Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

What is the best product manager career path?

Posted on August 18, 2008 · 88 Comments

Question: What is the career progression for a product manager?

I am a young engineer trying to plan out my career. I want to know what is the typical career progression (director, VP) of a product manager and how do the job responsibilities change along the way. Is product management a feeder career for CEO since it is entrepreneurial in nature?

Answer from Adam Bullied of Write That Down: This is a great question — one that I’ve personally spent a lot of time thinking about, and helping others I’ve managed think through as well.

Quite honestly, there isn’t a very “fixed” path to get to the CEO role. But, rising through the ranks of product management is pretty well understood and defined. I’ll walk through each stage of this progression, but keep in mind, this isn’t the only way to advance in a career, in product management, or to the CEO role.

But to kick this off, I will say that yes, product management is very good path to CEO. Especially within start-ups. Why? Well, because in a start-up you really need to know how to define, build, and ship products. And build the best team possible to help you. Being exposed to all different functions and disciplines early in your career (and regularly within product management) is a sure bet to be the type of individual VCs and start-ups covet.

With an engineering background, you are well-suited to be working in organizations that ship technical products. I’ve found folks with marketing backgrounds or sales backgrounds don’t usually excel in product management within companies that have highly technical products being released to market.

However, a common pitfall is spending too much time within engineering trying to solve their problems. Many individuals starting out in the role tend to want to dictate *how* something should be built, when really a product manager’s job is all about *what* should be built and *why*.

OK, so with that being said…on to the roles.

Junior Product Manager / Product Analyst / Associate Product Manager

This is really where it all starts – at least in my mind. You need to get your feet wet within the role doing small projects. This may be owning features within a release and managing them through, or doing bits and pieces here and there.

I’ve started folks out here before that I felt were very well suited to the PdM role and they are now exceeding – it’s all about making sure they have the skill set and the foundation to take that next step.

The bottom line: get some solid wins under your belt, and try to find a spot within a company that has a great product management organization. The best way to learn the role is to work for someone that really understands it.

Product Manager

So, after you gained some knowledge and had some solid wins within a more junior role, you are prepared to take over a complete product. You need to be comfortable with setting direction, developing strategy, executing, and delivering.

You should be pretty familiar with all stages of the product lifecycle and have successfully taken a product from inception through to market. It’s key you also know and understand how to gather and analyze market research (user/customer feedback and competitive intelligence, etc…).

The bottom line: ship a product. Understand, conceptually, how all cross-functions work together and use the knowledge gained from the time spent in a more junior role as a foundation to expand.

Senior Product Manager / Product Director

OK, at this point you are managing 1 large product or maybe 2-3 smaller / mid-size products so you are probably responsible for a product team, or looking to build one. Since you’ve seen this done in the past (and been a part of successful product teams before) you know how this is done.

Really, the crux here is quite similar to the product manager role. However, you will need to apply more glue. For example, if you are managing a line (as opposed to an individual product) you will need to ensure everything stays consistent and standardized.

Your team may include junior product managers, maybe a business analyst, other product managers, designers, writers, etc… It really is up for you to determine and fight for, based on what you have seen work in the past and what you require in order to ship products successfully.

The bottom line: While similar to the product management role, you really are more accountable for putting a successful product team in place and managing that team – and making sure (if you are managing multiple products or a line) that your products stick together and are cohesive and standardized.

Director, Product Management

Just like how a senior product manager is similar to a product manager, the director of the team is very similar to the role that proceeds it. You probably are managing even more products. As such, the level of detail you can handle is limited — you will require either additional product managers to take care of individual product detail or senior PMs to manage PMs, etc… This is entirely based on the size and scope of your organization.

This level really requires you to ensure there is strong cohesion and performance amongst the products you manage. Maybe you are still managing a product yourself. And really, that your PM is measured and performing accordingly.

You should be feeding your team market data as as much as you can, and working with other management-level peers within your organization to deliver things in a consistently strong fashion and always on-time and perform well in the marketplace.

The bottom line: More team management, product performance, and working with management to absorb some of the internal overhead so your team doesn’t have to. You may still be managing a product yourself depending on the size of your organization, but you are responsible for your team executing and delivering so you need a very strong knowledge of product management and how to manage those individuals.

VP, Product Management

I would say at this point, you are no longer managing a product yourself. Again, depending on the size / scope of the company you find yourself a part of. For example, in GE this is probably the case, but in a start-up – not so much.

