The Perfect Product Management Role

A few years ago, I decided to do a career check with a career coach. I was looking around for my next opportunity. At the time I was thinking about product and technology fit, but my career coach asked me to profile exactly what my ideal position would be in a much broader sense. The idea was that I could then go and find companies that matched this profile and I would then likely be a stronger candidate, and happier when hired.

As you move into a new Product Management role, or move to a new company, your day to day life can be very different. The exact same title in two different companies can have radically different expectations. Product Management can cover a lot of responsibilities that vary across companies. One of the key factors to consider when looking to make a move is figuring out what you really like to do out of the many things that the Product Management role can encompass. From there, you can narrow down both the company and the role to make sure the place you choose is a good fit.

Considerations when thinking about Product Management day to day activities:
  • Engineering Focused Roles; some roles will have you more focused on spending time with the engineering team and writing detailed user stories that the engineering team will work on. Other roles will have you focus on bringing in high level requirements and handing them off to be broken down by your engineering manager counterpart. Knowing whether you like getting into the technical details compared to staying a higher level will help you assess the right role.
  • Impact of your work; as a Product Manager in a large company, you may be one of a team of Product Managers working on a specific product together. Your impact will contribute to the overall impact of the team. In smaller company, you are more likely to own the whole product from end to end yourself.
  • Individual Contributors; If you have done the role of a Product Manager for a while, as you move up in seniority, you can take on more senior individual contributor roles, or you can move into a management or mentorship type of role. Depending on the company you are with, you could be the only Product Manager in the whole company with a Director Title, or you could be a Product Management Team Manager and be managing a team of five Product Managers.
  • Your Title; If the title of your role is important to you, in a large company, you will need to work your way up from Product Manager to Senior Product Manager. From there, you will need to stand out against other Product Managers to get a Manager, or Director role and it can take a few years. In a smaller company, after a couple of years of doing a good job, often you can ask for a Director title at that point and be awarded that more easily.
When assessing where you want to go in your career as a Product Manager, the size of the company will impact various aspects of your role as a Product Manager.

A generalized summary of the Product Management role based on the company size is as follows:

Small Company: 5 to 20 employees A company of this size usually combines a number of roles. The most senior engineer, or the Engineering Manager may act as Product Owner, and Product Manager as well. Other typical combinations will be combining Product Management, Product Marketing, or Marketing too. In this type of company, you will likely wear multiple hats, no matter what the title of your role is.

Company of 50 to 100 employees This size of company is large enough to have the typical corporate structure with separate functions including Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Support, Product Management, Finance, HR. In a company of this size, one Product Manager will likely do all the Product Management for the company. Product Management responsibilities can also include Product Marketing, Training, Technical Marketing Engineering and various other sideways roles.

Company of 100 to 300 employees Companies of this size will have the typical corporate structure more filled out. There may be multiple engineering teams working on different Products. The sales team will be larger, and the Product Management role can be part of a small Product team. A Product team can include one or two Product Managers, a Product Marketing Manager and a Technical Marketing Engineer or equivalent technical role.

Companies of 500 to 1000 employees At this size, the Product Team and Product Management teams will be built out and filled in considerably. There will be a VP or Head of Product, or Product Management and most likely a Product Manager per Product under the Head of Product Management.

Companies above 1000 employees A company that has got to around 1000 employees will generally be very similar to a much larger company as far as the Product Management role is concerned. A company of 70,000 people for example is often split into Business Units each of which can be around 1000 employees. At this level, if you join as a Product Manager, you will quite likely be on a team of between five and ten Product Managers reporting to a Manager or Director. For new Product Managers, this is an excellent environment to learn the role with other Product Managers available to mentor you and as you become more senior, you will find yourself being able to mentor new members of the team.

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