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What are the career growth options in Digital Product Management?

Onkar Singh Lohtham
Published: 2 May, 2024

Evolution in digital product management

In digital product management, you are responsible for the creation, maintenance, and growth of a digital product while serving your customers. In the 1990s through to the early nineties, it was all pretty segmented. Different departments looked at various aspects of the digital product while treating it like a piece of software. Business, finance, sales, marketing, software development, customer service, and project management all worked separately to build and maintain the software.

Then in the late noughties, there was a sea change. The sector slowly began to transform into a product management discipline, with the different aspects brought together and run by one super team. This one team was then split into two sets – core product and auxiliary. The core Agile product team was comprised of business SMEs (subject matter experts), a product manager, scrum master, a UI/UX professional, and the development and testing teams. They would then coordinate with the auxiliary sales, finance, customer service, and marketing teams throughout the product management lifecycle.

Today, there are elements of both arts and science in product management, resulting in what can be a very fulfilling career, with amazing growth prospects, suitable remuneration, outstanding personal and team successes, team collaboration, and opportunities to serve your customers. You can start at the bottom as an analyst and ascend into the top role of a chief product officer – a brand new C-level role that didn’t even exist ten years ago.

If you are thinking this is the sector for you, then there are quite a few entry points available, which I will go into in more detail below. Similarly, if you have already started, then you can plot your future path using these job areas too:

  • Product strategy – You can start in this entry-level area if you have a few years of meaningful experience in a sector which is relevant to the product team you are looking to join. If you have been in the insurance sector for five years for example, you could then go on to join a digital product team working in insurance. You could also be an MBA professional with work experience and so able to join a product team in a strategy role. You will enter the field as an associate consultant or a consultant.
  • Product design – Look out for product teams that are focused on building user-centric products, as they will need a design professional experienced in UI or UX (user interface design or user experience) to help them with their product. You can leverage your knowledge of digital products and services, as well as the importance of user journeys, user experience, and user-centered design. If you have strong design skills with an eye for detail, this will be your entry point.
  • Product management – You will start as an associate or junior, working on the product as an analyst or a data, web, or business analyst. Working closely with the product manager and the development team, your role with cover both the product itself and other tools used in the product management lifecycle. If you are data or tech-savvy, process-oriented, or have an analytical mind, this will be a good starting point for you.
  • Product marketing – You will be part of the product team in this entry-level role, as each one needs to market its product, be it a B2C, B2B or a start-up. What is needed are marketing professionals who understand and have experience of inbound and outbound marketing, and are aware of campaigns, lead generation, lead conversion, and online marketing in general. So, if marketing is your field, and you are at an early or mid-point in your career, then this will be a great starting point for you.

Product management career growth ladder

Product management career growth ladder

In the diagram above, you can see your prospective career growth in digital product management. To plot how to proceed you must first understand where you are today – in terms of your role, responsibilities, company, sector, salary, and career growth prospects. Then, you can decide if you want to work in digital product management or not. Looking at the growth of technology, and its impact on people’s lives, this sector will provide you with ample opportunities for career growth.

Now I will break down the actual roles on the timeline, so you can trace your own path. The timeline is pretty straightforward, so you will have to adapt it to fit your capabilities, skills, the company you join, team size, geography and sector.

1. Junior analyst: 0-2 years’ experience

This role marks the start of many people’s careers. Job titles include junior business analyst, junior data analyst, junior designer, junior consultant and junior project manager. You will be given a specific set of tasks while you learn the ropes. If you are dedicated, apply your learnings, and are willing to hone your skills, you will progress to your next role in the ladder quite soon. Key takeaways to succeed in this role:

  • Do your homework
  • Take responsibility
  • Ask relevant questions

2. Analyst: 2-4 years’ experience

After working for a couple of years, you should get promoted to a position such as consultant or business, data, or web analyst. You will be given more responsibilities and you can now start to think about in which direction you want to take your career. Key takeaways to succeed in this role:

