demonstrate leadership abilities: Leading a side project displays critical skills like decision-making, prioritization, and team management.
  • Establish domain expertise: Becoming an expert in a new domain or technology can open up opportunities.
  • Network and make connections: Side projects provide a chance to collaborate and build relationships with others.

Different Types of Side Projects Product Managers Can Work On

There are endless possibilities for side projects. Some examples of projects product managers commonly work on:

  • Building a website, web app, or mobile app
  • Creating an online course or workshop
  • Launching a newsletter or blog
  • Contributing to open source projects
  • Volunteering with a non-profit organization
  • Organizing local meetup events
  • Developing browser extensions or productivity tools
  • Creating YouTube videos and podcasts
  • Pursuing UX design or graphic design work

The key is to pick something you're passionate about that aligns with your long-term goals. Leverage your strengths and explore areas you want to improve on.

What are the 3 major areas of product management?

The three major areas of product management are discovery, planning, and development. These pillars make up a framework used across the industry to define roles and responsibilities for product teams.


The discovery phase focuses on understanding users and identifying opportunities. Activities in this area may include:

  • Conducting user research to gain empathy
  • Analyzing market trends and competitive landscape
  • Identifying user pain points and potential product opportunities
  • Creating user personas and journey maps
  • Prioritizing ideas and features


The planning phase focuses on strategizing and designing the product experiences. This involves:

  • Defining product vision and strategy
  • Creating roadmaps to guide development
  • Breaking down ideas into actionable features and user stories
  • Prototyping potential solutions
  • Planning sprints and releases


The development phase focuses on building, testing and iterating on the product. Tasks include:

  • Working with engineers to build product features
  • Creating mocks, specs and documentation
  • Testing products with users to validate assumptions
  • Analyzing metrics to evaluate feature success
  • Optimizing and improving product experience

These three pillars allow product managers to discover opportunities, plan experiences, and develop solutions. They provide a framework for the responsibilities and workflows of product teams.

What else can product managers do?

Product managers have a diverse set of skills that can be applied beyond core product development. Here are some ideas for side projects a PM could pursue to expand their experience:

Develop a personal website or blog

Creating a personal website or blog allows a PM to showcase their expertise while developing content creation and communication skills. Potential topics to write about include:

  • Product management best practices
  • Technology trends
  • Career advice
  • Product teardowns and reviews

Create a newsletter or podcast

Producing recurring content like a newsletter or podcast further builds a personal brand. A PM could highlight their unique perspectives on product and industry news.

Volunteer for a non-profit

Offering pro-bono PM consulting for a non-profit organization provides an opportunity to diversify portfolio. Guiding initiatives for social good also builds leadership, collaboration abilities.

Organize local meetups

Arranging meetups creates networking and community building opportunities. As an organizer, skills like event planning, user group management, and public speaking are strengthened.

Develop an app

Building a basic app allows hands-on practice of core PM skills - ideation, UI/UX design, development coordination, and launch. Focusing on a simple use case lets PMs experiment rapidly.

Create PM-related tools/templates

Constructing tools and templates lets PMs scratch their own itch while enabling other PMs. For example, building Notion templates for common documents like PRDs or pitch decks.

Side projects empower product managers to expand capabilities while driving impact. Experimenting with personal initiatives in parallel unlocks professional growth.

Who gets paid more project manager or product manager?

The salaries of a product manager and project manager can vary greatly depending on factors like industry, location, company size, and experience level. However, some general trends can be seen:

  • According to Glassdoor salary data, product managers tend to earn higher salaries on average. The average base pay for a product manager in the US is around $117,000 per year. In comparison, the average base salary for a project manager is around $90,000 per year.
  • Product managers often earn more due to their strategic role and impact on a company's bottom line through product development and marketing. They tend to take on more business responsibility and ownership over product success.
  • However, project manager salaries can reach comparable levels in certain industries like tech and at senior levels. For example, IT project managers and project managers with PMP certification tend to command higher salaries.
  • Ultimately there is overlap in salaries, but product managers edge out project managers in average compensation due to their increased scope of impact and ownership. But salaries vary greatly based on location, qualifications, industry, company size and type.

