What does a product manager do? The role of the Product Manager (PM) is a broad one, encompassing a wide range of responsibilities pertaining to the product life cycle. In general, a Product Manager will oversee a product, or part of it, from ideation to distribution.
Find out what a long-term career in Product Management could look like for you and the career development options available. In this article you will learn more about:
Product Management Role Hierarchy
Becoming a product manager does not require a qualification in computer science or design, so the opportunity to create products (and make a good living while you’re at it) is there for anyone who has good leadership, prioritizing, and communication skills. It also helps to have sharp business acumen.
Of course, you will have to be truly passionate in understanding and addressing customer needs.
The great thing about this career path is that there are a lot of opportunities for growth. One thing to note is that a product manager’s job titles, roles, and responsibilities vary per company.
The size and organizational structure of a company, the funding behind the product, and the product itself are just some of the factors why each company would have their own variations of these titles and job descriptions.
Some companies may have all or some of these titles/positions and some may call them different things entirely. Furthermore, the higher the position is, their responsibilities become more specific to their organization.
Associate Product Manager (APM)
The APM position is where most fresh college graduates or people just entering the industry will likely start off. Candidates with degrees in computer science, business, and other related courses of study may stand out.
APMs do not have ownership over anything, but will still be tasked with key projects and provide support to more senior product managers. They are generally hired at this level for the company to acquire talent early on to mold them to become the PMs the company needs.
Average Salary (US): $86,000 / year
Roles: PM Support and Mentee
- Gathers and analyzes market and competition research data
- Collaborates with internal teams to work on product requirements
- Works on specific product features, improving them, and creating new ones upon instruction
- Assists in testing, troubleshooting, and problem-solving
- Creates and presents reports on findings, defects, improvements, statuses, and risk management
- Everything the PM does but on a smaller/microscale and without major decision-making roles to learn the skills necessary for promotion.
Product Manager (PM)
As a product manager you are the go-to person for the product. You are heavily involved in, and claim ownership of, processes throughout the product life cycle. PMs play a decision-making role due to having wider knowledge and deeper understanding of the customer needs, the product, and the stakeholders' demands.
Playing a strong role in the project management aspects of product development, the PM constantly communicates and collaborates with teams across the organization as well as with external customers and board members. An Associate Product Manager can ascend to this position by showing both hard skills and people skills on top of the length of time spent in the organization.
Average Salary (US): $117,444/ year
Roles: Product Expert, Team and Operations Leader
- Gathers data to come up with ideas for new products and features including curating ideas and deciding which ones are worth working on
- Analyzes market and competition data to create products to match and surpass current industry standards
- Defines the product vision, product roadmap, and product positioning
- Creates, maintains, and adjusts the product-line-level strategy and production schedules
- Communicates product vision to the sales and product marketing teams to obtain market share for the product
- Creates product requirements for the support and engineering teams to bring new products to market or to enhance existing features
- Balances the needs of the customers and limitations defined by stakeholders
- Advocates for the product and the team members to the board
- Manages testing to detect and fix issues to make necessary improvements
- Gathers customer feedback to further improve the product
- Manages the health and performance of the team by monitoring its members
- Coordinates with respective teams regarding product launch
- Tracks product performance
- Oversees product throughout the product lifecycle.
Whilst not strictly part of the Product Management hierarchy, the Product Owner is still worth mentioning. Note that a Product Owner only exists in organizations that use Scrum. If your organization doesn’t, a Product Manager is the one likely performing a Product Owner’s responsibilities in a less time-sensitive manner.
Product Owner (PO)
The Product Owner is what is said to be the representative of the customer within the product development process. The PO gathers data on customer needs and translates them into product requirements for the development team to work on.
The PO prioritizes backlogs that developers will work on in sprints or short periods of productivity rather than managing the entire product development process as a PM would over a longer period of time.
Average Salary (US): $104,714 / year
Roles: Improves team performance and prioritizes backlogs.
- Gathers customer needs data such as new feature requests, creates detailed requirements, schedules release timelines, and manages sprints appropriately
- Uses deep understanding of the customer’s needs to identify and define Personas, create Epics and User Stories aligned with the strategy
- Manages and prioritizes the right backlogs while monitoring and improving team velocity
- Solves problems in a manner that allows them to work in the given timeframe
- Collaborates with cross-functional teams to assure that the right customer problems are being solved
- Works closely with product management to create products that address customer needs.
Senior Product Manager (SPM)
The Senior Product Manager role covers much of the same tasks as a PM but has more interactions with executives, the legal department, and similar higher-ranking teams.
The decisions you’d make as an SPM have a bigger impact and are of higher visibility. They deal with the major features and functions, as well as enhancements of existing products.
Furthermore, they are given people development duties such as mentoring junior PMs. They also serve as the voice of the product team at the leadership table and you will often see the SPM representing the product/business to external customers, attending conferences and similar events.
Average Salary (US): $121,123 / year
Roles: Mentor, Business/Product Representative
- Oversees the entire process from ideation to distribution
- Possibly oversees more than one product at a time
- Assists HR in the recruitment and onboarding of Product Managers and other relevant hires
- Serves as a mentor to junior PMs
- Sets the long-term vision and product-line-level strategy
- Analyzes pricing and focuses on increasing product profitability
- Develops business and product strategies as well as budgets
- Represents the business at trade shows and conferences
- Promotes the product to its users
- Conducts Custom Market Research
- Develops and designs new products based on data from research
- Deals with both internal and external customers
- Constantly communicates with legal and other higher teams
- Tracks product use and impact on end users.
