When it comes to product management roles, it’s easy to get confused with all of the different job titles and responsibilities at play. We explain what each role in product management is, why they are important and what the key responsibilities for each are.
What are product management roles?
There are many product roles that contribute to the PM discipline, from the more junior Associate Product Manager through to the more senior role of Chief Product Officer, as well as those that contribute to a cross-functional team.
Each has a different part to play in the overall product organization and contributes something individual to the success of the teams and products they lead.
We take a look at each of the roles in product management in more detail here.
Product management roles and responsibilities
Let’s unpack the different roles of product management and their responsibilities from more junior to most senior, as well as looking at a couple of other roles that fit into the product world:
Junior / Associate Product Manager
If you’re looking to make a start in the world of product management then the Junior / Associate Product Manager role can be a good place to start. This is an entry-level role that suits those who have some experience working in product management or product development, or who have come from an adjacent or complimentary discipline, such as UX, Product Design, Product Marketing or similar. Graduates may also be eligible for Junior / Associate Product Manager roles if the hiring company has enough support in place. This type of role is often supported by a more senior Product Manager in the team.
Why do you need a Junior / Associate Product Manager
There are a number of reasons why a company might hire a Junior / Associate Product Manager. The main ones include opening up the opportunity to start a career in product management to those with limited experience, hiring additional support for an existing product and training people up to become the future Senior Product Managers and leaders of the business.
Junior / Associate Product Manager responsibilities
A Junior / Associate Product Manager will be responsible for many of the things that a fully-fledged Product Manager is, but on a much smaller scale and normally without the responsibility of making any major decisions. Responsibilities include:
- Managing a small feature or part of an existing product
- Prioritizing validated work
- Collaborating with internal teams
- Interacting with and learning from users or customers
- Gathering data and insights
- Contributing to problem-solving
Once you have mastered the Junior / Associate Product Manager role, you can take a step up to become a fully-fledged Product Manager. The role of a Product Manager comes with much greater responsibility and decision-making needs. At this level you will need to have a deep understanding of your user or customer needs, the business and the domain in which you are operating.
Why do you need a Product Manager?
A Product Manager is ultimately responsible for delivering value to both your users or customers and to the business by delivering products and services that solve key problems. They are the go-to person for everything to do with that product, and in many respects, they are the gate-keeper that ensures only validated ideas and product features get worked on by the team.
Product Manager responsibilities
- Leads on all elements of the product lifecycle – including building new, iterating on existing and retiring old products
- Defines the product vision and strategy, product roadmap and product positioning
- Leads the product team to discover and deliver features, products and services that solve key user, customer and business problems
- Sets outcomes, goals or OKRs for the product team
- Gathers key research, data, insights and customer feedback
- Identifies user or customer problems to solve
- Defines opportunities to improve the product
- Collaborates with Product Designers to generate ideas, prototypes and experiments
- Analyses experiments
- Prioritizes validated work for the team to deliver via a backlog
- Collaborates with other key areas of the business to understand constraints and risks
- Monitors the health of the product (and of the team!)
- Tracks product performance metrics using data analysis
- Analyses competitors and the market to spot gaps / opportunities for improvement
- Communicates progress and impact of product work with key stakeholders in the business
- Collaborates with key stakeholders on product discovery work
Senior Product Manager
Once you have mastered the ways of the Product Manager role in depth, you are ready to step up to a Senior Product Manager role. This position encompasses everything you were doing as a Product Manager but you are now responsible for managing more senior stakeholder conversations and more major product decisions, as well as mentoring some junior members of the product team. You might be venturing into more depth on things like financial modelling and pricing, problem-solving in more detail with Legal, Sales teams and other departments around the business and being more customer or forward facing to represent your product externally. You may also have responsibility for defining a wider-reaching vision and strategy that covers multiple products or services and assisting with hiring new Product Managers onto the team.
Why do you need a Senior Product Manager?
Senior Product Managers really provide the glue between Product Leads / Group Product Managers (see below), more senior stakeholders in the business and more junior members of the product organization. Their level of experience means that they are adept at solving more challenging situations with senior leaders, able to look more holistically at what is needed to help a product (or team!) to succeed and are able to act as a guide to help develop more junior members of the product team.
Senior Product Manager responsibilities
- All existing Product Manager duties
- Potentially leads on more than one product at a time
- Assists with the hiring process for new Product Managers
- Mentors more junior members of the product organization
- Sets the long term vision and strategy for the product(s)
- Models revenue or other financial strategies related to the product
- Represents the product or business externally – e.g. at conferences or trade shows
- Liaises with both internal and external customers of the product
- Interfaces with senior stakeholders at all levels – e.g. Legal, Sales, Marketing teams, Data Privacy etc
Product Lead / Group Product Manager
Many companies have multiple products to manage, and while each of those is likely to be led by an individual Product Manager, a Product Lead / Group Product Manager is there to help with teams, people and alignment. This role is much more about being a product leader and working on people management and improving team performance – you will have much less involvement in the day-to-day running of a product. You will likely have multiple more junior Product Managers reporting to you and will also be responsible for helping them to develop their skills and capabilities.
Why do you need a Product Lead / Group Product Manager?
Product Leads / Group Product Managers help support and lead in many areas including spotting opportunities or risks across the portfolio, improving team performance, communicating and aligning with senior stakeholders around the business, as well as optimizing processes and ways of working. They also support more junior members of the product organization in career development and day-to-day problem-solving.
