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As a manager of product managers, it should be a given that product managers invest heavily in their careers. Their education and product management job assignments complement the latticework of experiences that contribute to the business.
Each situation offers a great opportunity for them to grow, expand their perspectives, and cultivate their product management mindset. Yet, when it comes to getting promoted to the next level, the number of opportunities seems to be limited.
Additionally, my research shows that a vast number of product managers do not know what’s needed to get promoted. On the same plane, most managers of product managers don’t have established criteria to guide their employees to get to the next level. It doesn’t have to be that way.
While opportunities may be limited in your organization, leaders continue to want product managers to expand their base of experience so that they can be trusted to understand customers, challenge competitors, think strategically, harness cross-functional resources, and make the best decisions that optimize returns to the business.
When product managers visibly and effectively conduct the product’s business, they not only enhance their value to the company, they improve the chances for higher-level managers to improve their stature and reputation. Therefore, to coach and develop product managers and help them get to the next level, a professional development strategy is needed.
A career strategy can actually follow the same thought process as the formulation of a product strategy. In fact, if you consider the product manager as the product, you can help construct a value proposition for that product manager, and help that product manager stand out from others (as in positioning). The reason is simple. When you can show that the efforts of the product manager have positively impacted the business, and that person can set themselves apart from others, they can become shining stars. And with that, you can help them increase their chance of being promoted. But how? How can you create this strategy for a product manager’s product management career?
To start, you’ll benefit from a visual model of this strategic process – both to help you put this into perspective and to share with product managers. While simple in its construction, what’s underneath the model can provide essential insights for you. For now, I recommend you focus on this model and the product management worksheet to guide you in how you think about past and present contributions, an overall analysis of what’s been achieved and where help may have been needed.
In the first box on the left, contributions and behaviors must be pulled together. In the same way that artists accumulate their portfolio, product management people should assemble their portfolios as evidence of work. Also, consider that past product manager performance plans and appraisals should be a part of this portfolio.
Once the past and present data have been assembled, you are in a position to synthesize analyze the results. On the template that’s been provided for this analysis, it’s up to you (as the manager) and the product manager to review work that’s been done well, and areas where work has fallen short. If these conversations are undertaken frequently enough throughout the year, then there should be no surprises.
As well, sometimes you will need to consult with your peers or others to determine if perceptions match yours. As a side benefit, you’ll show that you’re vitally interested in improving their value to the firm as well as your own! This validation outreach is also a great trust builder for everyone and can fortify some of the relationships with your cross-functional colleagues.
As you work on the analysis, and you need some additional guidance, you may wish to refer to The Product Manager’s Desk Reference (2nd edition).
The third step of the process involves goal setting. Goals are the targets for work in the eleven items shown on the Product Management Career Assessment and Planning Template.
Finally, it’s up to you and the product manager to ensure strategies or action plans are put in place that link those goals to actions and positive, measurable outcomes.
Imagine if product managers were able, several times a year, to showcase or demonstrate their work and outcomes… and how well that would reflect on them, your department, and the company. In the end, everyone wins.