Really, your focus is here is making sure there is strong cohesion and product standardization, product planning a delivery processes are working, and everyone is being held accountable.

Additional effort is expended absorbing internal politics and overhead to ensure your team can execute effectively, and you make yourself available for assistance wherever they need it – whether that’s a customer visit, or helping shape requirements, etc… Remember – you are still there to coach and grow other PdMs.

At this point, you should probably also be thinking, “What’s my next step?” As I managed at the outset, maybe it’s an operations role – maybe it’s CEO – maybe it’s CTO, who knows? It really does depend on what you want to do. If you’ve made it to this point, it’s probably quiet clear you are prepared and poised to continue to really excel.

The bottom line: Management, management, management. Of course, staying of top of the market you are delivering to is a constant, and making sure there is a strong cohesion amongst all products is required. Of course, be expected to be held accountable at the senior management level, and be called upon to present to investors and the board of directors from time to time.

Other

There are several other roles you can explore, and may find yourself drawn to as a next step. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about operations. I suppose a title here would be VP, Operations or COO. These are very, very good spring boards to becoming a CEO – I could say with confidence that if you get to this point and are really executing well, it’s only a matter of time before you get the tap to take the reins.

88 other answers so far ↓

  • Krishna // Oct 24, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Hi Bob,

    I am fresher and i have been offered a role of Graduate Engineer Trainee in Product Management in an Electrical Manufacturing MNC. I am told that based on my performance in the trainee-ship, i will be absorbed into the Product Management Division. I am very much interested in this role. Could you suggest what can be the probable course of growth from this role, if i see myself at a director of PM 10 years down the line.

  • Bob Corrigan // Oct 24, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Congrats on the opportunity. The *probable* course is you will learn a lot about product management and three to five years in you will switch organizations to a) make more money, b) gain responsibility faster, c) work with different people, d) work on newer, more exciting technologies, e) move geographically to be closer to a special someone, f) or change careers. The last one is the most likely, as product management is a transitional job for most people. Only a few will stay with the craft to become director-level PMs. This is the way of things. Your course of growth will be exactly that – a course of growth. Experience the job, and be present in each day to see where you want to be and what the right next choice is or you. Planning what you want to be in 10 years is limiting yourself to a path you can see *today*. Who knows what you will see tomorrow.

  • gianca // Nov 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Bob, could you please elaborate more on what could be a next step for PMs, if we exclude a vertical “senior-director-VP” path?

    How would you think of Account Management, Operations, Pre-Sales, or Bizdev, for a professional with 9-10 years experience overall software field, last 2 of which as a PM ?

    What would make sense and what not, in your opinion?

  • Jennifer // Apr 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Bob,
    I recently took on a product manager role to manage our financial products. I have an undergraduate in Business with a minor in Finance. Prior to this job as a PM, I worked for a large Hospice company in multiple financial positions. My last title was as the Director of Accounts Receivable. They hired me here as a PM because of my experience in the healthcare financial field. My concern is that I lack the technical knowledge behind IT development. In the few months I’ve been here it has been a nightmare trying to catch up with all of the technical jargon. Not to mention the fact that the Project Owner (Business Analyst) has been here over 20 years and wanted my job! She is incredibly knowledgeable of the current product and railroads me a lot in our discussion of our new product scheduled to release sometime next year. I’m not sure what I need to do to catch up. My focus has been just finalizing the Business Case for the product we plan to launch. My question is to you, was this the right decision? Do I belong in this position? What do I need to do to gain confidence in the role? I’ve even thought about going back to school for my masters. I’m still young and the company has a great reimbursement policy. Knowing my background, do you have any suggestions?

  • bob corrigan // Apr 3, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Hi Jennifer,

    I have to say, my heart broke a little when I read your comment, because I sense you’re doubting a career choice *and* doubting yourself simultaneously.

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the first few months on a job, especially when you’ve crossed over into a new field with new jargon and new responsibilities. The fact that there’s an incumbent with ambitions doesn’t make that transition any easier.

    The core question you’re asking yourself is “do you belong in the position” you find yourself in.

    I have a (painfully) simple answer. Actually, a simple question that leads to an answer.

    “Why did they hire *you*?”

    Your background in finance tells me you have a very ordered way of approaching your work, if you’re anything like other finance people I’ve known (and I’ve known a bunch). You are evidence-based. You are bottom-line focused. And with your background in the healthcare marketplace, you are comfortable with complex domains.