Once you reach the next level, you will have two positions to choose from: the product leader position, which is an individual contributor track; and the director/group product manager position,which is a people management track.
Product Leader (PL)
This is an individual contributor role meaning that the bulk of your responsibility is in product development. As a PL you would be more focused on the technical aspect of the product than managing people.
In some organizations, this position is equal in rank to the Senior Product Manager and in others to the VP of Product. This role will suit you if you have ascended in tenure and seniority but do not want to further your involvement in managing people or being the conduit of information on which other teams rely.
Taking this path leads to the Principal Product Manager position.
Average Salary (US): $124,917/ year
Roles: Technical Expert
- Works closely with Senior PMs and POs on the more complex processes
- Focuses on the technical aspect of product development and enhancement
- Increases the value and boosts the performance of existing products
- Creates new products
- Conducts extensive research into products to find out how customers interact with them and to develop solutions or improvements to address those needs
- Meets with customers regarding requirements and uses research-backed data to create products relevant to the market’s demands
- Reviews processes, conducts evaluations, and measures results—ensuring they are meeting business objectives, are on schedule, and within budget
Group Product Manager (GPM)
This position is on the people management track where you become responsible for the development of the junior product managers within your group and you will have less direct involvement in the technical aspect of product management.
As a GPM, your focus is on working with teams, people issues, and alignment. To succeed at this, you will have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture to optimize processes and improve team performance.
Communication, leadership, and collaboration skills are necessary to succeed in this position as you are tasked to constantly communicate with both your end-user customers and team members to identify previously unseen challenges and possible opportunities. It is a GPM’s role to create consensus around the organization.
To become a GPM, you must have 5-10+ years of experience, usually a PM who has moved up within the company’s ranks. Taking this track leads to the VP of Product position.
Average Salary (US): $172,198/ year
Roles: Mentor and Leader of Product Managers/ People and Product Manager
- Participates in the development and updating of annual budget plans to ensure appropriate allocation of resources
- Oversees multiple product management processes, establishes priorities, and coordinates with teams to create schedules throughout the product life cycle
- Constantly collaborates with other departments to build trust and understanding
- Hires, develops, and evaluates team members
- Manages, mentors, and motivates junior members of one’s group
- Optimizes team performance, balances staff assignments, and enhances processes
- Conducts performance reviews, reports on performance metrics, and creates plans to improve performance
- Prioritizes team health and performance by detecting and resolving people issues
- Exhibits a deep understanding of the customers’ needs and reinforces a user-centric approach to its team members
- Encourages a culture that values and prioritizes research-backed and customer-focused data.
Principal Product Manager (PPM)
This is one of the highest positions or titles an individual contributor can attain within an organization. Once you have reached this level, there are rarely any people management tasks and the focus is entirely on the technical aspect of the product as you will be assigned to tackle the most complex and most significant technical work.
For you to be hired as a PPM, you must have successfully launched multiple products and have around 8+ years of experience.
Average Salary (US): $181,047/ year
Roles: Senior Technical Expert / Product Expert
- Defines and communicates the vision, business goals, and strategies to effectively align teams
- Determines metrics to measure progress and to advance team performance and product success
- Develops the product roadmap, working with technical stakeholders to come up with the feature distribution sequence
- Effectively communicates detailed documentation of requirements, epics, and stories to ensure schedules are followed with considerations for new short-term requirements and their effects on long-term plans
- Constantly coordinates with business stakeholders to drive growth in the product’s market share
- Creates and develops products that not only address unmet customer needs and incorporate market trends, but products users will also love
- Pounces on opportunities by staying updated with trends, industry standards, and evolving market and customer needs
- Monitors backlogs, optimizes existing processes, defines new ones, and encourages best practices
- Leads teams through design, development, testing, and distribution of major products and features
- Guides and collaborates with teams through changes and iterations to be made to already distributed products
- Identifies, manages, and mitigates risks
- Identifies gaps
- Post-launch monitoring to look for opportunities.
VP of Product
Sometimes labeled Chief Product Officer, this is an executive position where your involvement with the technical aspect of product development is low, progressing to managing a wider scale of the operation — much like running a business instead of focusing on a product.
The VP of Product is responsible for funding and is considered to be the face of the product to the customer. Expansion is also a main focus of a VP of Product as well as hiring of members and building teams.
The roles and responsibilities of a VP of Product are organization-specific.
Average Salary (US): $203,697/ year
- Sets the overall high-level strategy and direction for the products and develops evaluation metrics
- Directs the organization and keeps it on track from a business perspective
- Ensures that the company is building, shipping out, and providing support for the right products in the right sequence
- Maintains an entrepreneurial perspective in all processes and develops budgets based on forecasts
- Continuously collaborates with stakeholders to define product timelines and launch criteria
- Identifies current unmet customer needs today and anticipates future market demands
- Works with sales teams to close significant deals and to maintain professional relationships with key stakeholders internally and externally
- Meets with customers to gather information and feedback
- Manages members in the Product Management structure
- Monitors product development processes and evaluates results.
Differences In Responsibilities Of Product Management Roles
Your Career Is In Your Hands
Product Management is an exciting career choice because it gives you the opportunity to play multiple roles and work with a lot of interesting, talented people.
Successful product managers possess a good mix of hard and soft skills such as user research, creating a product roadmap, communication, and time management.
You can see the full list of skills and suggested methods of developing them here.
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