A product manager identifies a customer’s needs and the overall business objectives required to fulfill those needs. They determine how the product will meet the customer’s expectations, detail what success looks like, and rally the team to bring the vision into reality.
Product managers often combine technological and customer knowledge. However—first and foremost—product managers have a robust understanding of business. They feel gripped and compelled to create a product that achieves the business goals while maximizing return on investment.
Technological knowledge is also critical for product managers. There’s no point in building a product without knowing how to produce it. That doesn’t mean product managers will sit down and code all day, but they will understand the technology required to create the best products.
Finally, customer knowledge is also essential. Product managers will speak with their team to gauge customer feedback and actively work on the product during testing.
Different types of product managers
If you browse through career websites, including LinkedIn, you’ll see neverending product-related jobs. These may include product manager and senior product manager - which are easy to understand. However, other roles can be hard to understand.
That said, there’s one common trend: these roles require working with products to maximize business growth.
Here are some of the most common product management roles:
- Technical Product Manager: A Technical Product Manager is similar to a normal product manager; however, they have a robust technical background. Many technical product managers come from an engineering background before switching to product managers.
- Data Product Manager: A Data Product Manager handles more product data than anything else. They will be highly skilled at analysis and data management. Sometimes this goes under the title “Platform Product Manager” as well.
- Product Marketing Manager: A Product Marketing Manager often spends fewer hours on the technical side of product development and more time creating case studies, press briefings, web content, and working with the overall marketing team.
- Growth Product Manager: Growth Product Managers have risen in the last five years. They focus more on improving business metrics, especially profit and loss.
- Associate Product Manager: An Associate Product Manager—often called an APM—is an entry-level role and superb for anyone that wants to break into product roles.
- Product Manager: A Product Manager will work alongside other team members in the product department. Product Managers have a broad understanding of the business, including technology, marketing, and customer data.
- Senior Product Manager: Senior Product Managers are either highly skilled individual contributors (IC’s) or sometimes manage a group of products instead of one. As a result, this often requires a more hands-off role and emphasis on team management.
- Product Lead: Product Leads are responsible for developing new products within a company. They spend most of their time commuting between different departments and senior management.
- Group Product Manager: A Group Product Manager directs the product teams responsible for particular groups of products. It’s a balance between people management and individual contribution.
- Director of Product Management: A Director of Product Management is a leadership role responsible for monitoring the work of senior product managers. They must identify areas of product growth within a market.
- Vice President of Product Management: A Vice President of Product Management is a team-developing role. They will work under the Chief Product Officer and ensure the whole team is performing.
- Chief Product Officer: The Chief Product Officer oversees everything in the product team. They are responsible for representing the team within the C-suite executive team.
Salary ranges for product managers
There are many product manager roles, so product manager salaries vary. However, here are some typical salaries in product manager roles:
● Assistant Product Manager: $72,656 per year
● Product Manager: $113,446 per year
● Senior Product Manager: $128,503 per year
● Principal Product Manager: $146,585 per year
● Associate Director of Product Management: $142,601 per year
● Director of Product Management/Group Product Manager: $168,960 per year
● Vice President of Product Management / Head of Product: $172,299 per year
● Senior Vice President of Product Management: $214,700 per year
● CPO: $254,980 per year
Product manager career paths
Although there are many product management career paths, we will take a deep look at some of the most common options and how you can break into these roles:
Associate Product Manager
When you choose to break into product management—you’ll typically start as an Associate Product Manager. You’ll learn the ropes of product management in this role. Associate Product Managers do everything a product manager does but on a smaller scale.
For example, you likely won’t own the product roadmap or develop the product strategy, yet you’ll set priorities for your projects. Although you won’t present product plans across the company, you’ll keep your manager and peers updated.
The first step of your product management career isn’t like school. It’s not about knowing the most, beating everyone, or working 24/7; it’s about learning empathy for the user. You must learn to identify issues and problems with the product.
Hiring managers typically look for candidates that understand what product management is. They’ll need to show passion and interest for the customer. HR departments may prefer marketing experience or product management experience, but neither is necessary.