    You also indicate that you had multiple finance positions, leading to a director-level job. You are adaptable, promotable, and you are someone who your previous employer saw as valuable enough to groom in various aspects of finance as part of their career plan for you.

    And now you’re a product manager.

    I think it’s a great career move – it builds your portfolio of operations and customer skills, it exposes you to a whole new set of problems, and it forces you to become comfortable with uncertainty – and comfortable with developing plans to lead the product through that uncertainty.

    All those things contribute to your sense of un-ease, which is natural and normal. It seems you’re dealing with it in a reasonable manner – focusing on the business plan, which puts the product into the larger context of its contributions to the organization’s goals.

    It takes even the smartest people a while to come up to speed with jargon, to understand a new market and its issues. You were not hired because you were a product expert, but because you had all the skills needed to lead.

    Perhaps the business analyst just needs to understand that you’re there to bring your special skills to the table as part of the team – that you’ll be learning a lot and that you’re interested in sharing what you know. That you’ll make mistakes. That you’ll be asking questions.

    Newly-minted officers are often instructed to take the advice of their senior NCOs very, very seriously. I’m not saying that your business analyst is an NCO, but you’re the leader. *You* are the Product Manager. You weren’t given the job – you earned it.

    The people who put you in that role understood what the role needed, and you have what it takes. They understand you will need time to “get your feet under your desk”. And they also understand that leaders understand how to navigate their way through uncertainty.

    So yes, you belong. Unless the people who hired you are fools. And I bet they are not.

    Your confidence starts with knowing you were chosen, not by default or by accident. And it grows by being honest with yourself and the people around you about what needs to be done, by listening, by using your special skills to lead a team in the way you know how to do it.

    And IMHO, getting older or getting more degrees isn’t the answer. Inhabit the space you are in Right Now. Belong there. Be yourself. That’s all anyone expects of you.

    bob

  • Jennifer // Apr 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you Bob for the excellent advice! It is so good to get an outside opinion. You are right, they picked me for a reason and the reasons you mentioned do make sense. I will keep my head up and not let the newness get to me. I can do this! 🙂

  • bob corrigan // Apr 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Always happy to help, Jennifer. Courage. You are where you are for a good reason.

    And by the by, “newness” is actually an asset worth cultivating. See “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_Mind,_Beginner's_Mind). Being able to see your work from the outside – as it is perceived by people who are both “not you” and “not part of your organization” is a huge PM asset. It helps you avoid the “we know what our customers want” trap.

  • Aruna Datla // Jun 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Hi Bob,

    I’m a senior application developer with 15 years of experience and would like to switch to becoming a product manager..would certification help with getting the job…how do i switch into Product Management ?

    Thank you,
    Aruna.

  • bob corrigan // Jun 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

    @Aruna,

    Congratulations on your decision to “make the switch” to product management. It’s a great career path for a thoughtful developer who wants to help “solve problems for people”.

    While certification helps, and will teach you a lot about the job, my sense is that you would be best served by spending some time talking with product managers in the market you’d like to work in.

    Learning how People Like You made their switch to product management, and how they dealt with the inevitable challenges they faced along the way, will help you plot your own course.

    There are lots of sources on the web with excellent training, and many people who are more than ready to tell you “what product management really is”. Ultimately they all come down to:

    1. Your ability to identify, understand and articulate problems that people have

    2. Your ability to define, prioritize and communicate approaches to solving those problems

    3. Your ability to organize lots of different people to do the work necessary to bring products to market that do #2 on behalf of #1.

    Good luck!

    bob

  • PM in Banking Technology // Jul 25, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Hi Bob,

    I am currently in the technology group in a big bank and work with product managers to define banking products. Because I closely interact with them, I think a do contribute to product management to quite an extent. Most of my interactions are with APM or PM to provide both technology and usability recommendations that would make the product better for customers. I have been involved in product development for 5 years in multiple roles like BA, Systems Analyst, Business BA and Project manager.

