The most common product management job titles
Product management is a vital strategic function in most organizations today. As advocates for the product, company, and the end user, product managers are responsible for understanding market and customer needs.
In addition to building product roadmaps, product managers often lead a cross-functional product team. You collaborate frequently with other functional groups (such as marketing, sales, support, and UX) to keep product plans, improvements, and launches moving along smoothly.
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Most product managers have a college degree and many have a graduate degree. Majoring in business or technology and earning relevant internships can boost an applicant’s chances of earning an entry-level product role.
Product managers can also build competitive skills by completing professional training related to product development methodologies (such as scrum or SAFe®) or other continuing education courses.
Jump ahead to explore these product roles:
It is worth noting that the titles and roles within a product management function will depend on the size and type of company. Some organizations use job titles such as “offering manager” or “solutions manager” to describe roles that include product management work. Depending on the product development methodology that your company uses, there may be even more title variation.
This chart provides an example of how a product management organization might be structured in a company with multiple products. Note that other roles — such as UX design and product analytics — often sit within a product management function.
For the purpose of this guide, we are going to focus on the most common product management roles at a high level and organized by seniority:
Associate product manager
An associate product manager (APM) is an entry-level position, usually reporting to a product manager (PM) or group product manager. This is often a mentorship position secured at the start of a product manager's career. APMs have the opportunity to learn from senior product leaders and form a strong foundation of best practices.
The goal is to gain an understanding of how and why new products are developed and existing products are enhanced. The day-to-day responsibilities of an associate product manager may include competitive research, analyzing data, and defining requirements for features as directed.
A product manager typically is responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition of a product or product line. They may report to the group product manager, the senior product manager, or the vice president of product — it all depends on the company’s size and structure. They may move into the role with three to five years of experience.
The role involves working with cross-functional teams, including product marketing managers and business analysts. They may also do forecasting, and profit and loss responsibilities. PMs analyze the market and competitive environment to define a product vision that delivers unique value. This role spans many types of activities, from strategic to tactical. They provide cross-functional leadership and bridge organizational gaps between different functional groups — most often between engineering, marketing, sales, and support.
Some agile teams have both a product manager and a product owner. The product owner is likely to report to the same manager that the PM does, with a similar level of work experience. Rather than task a single person with both external and internal responsibilities, the role is split into two parts. And this can cause confusion — product manager vs. product owner and who owns what?
The answer to that question is highly debated because it can be so murky depending on the company and workflow. The product owner may support the development team by prioritizing user stories and answering product questions. Meanwhile, the product manager will be charged with communicating the voice of the customer and is tasked with achieving customer and market success.
Group product manager
The group product manager (GPM) is tasked with the leadership and direction of a product management team that is responsible for a specific group of products. It is the most senior non-executive role that a product manager can have and often is responsible for managing other product managers. They typically report to a product director or vice president and may come into the role with five to eight years of experience. The daily responsibilities of a GPM include research, strategy, product development, and people management.
Director of product management
The director of product management usually reports to the VP of product in a larger organization or to the CEO or business unit leader in a smaller organization. They may move into the role with seven to 10 years of experience. This is a senior role that requires management experience and the ability to collaborate with executives and other cross-functional leaders.
The director of product management should be able to articulate a clear vision for the future of the product. They also prioritize investments that will achieve the most business value for their organization.
VP of product management
The vice president of product management (VP of product) is usually found in larger, more established organizations. They may move into the role with eight to 12 years of experience and report to a C-level executive. They are an executive influencer responsible for large initiatives and building what will create the most value to the business. They work daily to keep cross-functional teams aligned. They have a credible voice when discussing strategy and even mergers and acquisition (M&A) activities.
The VP of product often has influence in the organization well beyond the team they manage. They work closely with other key leaders in engineering, sales, support, and marketing to ensure that their company is making investments that support business goals. In some organizations, there may also be senior vice president of product management (SVP of product) who leads a portfolio of products.
Chief product officer
The chief product officer (CPO) usually reports directly to the CEO and is responsible for all product activities inside an organization. They may move into the role with 10 to 20 years of experience — depending greatly on company size and need.
The CPO will typically work on setting the overall product strategy, which is designed to achieve the corporate vision and goals set by the CEO and board members. The CPO sometimes plays the role of CMO as well. In this case, they manage the marketing and development of the product.
Product management career path
If you want to become a product manager, start by thinking like one. Make a habit of reflecting on products you use frequently. Audit these products as if you were an end user, then again as if you were the product manager responsible for building that product. What might the product strategy be? What improvements would you prioritize?
If you are already working in a product role and are hoping to move into a more senior job title, you can be more proactive. Look for opportunities to build analytical, technical, product design, leadership, and customer communication skills.
Training programs and educational materials are gaining in popularity to help support product managers looking to master the craft. But product management in general remains a career path that requires a lot of learning on the go. Talk to users frequently. Host or shadow customer calls. Learn your product inside and out — use it as often as you can. These approaches will help your product management career thrive.
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