In summary, while product managers tend to earn higher salaries on average, project manager pay can reach similar levels depending on specific circumstances. The key factors determining pay are industry, experience, qualifications, and company characteristics. But both careers offer strong compensation potential for skilled professionals.

Can you go from project to product management?

A project manager can leverage their skills to transition into a product management role. Here are some key steps:

Understand the similarities and differences

Project managers and product managers share some common skills:

  • Stakeholder management
  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Analytics

However, there are some key differences in terms of responsibilities:

  • Product managers focus more on the product vision and strategy. Project managers execute plans to deliver projects.
  • Product managers prioritize features and make product decisions. Project managers manage schedules, resources, and requirements.

Start doing product management work

Take on responsibilities that will help you gain relevant experience:

  • Volunteer for a product team. Offer to help with roadmaps, user research, or other product tasks.
  • Lead the product planning for your IT or internal projects. Define requirements, create roadmaps, and make product tradeoffs.
  • Take on unofficial product ownership for part of your project, managing backlogs and gathering feedback.

Build up your product skills

Here are some areas to focus your learning:

  • User research and design thinking
  • Data analysis and experimentation
  • Go-to-market and product launches
  • Agile best practices
  • Product marketing and positioning

Consider taking courses, getting certified in product management, or pursuing informal education.

Update your resume and portfolio

Tailor your resume and portfolio to highlight your product experience. Showcase work samples like:

  • Product roadmaps
  • User journeys
  • Experiment write ups
  • Market analysis

Tie in transferable PM skills from past project manager roles.

With some targeted efforts, project managers can demonstrate product management aptitude and land new roles. The key is tailoring your experience and skillset to be relevant.

Strategizing Your Side Project Approach

Side projects can provide immense value for product managers looking to expand their skills and advance their careers. By strategically selecting projects aligned to your goals, you can catalyze professional growth.

Aligning Side Projects with Career Goals

Before starting a side project, reflect on what you're hoping to gain. This self-awareness allows you to pick projects with maximum impact. Consider if you want to:

  • Gain hands-on experience with a new methodology like design thinking or agile development
  • Experiment with technologies outside your daily work like no-code tools
  • Showcase skills to transition to a PM role or new industry
  • Expand your network by collaborating with others
  • Build thought leadership through publishing articles or videos

Keep your primary objectives top of mind as you brainstorm ideas.

Brainstorming and Idea Generation for Product Managers

With your goals clarified, ideate on potential projects. Sources of inspiration include:

  • Pain points in products you use - build a solution!
  • Trending topics in the PM landscape
  • Community conversations about problems needing solutions
  • Personal passions outside work
  • Company initiatives that need a boost with your PM skills

Compile a list of promising options to evaluate further.

Selecting Side Projects to Optimize Conversion and Adoption

With a pool of ideas, determine which align best to your goals and have the highest likelihood of success.

  • Evaluate feasibility - do you have the skills, time and resources to build it? Be realistic.
  • Assess expected impact - which will be most meaningful for your objectives?
  • Gauge personal excitement - passion fuels persistence. Which do you find compelling?

Use these criteria to select one or more side project(s) offering maximum conversion and adoption for your growth.

Implementing Side Projects: A Practical Guide

Side projects can be a great way for product managers to expand their skills and knowledge. However, without proper planning and execution, they can also fizzle out before providing much value. This section covers some best practices for making the most out of side projects.

Managing Project Scope and Expectations

When taking on a side project, it's important to clearly define the scope and set expectations upfront.

  • Outline the goals and non-goals. What do you hope to achieve and what's out of scope?
  • Define measures of success. How will you evaluate if the project met your objectives?
  • Set a timeline with milestones. Break the project into smaller chunks.
  • Document assumptions and risks. Identify challenges you may face.

Revisiting this information periodically helps ensure your side project stays focused and on track. It also prevents scope creep from derailing your progress.