    The question is: whether I should directly look for a PM role or should settle for an Assistant PM role? As per your article above, I probably fit well in for a PM role. However, I am afraid I would set myself back by 2 years or so if I settle with a APM.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jul 26, 2013 at 8:23 am

    It sounds like you are working as a business analyst, an important PM function, but not as a PM. I originally thought to give you the Yoda Answer (“Do, or do not. There is no try”) with regards to going for the full PM role, but it sounds like your organization offers a career path for PMs through the APM role. If that is the case then explore that. The PM role may require special training that only APMs have, and that extra time as an “apprentice” could set you up for the PM role in ways you couldn’t achieve otherwise without luck, bribery or blackmail.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jul 26, 2013 at 9:01 am

    @gianca

    I’m sorry for not responding to your question earlier. I’m also sorry to say there is no best path, just your path. Send some time with people all of those roles, see what fits. Also explore industries and roles outside of your current one – “what’s next” is the hardest thing in some ways to puzzle out, but when you find something that fits you will know.

    Or, if your goal is to make money, do whatever it takes and don’t worry about anything else.

  • Amit // Sep 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Hi Bob,

    I have been reading your blog and your responses for about a year now. It has been very insightful and helpful. Thank you for taking time to share your knowledge and advice.

    I am a manager responsible for development and management of products for internal company use. Functionally I do everything that a PM does, except my customers are internal to the company (which is a B2B type company). I am very passionate about PM responsibilities and interested in working for a consumer mobile products company. I am planning to move to a B2C type company in a PM capacity and had couple questions:

    1. Would my current experience as a PM for internal products have enough weight and value for the traditional consumer product PM role?

    2. Where does the Product Operations Management role fit in the PM career roles you have described above?

    3. What value can entrepreneurial experience add to PM roles?

    Hoping to hear from you.

    Thanks!

  • bob corrigan // Sep 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Hello Amit,

    Thank you for your note. I think your experience should be hold plenty of weight and value for a B2C firm, but you’ll want to emphasize the “internal market research” work you do as analogous to “external market research” work often required of B2C PMs. The more complex your organization and their requirements, the less of an issue this is going to be when you position yourself as externally-focused.

    As for where an operations job fits, the sad answer is “it depends”: some organizations interpret operations like an advertising firm sees their traffic department, encompassing the project management side of the work. Others see operations (correctly so, I believe) as the drivers of productivity, profitability and long-term sustainability.

    Here’s a terrific description of what a VP of Operations does:

    “A vice president of operations oversees day-to-day operations to support the growth and add to the bottom line of an organization. They focus on strategic planning and goal-setting, and direct the operations of the company in support of its goals. By measuring progress and adjusting processes accordingly, the VP of operations keeps the entire organization on track.”

    Products fit in to this – but they are not the only thing that fits in. Think of the VP of Ops as the organization’s product manager, and you won’t be too far off.

    As for what value entrepreneurial experience can add to PM roles, I see it as something that spices the dish, not the dish itself. The “entrepreneur gene” is an odd thing – these folks are always on the look for ways to add value by finding new ways to solve problems. It’s one aspect of a PM’s job, which, as you’ve heard me say on many occasions, has as much if not more to do with people skills than creativity. All that said, it can’t hurt. But be careful – position yourself as too entrepreneurial and folks will wonder why you’re not off starting a business yourself. An entrepreneur without ambition is a bad entrepreneur.

    Cheers,

    bob

  • Amit // Sep 29, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry for the late response. Thank you for the detailed feedback. That definitely bolsters my confidence. A part of what I do falls on the cross-roads of product management and operations. It just seems to be the nature of the role I am in. With economy tanking and not all positions being filled back, some of the operations responsibilities from other roles got distributed to me. Though, I must say it spices up my week and I think it is a great experience to have.

    As for the entrepreneurial experience I understand and agree with you. Have to be careful about how I market the entrepreneurial skills. One would think that a product manager would be good at managing and positioning themselves in the job market (us being the product to be hired.) 🙂

    Thanks again for your feedback and insights. As always it is helpful.

    Best regards,

    Amit

  • Vidhan // Feb 2, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Hi Bob,

    This is an excellent blog and thank you so much for all the insightful discussions.

    I’m looking to add yet another one! Apologies if this is a bit long…

    I’ve got 4.5 years of Business analyst/product manager experience in investment management wherein the software products I worked on were used not just internally but sold externally to generate revenues. Specifically, I worked on 2 things –
    1) operationally managing releases for a fairly new product which we took to market
    2) system integration and optimization projects driven by a merger

    I’ve recently got my MBA and have been hunting for PM jobs in the ad tech/payments/online sectors. I even have internships in biz dev at a leading payments firm and mid size ad tech startup.