Many companies will hire associate product managers straight out of school or college. However, many Associate Product Managers have bachelor's degrees in business, marketing, and computer science.
Main Duties Include:
● Collecting product data
● Completing customer research
● Coordinating with stakeholders
● Developing new product features
A Product Manager is a step up from an Associate Product Manager. However, some companies don’t employ Associate Product Managers and only have a Product Manager. You’ll be the team's go-to resource and the point person on the product team when working as a product manager.
Most Product Managers have experience before starting the role, but it’s not always direct product management experience. However, you’ll most definitely need some professional experience and evidence of robust communication and collaboration skills.
Product Managers will need an understanding of all aspects of the business—including technology, marketing, and business. You’ll need to speak basic product concepts and have an excellent leadership style to motivate others. Being able to understand basic data is also essential.
Main Duties Include:
● Creating product planning
● Analyzing product marketing
● Working with engineering
● Defining the product vision
Senior Product Manager
After succeeding as a Product Manager, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll work as a Senior Product Manager. Almost all Senior Product Managers will have product management experience—including prior experience as an Associate Product Manager or a Product Manager.
In some cases, you may land the role if you have substantial professional experience handling data, communicating with large teams, and making significant decisions. However, a Senior Product Manager needs to show mastery of a product manager's communication streams.
Many Senior Product Managers undergo the same duties as Product Managers and Associate Product Managers. However, the responsibilities come with higher-visibility products. You’ll require strong product knowledge compared to product managers or associate product managers. That’s because there’s considerably more responsibility on your shoulders.
You must make hard decisions and high-risk trade-offs between speed-to-market and features when you’re a Senior Product Manager. You also must lead the team, monitor customer engagement, sell your vision to the leadership team, and collaborate with engineers.
Main Duties Include:
● Communicating with stakeholders
● Working with senior management
● Analyzing customer feedback
● Creating roadmaps and product plans
Principal Product Manager
Suppose you don’t want any people-management responsibilities. A Principal Product Manager might be ideal for you. Principal Product Managers typically have years of experience overseeing, executing, and owning various product management processes. These include creating product strategies, designing product roadmaps, setting the product vision, and aligning stakeholders.
As a senior contributor to the product team, a Principal Product Manager has many responsibilities—including developing and commuting the product strategy. They must set goals, detail the efforts required, and set out the product vision.
In essence, the Principal Product Manager takes everything and places it into a detailed, high-level roadmap shared with the engineering, marketing, and design teams. Although the Principal Product Manager doesn’t have people management responsibilities, they often take input from their peers.
Another principal responsibility of a Principal Product Manager is ensuring all stakeholders in the company understand the product strategy. Therefore, they will work alongside Product Leaders, Product Development Managers, and Product Marketing Managers to create an aligned plan.
Main Duties Include:
● Setting out the product vision
● Aligning with stakeholders
● Defining the product roadmap
● Ensuring the whole team understands the plan
Associate Director of Product Management
An Associate Director of Product Management has a similar role to the Director of Product Management but on a smaller scale. The Associate Director of Product Management will report to the Director of Product Management regarding day-to-day management duties in the product management team.
In addition, the Associate Director of Product Management will support other department leaders, help the product managers, and ensure the team is meeting customer satisfaction levels and financial goals.
Main Duties Include:
● Helping with day-to-day management duties
● Assisting the director with the commercial product strategy
● Ensuring the product meets the company’s goals
● Helping product managers and senior product managers
Director of Product Management / Group Product Manager
A Director of Product Management is the next step from a Senior Product Manager. A Director of Product Management typically has over ten years of experience working in product teams.
Once you get to this level, the role starts to change. It goes from an individual product manager who works directly with the engineering and design teams to someone who steps back from day-to-day duties to focus on management.
The Director of Product Management is responsible for planning the product throughout the business. The role includes working with marketing, sales, and operations directors to ensure the team meets customer satisfaction levels and financial goals. They must also guarantee the product supports the company’s overall goals.
Main Duties Include:
● Focusing on day-to-day management duties
● Developing a commercial product strategy
● Overseeing the entire planning and execution of the product
● Ensuring the product is suitable for the company’s broader vision
Vice President of Product Management / Head of Product
A Vice President of Product Management brings the customer into the organization. Although the product team may prioritize the customer when designing the product features, the Vice President of Product Management must complete the entire product experience. Therefore, they must consider the customer at every stage.
