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Product Management

Are Side Projects a Good Idea for PMs?

Mar 27, 2019
By Carlos González de Villaumbrosia

Some of you who read the title are probably already saying, "I literally have no time at all for extra work — how can I do a side project?" First off, let’s all take a deep breath and clear a few things up right now:

  • Side projects don't have to take more than a few hours a week.
  • If you can't spare even a few hours outside of your work schedule, well, then you may be a bonafide workaholic. Generally not a great thing.
  • In the end, this little bit of work may turn into something that makes a real impact. At the very least, you will improve your skill set.
  • Lastly, for those who are concerned, coding skills are NOT necessary for all side projects! You can rest easy now.

Now that you're more comfortable with the idea that a side project won't upend your life with a mountain of extra work, we can begin discussing how you can start your next passion project, as well as how it can set you up for greatness.


Getting Started: Planting the Idea Seed

Obviously, the first step towards any project is coming up with an idea. This can either be a lightbulb moment or it can be a process that may take some time. If this process does take a long time, don't get frustrated! Keep searching in your areas of interest, and keep brainstorming. Remember, this is a side project - not a product launch with a strict deadline, so you can take your time!

Once you have identified areas of interest, start taking notes on what you think can improve the experience for users who are in this market. The breadth of your ideas can be limitless, so don't feel the need to be practical.

The main point here is not to make a groundbreaking insight, but rather to get the creative juices flowing so you can begin the next phase of your project.


Make a Plan (But Keep It Simple)

Now that you know what you want to start working on, it's time to start creating a mini-roadmap for your project.

It is important to note, this map does not have to be super exhaustive. Instead, keep it tentative. Don't bog yourself down with high milestones that may be difficult to hit without fully dedicating yourself.

Instead, figure out what tools you can use to make your idea feasible. Designate times during the week that you will dedicate yourself wholly to the project. This can be any amount of time you want really, but make sure that you hold yourself accountable once you decide on a time.


Spread the Word

If you haven't already been chatting about your plan, then it is certainly time to start. While discussing your project will be key for generating interest, by talking to as many people as possible, you are also gaining valuable insight on the steps you need to take.

From this networking, you can also see which parts of you the plan are good (or great!), and which ideas should be tossed.

Although the prospect of discussing your projects can seem stressful, you stand nothing to lose networking. In addition, even if they rip your ideas to shreds, you're still in the same place when you started (i.e. looking for a side project to build).

Digging for knowledge with your contacts and colleagues can also unveil an ingredient your project may be missing. In the best case, these discussions may even add so much interest that one of your contacts decides they want to be involved.

In the end, it is all about strengthening the hypothesis of your idea. There is no reason that you shouldn't be trying to gather others feedback.


Model Making Time

Now that you are more sure-footed on what it is you want to do with your project, it's time to start putting the pieces in place to test out the strength of your idea.

Keeping with the non-technical theme, there are tons of tools to help create user-friendly products come to real life. From building roadmaps with Trello, or making a basic site with Wordpress, even the least technically savvy person can put together a functioning product.

Again, don't forget that if the project doesn't succeed (or even falls flat on its face), you've lost nothing. Side projects are here to help grow your skills and provide you with some delight, most likely not to turn you into the next Jeff Bezos.

Now that you've put together something for potential users to interact with, you can begin the launch phase of the product. Just like the tools to help you build a product, there is a large list of platforms to help amplify awareness for your release.

For both creation and launch, there is no "one size fits all" method that works best. You'll have to test out what works best for you and your idea. Down the road, this testing of ideas will just bolster your repertoire and ultimately give you additional knowledge you can implement in your 9-5.


If you do plan on diving into starting a side project (technical or non-technical), attitude will play a huge part in producing results. If you are easily discouraged, then putting in this type of work may be frustrating.

However, if you are interested in personal growth, bringing new ideas to life is one of the best ways to do this.

What projects have you started? We're they a success? We want to hear your stories and strategies! Drop us a line on our Slack channel.

About The Author
carlos product school

Carlos González de Villaumbrosia is the Founder of Product School, originally based in San Francisco. Product School was founded in 2014 and now maintains 16 campuses around the world where they offer 6 courses: Product Management, Coding, Data Analytics, UX Design, Digital Marketing, and Product Leadership. They organize events discussing innovations in the software and technology space. In 2018, Carlos launched ProductCon, a series of Product Management conferences attended by thousands of professionals in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London. Carlos also co-authored The Product Book in 2017.

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