    Yet, I’ve been through tons of interviews unsuccessfully and everyone says I have relevant PM (inbound) experience but not sufficient with just 4.5 years and plus I lack domain experience compared to my competition out there.

    So, I have 2 options now-
    1) continue job hunting targeting this sector looking at APM/PM roles
    2) go back to my last firm, join in a new role as a relationship manager, get more experience, keep a strong tap on ad tech/pmts/online industry, keep networking there, write blogs, get certifications and eventually try to switch industries 2-3 years from now, through working for a startup…

    What would you recommend? Is this a practical approach? At the end of the day, I’m an engineer, love technology and want to work as a PM on products that are at the heart of the revenue generation for a firm…

    Sorry for the really long post. Will deeply appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

    Thanks a ton!

  • Bob Corrigan // Feb 2, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Dear Vidhan,

    Thanks for your note – this isn’t my blog, but it seems to be the place where folks ask me many questions about product management!

    Breaking into PM is hard, so you need to leverage every opportunity and bit of leverage you have to find your way in. You’ve described two paths – one to keep looking for opportunities in your target market, and the other to take a job in your current firm as a relationship manager and build your portfolio of skills.

    Why not do both?

    PM is about solutions, not technology. It’s great to be a fan of the tech, but at the end of the day the tech isn’t what’s most important in most PM jobs. The PM job is about finding ways to leverage your firms distinctive competencies to capture and hold market share while hopefully delighting your customers. A job as a relationship manager may help you with that, but it sounds less like a management job and more like an account management job – the very antithesis of PM.

    You need to get close to the people who develop and implement strategy. Is there a business analyst role in your firm? Someone like you with an MBA should be a shoe-in for it. If you get buried in account management and sales you might never escape. That said, you’ll probably make more money in sales than in PM so that might not be a bad thing.

    Bob

    PS – I’m happy to help folks with these brief emails, but if you need more coaching, please contact me through my website above so we can work out some sort of arrangement.

  • Vidhan // Feb 5, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Thank you so much for your guidance Bob! This is indeed very helpful.

    Best,
    Vidhan

  • Miscellaneous | Annotary // Mar 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    […] ask.goodproductmanager.com […]

  • Keller // Dec 9, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Hi Bob,

    I have a Mechanical Engineering degree from a top program, have worked at manufacturing plants during school as a product integration engineer, and own a medical device startup that is just getting off the ground. I would like for my career to grow and end up with a product management position. Currently, I am looking into getting more business experience by working with a professional service company in their transaction and advisory services department and then later getting an MBA in two years. Do you think this is a wise path to take?

    Thanks for any advice ahead of time!

    -Keller

  • Andra // Dec 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Hi! I currently work in corporate communications with roughly 12 years of experience. In my role I need to position the company strategically, understand its obstacles very well and deal with the media on a constant basis. I also manage teams on large projects, like major websites, where I lead teams of technical experts, acting as the interface between them and the company’s needs.

    I would like to do more of this type of management work, and get away from the media role (which is sometimes considered a ‘velvet prison’ – lots of work and responsibility, but not an obvious career path out).

    I’ve been reading through this thread and other online posts to try to determine the steps to increase my opportunity to manage projects and put myself on more of a traditional track to a C level position. I’m interested whether in the experience of this thread product development seems like a closer fit to my experience or if product marketing is closer? Thanks for all the great discussion on this topic.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jan 3, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Keller,

    Sure, sounds great. But seriously, if you’re a business owner – focus in that. Failure will teach you everything you need to know. Why settle for PM? Hire some.

    bob

  • Bob Corrigan // Jan 5, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Andra,

    I am at a loss regarding how to answer your question. If you want to be a manager, swell, go be a manager. C-level jobs are that and a lot more. Obviously I’m going to recommend spending some time in product management and product marketing, because that’s what I did.

    bob

  • Conner Hunihan // Feb 20, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Bob,

    Thanks so much for providing this resource. After studying environmental science in school I joined the Peace Corps and developed tourism products in an indigenous village in the Amazon. I then taught at a a school with an established design thinking-pedagogy, before moving into the marketing and communications department at that same school.

    I have also volunteered teaching design and design thinking, have taken a community college advertising class, and have solicited professional development funds to take professional Adobe courses.

