A Path to Head of Product
Be the first and get ready for a totally new ball game
There aren’t a ton of product positions out there. You only need one to be part of a functional scrum team, unlike the 5–7 positions that are filled by engineers. There are even fewer leadership roles in product.
So how the hell does an aspiring young Product Manager find their way to leadership?
My path was to circumnavigate the slow, internal climb and horizontally move between companies to become the first Product Manager somewhere, and it’s now paid off.
My other strategy involved letting go of everything that was prescribed to me as a contributor in Product Management, and start flexing what it would take in Product Management to become a leader in that role.
So let’s break this down to accelerate your path
Be the First
Look for the right conditions with Horizontal Movement
Horizontal movement to become the first Product Manager is a fast track way of becoming a leader in Product Management.
I’ve being doing Product Management now for 7 years, I’ve worked with 4 companies across 3 different sectors (Insurance, Transport & Fleet Management, Fintech), and it was my final move to a Fashiontech startup that opened the path for me to become Head of Product.
Let’s look at the conditions of this Fashiontech Startup:
- It was a corporate incubator
- There had not been a seasoned Product Manager as part of the team
- Their goal was enter the market
For me, this had the prime conditions to, as Rich Mironov states it, share the ‘The Art of Product Management’, and position myself as the expert in Product Management within this startup.
It gave me an opportunity to do more than was expected, or what they were use to, and provide value above and beyond their expectations of what Product Management is.
Their final goal to enter the market was what gave me the golden ticket to Head of Product. Entering a product into this crazy irrational world is hard, and it definitely needs a different approach than what had worked within their corporate. I was able to provide a perspective that helped that part of the journey.
A New Ball Game
Start learning from other domains ASAP
As a Product Manager within a team, your primary concern is generating delight for your customers and users. We focus on really getting in touch with the people that use our product to ensure that we are building the right thing for them.
In Product Leadership, you need to know these things, but now you have to also understand what is good for the viability of the business. You have to understand the wider implications of all decisions in your product to ensure that not only are you creating delight, but in doing so it is also good for business.
Second Order Thinking is critical here! You have to go beyond the first decisions and explore what it means for the next.
You need to become even more generalized. You need to understand business strategy, pricing and packing, the business model inside and out (This isn’t the simplified canvas either, this is meaty excel sheets), the market forces that are playing on your organization on top of the internal forces that are driving behavior.
Without being able to traverse the business landscape, you won’t be able to make the transition.
I started training this muscle early on. I sat down with a CFO to understand Elastic Price Demand Modeling. I dived into the world of Behavioural Economics to better understand the irrational market. This need for information outside of my domain lead down many exciting paths, and provided me with new frameworks and theory to apply that go beyond “How to create a better Backlog”.
So stop only reading articles about Product Management and start branching out. It’s a big world out there, get learned.
- Look for conditions that enable you to position yourself as an expert in Product Management
- Look for conditions that, without you, the organization would have a challenge with
- What you are doing today doesn’t fully prepare for what you need to do in a leadership position
- Start branching out to become a generalist in other domains. You need this knowledge in order to both challenge and make decisions