27/30: Product Management Career Ladder

The career ladder for product managers can look like a hellscape of titles with perplexing job descriptions and areas of responsibility. There is a lot of confusion out there. So if you’re looking to level up, what should you keep your eyes peeled for?

Let’s start with companies…

  • Career progression is likely to be more complicated or uneven in companies that confuse titles. If their job ads don’t distinguish between product managers and product owners, that’s usually a red flag.

  • Top-heavy companies can make it hard to get promoted. If there are more product leaders than individual contributors, then it’s less likely there is room for your much coveted promotion.

  • Having too few or no product leaders can mean the company has a weak product culture. In such environments, it’s generally harder (or impossible) to get on-the-job coaching and getting promoted may be more a political game than one based on hard work and merit.

What does career growth for product people look like?

While, yes, it can be uneven from company to company, especially if you compare it to Big Tech that also uses levels for each role, we’ve arrived at a time when there is a high-level idea of what product management career growth looks like.

The ladder goes like this:

  • Associate Product Manager (sometimes an intern)

  • Product Manager

  • Senior Product Manager

  • Group Product Manager / Product Lead (or Lead PM)

  • Director of Product

  • VP of Product

  • Chief Product Officer

Reforge has one of the best descriptions of the scope, ownership, and responsibilities for each of these roles.

Source: Reforge

You’ll notice there is no “Head of Product” or “SVP of Product,” or perhaps another title you’ve seen or held.

The truth is, the title itself is less relevant.

Sometimes “Head of” is above “Director,” and in other companies it’s the other way around. Some companies prefer to call everyone Product Lead and only have Directors on top. Other companies eschew the hierarchy completely and everyone is an IC with a team.

Part of your journey will be to find this out about the company and work out what fits you best!


Individual Contributor vs Management Track

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28/30: What Product Managers Are Not