    A common thread I see through all of this is:
    -connecting with people
    -analytical, creative thinking
    -learning new tools and processes to accomplish a defined goal
    -communicating with people and systems to find out specific needs
    -Nurturing solutions from start to finish with a variety of team members (parents, web developers, village elders, children)
    -articulating new uses and needs
    -solving problems
    -crossing disciplines

    Through much research and conversation, I am thinking that a future in product management might combine many of these passions in a single profession.

    Per your advice on an earlier post, I’m looking for Junior Product Manager positions to get my feet wet, as well as identifying projects at work to get some product management experience (migrating our newsletter system to a new platform, creating the protocol and weekly content for digital display systems, redesigning our site’s landing page) but working for a school, there are only so many opportunities.

    I would love any advice you might have on whether my thinking is on the right track. How do you think I could best position myself as an applicant? How are these experiences specifically relevant to what a Junior Product Manager might be responsible for?

    Thank you, again, this resource is invaluable and answered so many questions I had about subtle differences (from the outsider’s perspective) in product development.

    Conner

  • Bob Corrigan // Feb 22, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Conner,

    Reading about your background, you’ve demonstrated plenty of entrepreneurial get-up-and-goitude with the Peace Corps and working for a school in PM-like positions to qualify for that work in a software company.

    I agree, opportunities for honest-to-goodness PM work at a college are limited, but your background would seem to be a great fit for any software firm that sells into the non-profit/education/institutional marketplace.

    Go take a decent course, read a few books, and spend time talking to PMs in your target market. They all had to start somewhere too.

    And I promise you, none of them described themselves as “junior product managers”. In fact…I would go so far as to say there is no such thing as a junior product manager. There are “new” product managers, who find themselves thrown into the deep end without water wings, then there are “experienced” product managers who make different mistakes than they did when they were starting out.

    Good luck,

    bob

  • Mits // Mar 17, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Hi All,

    I work as an HR for an complex enterprise B2B product company. We are actually looking at carving a good development path for the product manager. The insights above, differentiate one role from the next. My question here is what needs to change in the skill sets and how can the transition from one role to another be facilitated from training, grooming and management perspective.
    Also, can junior/ less experienced PdM do market listening, interacting with customers, decide market strategy?

  • Nora // Mar 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Awesome post. I’ve done everything marketing (product, research, corporate, retail, comms) you name it. All in the financial industry and have global experience. I recently returned to the U.S. and took on a new marketing role at a bank two weeks ago.

    Here’s my story: Head of credit card devision at my bank is encouraging me to take on a credit card PM position on his team and likes my diverse mktg experience. You’ve mentioned several times in your posts that marketers make good PMs. I’m excited about the position but here are my questions/concerns:

    1. What aspects of Marketing are an asset or transferable to a PM role.

    2. The credit card Division is growing rapidly at my bank, but it’s fairly new with all new employees that are still learning. I have room to innovate but what should I focus on accomplishing first as a new PM?

    3. The VP who wants to recruit me said he sees me in this position but he wants to see something first. I’m currently marketing credit cards so what can I do on the side to get my foot into the PM world and show him that I’m capable? I’m thinking I can do competitive analysis of one of our card products and make recommendations on how to improve. But how do I take it further into the technical part and understand business implications and P&L

    I’m anxious and excited at the same time. I’m considering this role because I like finding/solving problems and advocating on behalf of the customer. I really think this would be good experience for me and the pay is better.

    I’d totally appreciate your advice.

  • Bob Corrigan // Apr 6, 2015 at 7:38 am

    Mits,

    Everyone can do “market listening”. But not everyone has ears to hear, and a mouth to speak. In other words, a junior person might not know what you are hearing, and may misinterpret facts when they are communicated. That said…this is true of everyone. So the best advice is to just ask good questions, gather lots of information, and share what you hear with people inside your organization.

    As for what needs to change in the skills sets to make the transition from HR to PM…that’s a hard question I can’t answer as I don’t know HR. Sorry. But I can say that the transition can be facilitate by training, grooming and management perspective, as you phrased it. If you have support, and you have both intelligence and commitment, many (if not all) things are possible.

    Nora,

    Yes, marketers make good PMs, because they understand markets. But traditionally, marketers are handed products and asked to sell them, and if they are lucky, they provide feedback to the development organization to make those products better. An organization that tightly integrates development (PM) and delivery (Mktg/Sales) can blur the lines here somewhat. From what your head of the credit card division is asking you, your org might be integrated like this.

