Our question of the month for January was :. Below are the different paths that we explored as a group.
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Vinay commented that the traditional path of a product manager is to rise the ranks internally : from product manager to director of product, then to VP of product. The VP of Product sets the product vision for her team, ensures that product strategy is aligned, and coordinates with other executives to accelerate growth. To be a successful VP of Product, one should demonstrate success in delivering a product , in enabling junior product managers to deliver products, and in crafting a long-term product vision and associated strategies that take industry trends into account.
Tyler Swartz , a senior product manager, highlighted that one path after being a successful product manager is to become a speaker or a consultant. After a PM gains lots of relevant experience, she may find that she is more interested in enabling others to accelerate their growth , rather than focusing on the day-to-day operations of product development. By being a product speaker, she can inspire and inform thousands of product managers.
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By being a product consultant, she can parachute into product organizations of varying maturities, and enable them to scale sustainably and smoothly. Theo Gordon , Product Manager at Leanplum, called out that another viable exit path for a product manager is to become a venture capitalist. Theo suggested that for a product manager to succeed in this pivot, she should first establish herself as a credible opinion-maker. After all, venture capitalists primarily function by influencing and solidifying opinions on how viable a market is, how attractive an investment is, and how good of a bet a product is.
As a group, we concluded that unless a product manager had already established herself as a Director of Product or higher, she would be unlikely to be immediately hired as a partner at a venture capital firm. Therefore, if a product manager wanted to make such a switch, she would be advised to first rise the ranks internally while simultaneously building influence e.
Rob McGrorty , previously Head of Product at Webgility, mentioned that product managers can also be successful entrepreneurs-in-residence. Our readers may not have heard of this role before. An entrepreneur-in-residence is a role within a venture capital firm, and the role is responsible for identifying and eventually leading a new company that the venture capital firm will then invest in.
For more information about entrepreneurs-in-residence, check out the following resources:. Vinay highlighted that product managers are also well-positioned to make internal lateral moves.
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For example, a product manager could move into corporate strategy, marketing, or business development. Product managers regularly interface with a wide array of stakeholders.
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Since a product manager already has internal exposure, one could easily make the internal shift to an area that she personally finds to be more interesting. Theo made a great point that product managers can also be effective advisory board members. Many CEOs create an advisory board to provide them with cross-industry and cross-functional perspectives, while also positioning themselves for strong networking and partnership opportunities.
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Advisory board members typically receive equity in return for their contributions to the organization. Quite a few board members sit on multiple advisory boards simultaneously, as the time commitment is relatively low for any single position. Theo also highlighted that some product managers happen to be extraordinarily talented at scaling product organizations. Some might specialize from growing a small product organization to a medium one; others might specialize in growing a medium product organization to a large one. This can be equivalent in rank to a Senior Product Manager through to a VP Product, but the difference is they are not managing other product managers at all — they are simply exceptional product managers who want to stay hands-on and leave people management to others.
In many ways this is analogous to the Architect track in engineering in contrast to the CTO track , and something we should encourage more. Some people are just better suited to one path than the other, and recognising who is great at leadership and who is great at building amazing products is equally important and valuable to an organisation. This is where the role starts to change from an individual contributor who owns a product and works hands-on with engineering and design on that product to someone who has stepped back from the day-to-day in order to focus on leading other product managers and working on alignment and strategy.
This is where soft skills around people management become a critical part of the job — managing people is even harder than managing products! This is similar to a Director, but common in larger companies with more products and management layers, or as the most senior product person in a startup.
This is the senior-most product person in an organisation, usually manages more than one team of product managers, and represents product in the C-suite or management team. But in larger organisations who have both roles we can again borrow from our engineering friends to clarify the difference: the VP Product is responsible for the team, the processes, and getting things done, while the CPO is responsible for the product vision, product architecture, and overall organisational alignment. Product Owner is a role you play in an Agile team, whereas a Product Manager is the job title of someone responsible for a product and its outcome on the customer and the business.
Now a lot of Product Owners out there are great Product Managers, and they should just change their title. Having clear and common structures for product management job titles in our teams will help us all better understand our careers, roles, and teams. Or do you need to rethink your structure to maximise clarity? Product Management Job Titles and Hierarchy. While there is still no one-size-fits-all solution, a standard is emerging from most successful product teams and organisations that can serve as a template for your own: Product Management Career Ladder Associate Product Manager This is an entry-level position, for someone who is brand new to the role.
Product Manager The most common job title, this can span a wide gamut of experience, responsibility, and skills.