Product Lead / Group Product Manager responsibilities
- Fosters a strong product-led culture both within the cross-functional teams as well as the wider business that values evidence through customer research and data
- Has a deep understanding of customer needs and problems across the relevant part of the product portfolio
- Establishes priorities, business goals and outcomes across the product group portfolio
- Spots risks and dependencies that may affect multiple team and resolves them
- Prioritizes team health and performance by seeking out and resolving people issues and challenges
- Hires, develops and promotes product team members
- Motivates, manages and mentors junior members of the product group
- Conducts team performance reviews and seeks out ways to improve performance
- Looks for ways to optimize team performance and enhance product processes
- Collaborates in depth with other departments around the business to build consensus and trust
- Defines team members needed to fulfil a given product strategy to ensure appropriate allocation of time and effort
Director of Product / Head of Product
The next step up from a Product Lead / Group Product Manager is the Director / Head of Product. This step up is also a move further away from the day-to-day running of a product. You will be expected to manage a portfolio of products or product groups and define a high level product vision and strategy that looks across the entire product set. There may be multiple Directors / Heads of Product positioned in a product organization.
Why do you need a Director of Product / Head of Product?
Directors of Product or Heads of Product can be really useful in organizations where there are many products to manage and product teams to look after. Additional layers of management structure are needed to keep the product function running smoothly and high-performing.
Director / Head of Product responsibilities
- All Product / Lead Group Product Manager responsibilities
- Defines a high-level product vision and strategy for the portfolio that supports the business vision and strategy that looks out quarters or even years ahead
- Communicates and evangelizes the product vision and strategy both to the product teams and the wider business
- Coaches and develops direct reports in the Product Lead / Group Product Management team
- Have a deep understanding of the wider domain in which their products sit and be able to spot opportunities in the market
- Managing the budget for their specific product portfolio
Chief Product Officer / VP of Product
Once you get to the level of Chief Product Officer / VP of Product, you have truly left the world of day-to-day product work and your main focus is on the success of the wider scale of the product organization and operation. You will likely be reporting out and collaborating with board members and the CEO of the company. If you’re working in a business that is on a journey to become product-led, it will be up to you to lead that vision and necessary change.
Why do you need a Chief Product Officer / VP of Product?
Until more recent times, the Product discipline has not had a seat at the “C” table, so part of the reason for having a Chief Product Officer (also sometimes known as VP of Product) is to elevate the status and importance of Product within an organization and to allow for collaboration with CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, CMOs etc. This position is much-needed in a world where many companies are challenged with how to get set up in the right way when it comes to being product-led.
Chief Product Officer responsibilities
- Sets the high level product vision, strategy and direction for the entire product organization
- Communicates and evangelizes the product vision, strategy and direction both to the product organization and the wider business
- Leads on any product-led change journeys (e.g. from feature teams to product teams)
- Liases and collaborates with the “C” Suite on progress and performance
- Develops forecasts and budgets for the entire product organization
- Sets product org level objectives and key results
- Manages, hires and develops Directors or Heads of Product
The role of Product Designer is one that you find on a cross-functional product team and this person works very closely and collaboratively with the Product Developers (see below), the Product Manager and any User Researchers on the team. They are responsible for many things including deeply understanding the user / customer needs and problems, the user experience of the product or service they’re working on and helping to ensure that the solutions they help deliver are valuable and usable. Increasingly, in some companies, they are also responsible for the visual design / UI of the product or service.
Why do you need a Product Designer?
Product Designers are a key part of the product development process – from helping understand and map user / customer needs during the product discovery journey to translating those needs into opportunities or problems to be solved, leading on prototyping ideas and experimentation. The role is also vital during the product delivery phase to ensure that the solutions that are delivered are easy and simple to use and are solving the user / customer need in the right way. There are also many areas of overlap with Product Manager responsibilities.
Product Designer responsibilities
- Identifies target users, needs and jobs to be done
- Gathers data to help make informed design decisions
- Leads on identifying user problems to solve, ideation and experimentation definition
- Collaborates on user research
- Leads on creating wireframes and prototypes to bring concepts to life
- Conducts user interviews on value and usability
- Create user journey maps to help spot opportunities
- Collaborates closely with the cross-functional product team on all aspects of work
One of the core responsibilities of a Product Developer is to support the cross-functional team in understanding what is feasible from a technology perspective and to find solutions that help solve the needs of the validated ideas from the product discovery process. In addition to shipping validated features you may be identifying and fixing bugs, helping to improve the product’s performance, setting up live experiments and contributing to making development practices the best that they can be. You will likely be working as part of a development team of multiple Product Developers.
Why do you need a Product Developer?
Without Product Developers there is no tech and therefore no product! Product Developers are an essential part of any cross-functional product team to ensure that new products can be built and existing products can be maintained and improved upon.
Product Developer responsibilities
- Find technically feasible ways to solve for validated ideas or features
- Ship working software to end-users / customers
- Monitor the technical performance of the product
- Help manage tech debt on the product
- Collaborate with Product Managers and Product Designers on product discovery
- Communicate issues, bugs and fixes to the product team and wider organization
- Set up live experiments and A/B tests
- Pull data from live experiments and A/B tests
- Implement and improve on development best practices
Key takeaways about product roles
We have covered a broad range of the roles that you might find in product organizations here, with a particular focus on those pertaining to the PM world. There are many crossovers and nuances between the roles and every company sets the responsibilities slightly differently – so what a Director of Product does at one company might be very similar to what a VP of Product does at another. Whichever role you are interested in, we hope our guide has offered you some clarity on what to expect.