    As for your questions, it will be impossible to give a thoughtful, complete answer here. Take what I offer as just some ideas for you to consider

    1. Marketers understand markets and market channels. They understand how competitors attempt to capture share, and how effective your organization is at capturing share. They understand how to provide messaging that can change a prospect’s current intellectual and emotional state to a desired one. All those are transferable. Plus, hopefully, an ability to communicate clearly, and succinctly. And a nice wardrobe.

    2. As a new PM in a growing business, I’d recommend you ask what the current goal of the business is – is it to capture share? Is it to maximize profitability? Is it to displace an incumbent? EVERYTHING you do as a PM must ladder up to strategy, while keeping your eyes open for “what’s actually happening”. In a race to grab share, you might be missing out on a part of the market that is much more profitable, for example. Your leadership will know. If they don’t, Be Afraid.

    3. “He wants to see something first” is an opportunity for you to do a little market analysis and a recommendation for new and/or modified products that can differentiate your firm AND achieve the org’s goals (see #2). If you are not technical, determine whether that is a requirement. As for understanding business implications, I’m not sure what that means. And as for P&L, I doubt you’ll own P&L as a PM, so have the VP describe the constraints. Building product should be the last choice – it’s easier to build marketing a share. Committing company resources to build software should be considered very carefully at all times.

    You should be anxious and excited. But as you say, if you like finding/solving problems and advocating on behalf of the customer, it’s a good step. Not all customers are equal though – figure out what the strategy is, how your products align with it, how marketing delivers, etc. Your marketing background may be your best angle because sometimes failure to win in the marketplace is a marketing failure not a product failure, but marketing is often good at blaming product.

    Good luck,

    bob

  • Bob Corrigan // Apr 6, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Nora, I mis-typed something:

    Change: Building product should be the last choice – it’s easier to build marketing a share. Committing company resources to build software should be considered very carefully at all times.

    To: Building product should be the last choice – it’s easier to build marketing than it is to build software. Committing company resources to build software should be considered very carefully at all times.

  • Niki // Aug 23, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Bob

    Firstly thank you very much for building this forum.

    I’m currently working for a German MNC as a assistant product manager with 3 years of experience.

    On an educational front I have a MBA major in marketing and BBA undergraduate in business management.

    I love the role that I am in and would like to grow in it and build my future career in the same.

    Keeping my educational background in mind which industry ( fmcg, retail, startups,etc) would you suggest I would do justice to? And which professional courses do you think would help me best to grow in today’s market?

    Best regards
    Niki

  • Bob Corrigan // Aug 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Niki,

    First off, all the credit goes to Jeff Lash for setting up the site and maintaining it – I just show up from time to time and write things 🙂

    Sounds like you’ve got some terrific academic credentials, enjoy the work of PM, and have a steady gig right now. These are All Good Things.

    But how can I know what industry you should pursue? Honestly, this is something only you can do. It’s a question I get a lot, and which I think I’ve answered a few times on this (long) page already. The response I gave Raja on Jul 20, 2011 at 9:48 am strikes me as particularly useful for you.

    Pursue additional coursework in areas that you are passionate about. Look inside yourself for guidance on what industries you are passionate about, perhaps guided by some reflection on the sorts of problems you want to solve.

    Over the long term – and I’m old so I get to use phrases like “over the long germ” – you will be more successful and enjoy greater satisfaction if you are passionate about your work. And where you choose to spend your years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds should be in service of your passions. You’ll be a better PM and enjoy greater fulfillment.

    There’s money to be made everywhere. Do good work, be a decent person, care about your customers and your colleague’s problems, be honest with yourself and others. Success will follow.

    Best regards,

    bob

  • Jyoty // Aug 26, 2015 at 1:28 am

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks to you & Jeff. This is a very informative forum I came across after shuffling through a whole lot of google on Product Management roles.
    I am a Marketing & Brand Manager (Marcomm, Go-to market etc.) in an Automotive company since over 2 years with a year of Sales experience (or pre-sales would be a better term, as autos are sold through dealers). I have an Engineering undergrad.
    For my career progression I am currently applying for an MBA. My post-MBA aim is to be in the Product Management arena within the automotive industry. The fact of owning up your product from inception to market inspires the entrepreneur in me.
    What has confused me is – is a plain MBA (with Marketing focus) enough for a product management role in auto? There are so many dual degrees (Operations focussed, Engg + MBA) etc. in US B-schools: would these make more sense to justify the technical requirements for a Product Manager?