First, they must set the product strategy, including putting the customer at the forefront of the product strategy. They must also answer challenging questions, such as whether the product matters to the customer. Most importantly, however, the Vice President of Product Management must bring the company together around the vision for the customer.
Main Duties Include:
● Bringing the customer into the organization
● Answering difficult questions about the customer
● Ensuring the whole team understands the customer's needs
● Completing the entire product experience
Senior Vice President of Product Management
A Senior Vice President of Product Management will report to the CPO, CEO, and the President. Therefore, it’s a high-pressure job, but one that pays well. A Senior Vice President of Product Management's goals often includes setting overall goals for the product team, preparing and allocating budgets, and evaluating product team performance.
To be an excellent Senior Vice President of Product Management, you’ll need to be a leader with excellent knowledge and insight into how the product team operates. Many Senior Vice Presidents of Product Management have 10 to 20 years of experience working in the product team.
Main Duties Include:
● Setting overall goals for the management team
● Allocating product team budgets
● Working directly under the CPO
● Evaluating the whole team's performance
The Chief Product Officer—often known as the CPO—is the most senior person in the entire product team. They usually manage more than one team of product managers and represent the product team within the C-suite management team. In smaller companies, the Vice President of Product Management doesn’t do much differently from the CPO.
However, in larger organizations, the Vice President of Product Management is responsible for the product team, the processes, and getting things done. In contrast, the CPO is responsible for product architecture, product vision, and overall organization alignment.
Main Duties Include:
● Overseeing the entire product team
● Representing the product team at the C-suite level
● Setting a clear product vision around the company
● Ensuring the alignment of the organization
Breaking into product management
So you like the sound of becoming a product manager? You’re in luck in 2022. The career is growing in potential and becoming more financially lucrative. However, you’ll need various skills to break into product management.
These include a general understanding of fundamental data, strategic thinking, basic business skills, strong communication skills, and industry insights. Although many companies don’t require product managers to have an education, a Bachelor’s degree in technical or business subjects may help.
Here are some tips on breaking into the role:
● Meet product managers: Networking will always be critical if you want to break into product management. Find product managers and build your network.
● Earn a degree: The better your education, the better your chances of landing an excellent product management role.
● Read books on the product management mindset: Reading books on product management—such as Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love—can help you grasp the product management mindset.
● Transition into the role: If you’re performing well in sales, HR, or logistics, it could be a good idea to switch to the product team. You’ll already understand the business; just ask your company whether it’s possible.
How to become successful in product management
Becoming successful is never easy, especially not in a competitive environment like product management. That said, there are some steps you can take to build a success mindset for your career in product management:
Take a course
Taking a course in product management is an excellent way to prepare yourself for success. Some can teach you about the entire field, including mindset, communication, and technology. However, consider an introductory course if you’re new to product management. Try to show off the knowledge you’ve learned in the interview; it’ll show you’re proactive and keen.
Find a mentor
As with any pursuit in life, finding a mentor can help you achieve success. Try to find someone with an established career in product management. You can ask them questions, learn from their mistakes, and understand their mindset.
Consider higher education
A master's degree is excellent for broadening your chances of success in product management. If you work or want to work for Product Developers or Product Designers, a master’s degree can increase your chances of advancement.
Learn about customers
Succeeding in product management means you’ll need to understand the customers in your industry. Without this, you’ll struggle to excel. You can learn about customers by asking questions and putting yourself in the customer's shoes.
Working in other departments
Many product managers started their careers in other roles before transitioning into the product team. As a result, they gained a vast insight into the industry and how to deliver the best product.
Becoming a product manager is one of the best careers in the United States. With the right company, it’s possible to earn six figures and push your career toward the C-suite executive level. In addition, a product management career offers endless options for various skills. For example, you can work as a technical product manager if you’re excellent at engineering and technology.
There will always be a requirement for excellent product managers as long as customers buy products. It’s an incredible career with superb financial opportunities.