Utilizing No-Code/Low-Code Tools for Rapid Execution

Leveraging no-code and low-code platforms can accelerate side project development. Rather than building from scratch, these tools provide templates, integrations, and reusable components out-of-the-box. Some popular options include:

  • Bubble for web apps
  • Webflow for websites
  • Zapier for workflows/automations
  • Typeform for forms/surveys

Focus on core product functionality first. Add bells and whistles later as time permits. Resist the temptation to over-engineer early on.

Resources and Communities for Product Management Support

Don't go it alone! Leverage communities to get feedback, troubleshoot issues, and collaborate with others:

  • Reddit PM forums - Ask questions and participate in discussions
  • Slack groups - Join channels relevant to your project
  • Meetups - Attend events and network with other PMs
  • Coworking spaces - Plug into an innovative environment

In addition, sites like Upwork and Fiverr provide access to freelancers who can supplement your skills.

With proper planning and support, side projects can become a rewarding experience that expands your capabilities as a product manager. Define the scope clearly, utilize handy no-code tools, and tap into communities when you need assistance.

Building and Showcasing a Notion Product Manager Portfolio

This penultimate section will suggest ways product managers can effectively showcase completed side projects to demonstrate their skills and promote their personal brand.

Creating a Compelling Product Management Portfolio PDF

A product management portfolio is a great way to showcase your side projects and demonstrate your skills to potential employers or clients. Here are some tips for creating an effective PM portfolio PDF:

  • Write detailed project summaries: For each side project, write a summary that explains the problem you were solving, your process, and the end result. Articulate your specific contributions and impact.
  • Include visuals: Show don't tell. Include screenshots, videos, prototypes, or other visual artifacts from your projects.
  • Highlight key metrics: Quantify the impact of your projects with metrics like number of users, conversion rates, revenue generated etc.
  • Package and present professionally: Design your portfolio with branding elements like logo, color scheme etc. Export as a visually appealing PDF that is easy to navigate.

Leveraging Side Projects to Develop Personal Branding

Side projects are a great way for product managers to develop their personal brand and grow their professional network:

  • Feature projects prominently: Prominently display your side projects on your LinkedIn profile, personal website, GitHub account etc. This shows your capabilities.
  • Share insights and learnings: Blog, tweet or speak about your side project experience. Discuss key takeaways, challenges faced and how you overcame them.
  • Make professional connections: Attend meetups or conferences and proactively discuss your projects. This helps you meet people with shared interests.

Strategies for Promoting Your Side Project on #productmanagement Channels

Here are some ideas to promote your side project on social media and other product management communities:

  • Share on Twitter and LinkedIn: Post updates, images/gifs, or links to your live project using relevant hashtags like #productmanagement.
  • Engage on Slack/Discord groups: Join popular PM groups and post about your project in the appropriate channels to get feedback.
  • Showcase on PM forums: Share on forums like Product School, MTP or popular Subreddits to reach the target PM audience.
  • Present at meetups/events: Look for opportunities to speak at local product meetups or virtual events to demonstrate your project.
  • Start an email newsletter: Curate insights from your project and share takeaways via a newsletter to build an audience.

Conclusion: Side Projects as a Growth Engine for Product Managers

Recap of Side Project Advantages for #Career Advancement

Side projects offer numerous benefits for advancing product management careers:

  • Develop new skills and methodologies outside of your day-to-day work
  • Showcase your capabilities through an online portfolio or presentation
  • Expand your network by collaborating with others
  • Build up your personal brand as an innovative PM

Integrating Side Projects into Your Professional Narrative

To maximize these advantages, strategically select side projects that align with your professional goals and highlight your strengths. Execute them meticulously and promote them effectively across your online profiles. Weave compelling stories that connect the dots between your side initiatives and aspirations.

Final Encouragement and Steps to Launch Your Side Project

Side projects unlock growth opportunities that traditional career paths cannot. Start brainstorming project ideas that energize you - build an app, launch a podcast, create video tutorials. Map out objectives, timelines, and required skills. Embrace failures as learning moments. Your professional community is here to support you in the journey. The only limit is your imagination - take the first step today.

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