  • Same as above, plus
  • Hone your analysis skills and ability to find options
  • Produce quality deliverables that will save time for your team members

3. Senior analyst: 4-6 years’ experience

Having done more work and gained more experience, you have now progressed to a more senior position. At this stage you may be leading a team of analysts or just supervising their work. Key takeaways to succeed in this role:

  • Same as above, plus
  • Create processes and templates that can increase efficiency
  • Lead your team by example

4. Manager: 6-8 years’ experience

After six to eight years of delivering projects and working with teams, you are now ready to hold an experience-based role like a product manager or product owner. At this stage, you should be leading an Agile product team made up of a scrum master, UI/UX professional, business analyst, data analyst, and development and testing teams. If you find yourself moving more towards a project management position, then the scrum master role may be a good fit for you in an Agile environment. Key takeaways to succeed in this role:

  • Same as above, plus
  • Understand key product management principles
  • Focus on stakeholder management

5. Senior manager: 8-10 years’ experience

After several years at the management level, the next step is to be promoted (generally based on performance) to a senior position. In this role you have more responsibilities, you may be handling multiple teams, as well as leading multiple complex products, which are critical to your company’s success. Key takeaways to succeed in this role:

  • Same as above, plus
  • Perform forward planning of multiple quarters
  • Handle commercial aspects of the product (P&L account)

6. Head of product / Director of product / VP of product: 10+ years’ experience

These are leadership roles where you are expected to have industry experience, plus the ability to lead teams and products successfully. You will leverage your credentials, network, hands-on experience, industry knowledge, leadership skills, and team management skills to succeed in this role. Key takeaways to succeed in this role:

  • Same as above, plus
  • Become the product champion, customer voice, and team leader
  • Lead a group of heterogeneous teams to collaborate and succeed

7. Chief Product Officer: 15+ years’ experience

This is C-level position at the top of the product ladder is where you make the critical decisions, hold the P&L responsibility and accountability, sit on the executive board, and liaise with other C-level members like CEO, CTO, CIO. Although this is top of the product ladder, you can rise further to become the CEO of the company, especially if you work for a product-based company and the product is the main driver behind the company’s revenue and success. Key take-aways to succeed in this role:

  • Sincere leadership
  • Clear vision for the product, teams, and company
  • Transparent accountability

Remember, this product ladder is just a guide. Depending upon your starting point, you could hold several different roles in strategy, design, product and marketing in the initial stages of your career. This way you will hone different skills that can help you evolve into a product manager role.

Around the 4-6-year point in your career growth, you will be ready for a product manager/owner position. Depending upon your desire, choice of company and industry, this role will manifest itself in various ways, and with a different salary band, roles, and responsibilities. I’m saying this, so you realise that the title of the product manager doesn’t mean the same thing in every company. But the more value you add to your product, company and customers, the more valuable you are.

One final thing to consider. Your career path will be varied depending upon your interests and will be defined by:

  • Industry: is your industry a fast-paced one that is always changing or is it a stable, mature one? Has it gone past its growth phase and has entered a decline phase, or is it at a mature phase?
  • Market: which market does your product cater to? Which demographics are served by your product – baby boomers, millennials, or the generation after that?
  • Skills: what skills set you have acquired and what responsibilities are you able to render? Are you able to add value across all the four phases of the digital product management lifecycle?
  • Personal interest: what is your personal choice on assuming responsibilities? Some people are experts at their work, and they don’t want any additional responsibilities of team, line management, multiple products etc.
  • Location: which city and country is your company located? Which part of the world do you live and work.? The economic and geographic factors will determine the growth of the company and your role.

Once you are in your product manager role, it’s all up to you – the sky’s the limit!

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Onkar Singh Lohtham

Founder & CPO | Lead Trainer | Digital Skills Mastery

Onkar is one of the most innovative and experienced agile practitioners and trainers in the world. He has helped organisations build £multi-million products/services & win awards. His passion lies in training on ‘how to’ implement unique road map & commercial strategies, manage complex backlogs and lead multi-product agile teams from inception to launch.

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