Demand for demonstrable product management expertise continues to grow. Job opportunities for product professionals range from associate product managers all the way up to chief product officers, with a variety of roles in between. In this post, we’ll look at common titles in product organizations, along with their key responsibilities. We’ll also discuss what it takes to move from one role to the next. Finally, we’ll examine two new titles that are starting to gain traction.
Common product titles
In the typical product management organization, you’ll likely encounter the following titles:
Associate product manager
The associate product manager role is an entry-level position, usually reporting to a product manager or a senior product manager.
- Key responsibilities: Associate product managers and product managers do similar work. While APMs usually won’t be building a product strategy or presenting product roadmaps, they will be setting their own priorities and communicating progress to their manager and teammates.
- Leveling up: To move into a product manager role, an APM must consistently demonstrate the ability to collaborate effectively with UX, engineering, and other teams. Equally importantly, they must show that they can empathize with the user and accurately assess their underlying needs.
As the point person for the product, the product manager is responsible for product strategy, roadmap, and feature definition.
- Key responsibilities: The average PM analyzes the market in order to build a differentiated product that delivers value to customers and the organization. Also, they collaborate cross-functionally with engineering, UX, marketing, sales, and support. In some organizations, PMs are also responsible for forecasting and P&L.
- Leveling up: To get a promotion, a PM should demonstrate the ability to balance the strategic and tactical aspects of the role. In addition, they must secure the trust of both internal and external stakeholders and tie product metrics and KPIs to business goals.
Senior product manager
As an experienced product manager, the senior product manager leads by example. The best senior PMs consistently make thoughtful decisions based on evidence and a deep understanding of product and market.
- Key responsibilities: The senior PM has similar duties to the product manager, but for products that are expected to deliver a bigger payoff and/or have higher visibility within the organization. Also, they may informally mentor other product managers or lead them as direct reports.
- Leveling up: The senior product manager may advance to director when they’ve demonstrated interest in more than just their own product set. They’re invested in developing other product managers and improving the broader production process whenever possible.
Director of product
Reporting to the VP of product in larger organizations or to the CEO in smaller organizations, the director of product may be either a single contributor role or a management position.
- Key responsibilities: The director of product doesn’t simply manage a product. Rather, they develop people and improve processes. In this role, the director of product doesn’t look just at a single product in isolation. Instead, they look across the products in their portfolio and connect those metrics to wider business KPIs.
- Leveling up: The director of product acts as a mentor to the rest of the product management team. They also level up their team by keeping them informed about important shifts in the market and your overall business. As your team performance improves, you’re setting the stage for the next step up the product ladder.
VP of product
The vice president of product (aka the VP of product management) is usually found in larger organizations. In this executive role, the VP is responsible for the entire product set and its strategic fit within the larger organization.
- Key responsibilities: VPs of product are not usually involved in tactical product management activities. Instead, they’re focused on R&D budgeting, product suite sustainability, and team management and development.
- Leveling up: With a proven track record of success in this role, your next stop is chief product officer.
Chief product officer
As part of the C-suite, the chief product officer (CPO) typically reports directly to the CEO. They’re responsible for all product activities inside of an organization.
- Key responsibilities: The CPO functions as a higher-grade VP or may oversee multiple VPs of product. They balance short-term needs with the strategic, long-term vision articulated by the CEO and the board.
Two new titles
As product management evolves, new functions and roles come into play. Two titles I’m seeing more frequently are:
Product operations manager
Over the last several years, more and more business aspects have been operationalized. I saw it first with sales. The sales ops function came about as a way to increase the sales team’s productivity by reducing friction in the sales process. This same drive toward efficiency has manifested in marketing and operations. And now, it’s appearing in product management.
The e-commerce infrastructure company Stripe describes product operations as “building the connective tissue between product/engineering and user-facing teams around the world” to deliver more value, to more users, more consistently.
While the specifics may vary from company to company, the overall mission is this: Developing ways to generate actionable insights from the various tools product management utilizes to help product managers build the right products, at the right time, in the most profitable way.
Product onboarding manager
Product onboarding managers focus on one of the most pivotal, sensitive aspects of the customer lifecycle: the onboarding process. Research shows that you’ll lose 80% or more of your users within 30 days of sign-up. Your decision to continue using an app tends to happen in the first 3-7 days of usage. And onboarding is a key part of that experience and decision-making process.
Some product managers work toward making the onboarding experience quick and unobtrusive, while others set the loftier goal of helping users get the most out of the product. The product onboarding manager, however, sets a specific, achievable goal for onboarding. A few examples might be “maintain loyalty for 12 consecutive months” or “reduce customer service interactions by 30%.”
Amazon subsidiary Audible describes this position as shaping “experiences that drive engagement for our newest Audible listeners,” while Silicon Valley Bank says it represents “the lifeblood for growth for SVB, improving the NPS scores in the Early Stage Partner segment and differentiating our digital capabilities from our competition.” This is no small role, and it will be interesting to see it evolve over time.