    Regards
    Jyoty

  • Bob Corrigan // Aug 27, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Jyoty,

    If you already work at an automotive company, I suggest you go find someone with the job you want and ask them how they got there. Take notes. Do it a few other times, even outside your company at other firms in the same space. Take notes again.

    Then come back here and share what you learn. Those people will know more about job requirements than I do.

    Or..you could take my advice. Which is to avoid product management entirely if you are an entrepreneur and just go start your own firm. Product management is a transitional job that smart people do on their way to doing Something Else. Beware of people who get stuck in it for years and years.

    Bob

  • sbhat // Oct 2, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Hi,

    Thanks everyone for sharing their experience & views on product management role.

    I’m selected for program management role in startup. Overview of responsibilities are

    Work with both business and technology representatives to develop an overall solution for the program, which will involve collect , understand requirements from customers and planning to deliver the quality, customization of product
    Work with internal teams such as engineering , Operations, marketing , Sales etc

    I have seen similar role in other startup , recently and few questions

    1. How different is this role from product manager role
    2.Do I see more such roles in the future
    3.Is it stepping stone for anyone to get into product manager’s role.

    Please share your thoughts

  • Bob Corrigan // Oct 2, 2015 at 8:29 am

    1. It doesn’t appear to be different. But find out if the company already has product managers and if yes ask them how the roles compare and contract and how they interact. Or don’t interact.
    2. No way to tell.
    3. See answer to question 1.

  • Sandeep // May 5, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Thanks for very valuable insights.
    I am presently working as a Technical Program manager in a software company. I have worked as a product manager for very large software company. Then I managed to do full time MBA focussed on Marketing and General management. Then things happened and I could not puruse product managment roles because of visa/immigration issues. Now I am ready to come back to my most faviourite role of a product manager. How should I approach the hunt for a job or Product Manager. I see following issues in my search 1. Way too much experience in other areas, I am 45 years old and have spent most of my career in software development 2. It has been long time since I was a product manager 3. A lot of companies where I am located require domain (security, networking, banking) expertize even for them to consider my resume for phone screen. Some guidance would be helpful.

  • Bob Corrigan // Jun 8, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Wow, this thread has been going on for 8 years.

    @Sandeep,

    Help me out here – you got an MBA in marketing and general management. . .and you want to go back to being a PM?

    You need to move on with your life, my friend.

    Product management jobs are transitional ones, at least as classically described. With training in marketing and management, you should be looking at opportunities to *manage* product managers, own a P&L, own a product portfolio…

    So my guidance on how to approach the hunt for a product management job is to not hunt for a product management job. Hunt for something that leverages your PM experience *and* your new training. You will be more successful finding an opportunity that suits your special skill set because hiring managers will see you as someone moving ahead with their career, not moving backwards.

    The fact that it has been a long time since you were a product manager plays in to this. And the fact that you are running up against experience screens is more evidence.

    Exploit your assets and don’t emphasize your liabilities. If you were the product, how would you sell you, and to whom?

    I have to give you credit though – this is a very different question than many of the other ones I’ve replied to. You have a real challenge ahead of you, and you have to make real choices.

    And some of those choices can be non-traditional. Instead of going back to the software industry, what jobs are there out there for people who know how to organize technology-centric products, position them, and manage the teams that deliver them? Think non-profit, public sector, arts and museums, retail. Be creative.

    That creativity will lead you to find “the place just right” and will ultimately contribute to your happiness. It’s your responsibility to be happy, and that means engaging your whole self, as you are *now*, not how you *once were*.

    On another note, getting old is AWESOME. Enjoy it.

  • Raj // Sep 10, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Excellent discussions here. The key questions remain is ‘Why do you want to be a Product Manager’. In my case the answer was when am passionate about a product I want to own every feature, every aspect end-to-end.
    Having worked as a software dev, hardware engineer and then Product Manager, the larger the company the more time you will realise you spend in ‘general management’ than PM.
    I have worked as PM in my own startup and I can say I learnt more about the job 1 year in startup than 3+ years in corporate. So to queries above if you can do explore that route should you have a product idea. The road mind you is extremely tough but the opportunities and learning is incredible.
    @Sandeep you seem to have broad experiences maybe you can narrow it down to what really motivates you in PM role and where it should take you.

    Best wishes All!