At first glance, the role of product manager seems uniform, at least when it comes to location. A PM in NYC has the same job duties as a PM in San Francisco, right?
As it turns out, the PM role actually varies a bit by geography. West Coast and East Coast product managers have distinct profiles, with nuances in their approaches to everything from career path to feature prioritization to reporting structure.
Each year, our colleagues at Pendo survey hundreds of product leaders across the US in order to gain a deeper understanding of their responsibilities, priorities, and place in the organization. As they dug into the data, they discovered several similarities and differences between PMs based on each of the coasts.
Overall, the team found that product people are far more alike than they are different. However, understanding these subtle variances by geographic segment can give PMs everywhere a broader perspective of what it means to be a product leader, no matter where they live.
Where East Coast PMs and West Coast PMs Differ Most
Yes, product managers in the US do have quite a bit in common. They look at analytics, interview users, prioritize the roadmap, and deal with the product backlog. However, there are some definite areas where East Coast and West Coast PMs diverge significantly.
We’ve written a lot about the rise of the product team within the organization. Increasingly, product professionals are moving into the C-suite and product now has more influence and independence than ever before. However, Pendo’s survey results revealed that this growth in “product power” is more pronounced in some locations than in others.
For example, East Coast PMs are almost two times more likely than West Coast PMs to report directly to a CPO or head of product. West Coasts PMs, however, are most likely to report to marketing, followed by engineering. In fact, only 16% of West Coast PMs report directly to product.
As far as interdepartmental alignment goes, marketing is No. 1 for both East Coast and West Coast PMs, with design/UX and customer success right behind. Perhaps surprisingly, engineering didn’t make the top three for either cohort.
Ideas for new features can come from pretty much anywhere and anyone, including customers, competitors, and other product team members. However, the most typical sources are customers and users. Product managers everywhere spend a significant amount of their time talking to the people who use their product day in and day out. Nevertheless, some product teams put more stock in customer feedback than others.
West Coast PMs, for instance, are more likely to say their best ideas come from customer feedback. Their second-best source is the product team itself. For East Coast PMs, that prioritization is reversed. They say their best suggestions come from their own team, with customer feedback taking second place. Both groups of PMs do source ideas from competitors as well, but not at particularly high rates (22% for West Coast and 19% for East Coast).
Where Product Managers Are the Most Similar
Product managers, no matter where they live, have a great deal in common, particularly when it comes to their overall career path and the tools they use in their jobs.
PMs on both coasts tend to have similar career paths. Marketing is the most common department for a PM to have worked in before moving into the product management field. About a quarter of PMs based on either coast worked in marketing prior to product management.
The second-most common department for PMs to have worked in previously is project management. About 17% of West Coast PMs and 18% of East Coast PMs came from a project management background. Other past careers include customer success, UX/design, and engineering/dev.
Tools of the Trade
The tool usages patterns of East Coast and West Coast product managers are almost identical. In fact, both segments use the same top three tools in the same order. These are:
- User feedback collection
Want to read more about how PMs differ by region? Check out the full “Battle of the PMs” e-book, which also includes a profile of UK-based product managers.