Why your career is a product - From Product Management to Leadership (Based on a talk by Johnathan Nightingale)

Career progression in Product Management is similar to many other things in the profession: loosely defined. If you are working towards becoming a Product Leader, you’ll quickly realize that your progression roadmap is not as well-defined than it is for your Engineering or Sales counterparts. Johnathan Nightingale, Co-Founder of Raw Signal Group, gives us three reasons why PMs face what he calls a “career chasm”.   

As a Product Manager, you will be measured on whether your team ships software or not. And then suddenly, magically, you get pulled in a Director role and expected to completely different things.

The vast difference in required skill set between Product Management and Product Leadership is not the only hurdle that PMs will have to face as they attempt to move up. In many cases, you will find that your organization’s leaders do not come from a product background and are not equipped to coach your progression. Additionally, these same leaders are likely to mistake your strengths as a PM for potential weaknesses as a manager. Your test-focused, incremental and sustainable approach to delivery will be seen as a lack of boldness and passion. Your tight engagement with internal stakeholders and customers will make you appear as “too operational and stuck in the weeds”. 

At this point, you might feel discouraged but there is a way. Johnatan shared great insights on what PMs can do to take control of their career and find a path towards Product Leadership.

Control the Public Opinion

The public stage is where you get the chance to project a story about yourself. If you are aiming to enter/ move up the ranks of Product Management, every touchpoint with you should reinforce the image that you are Product-focused. Your LinkedIn and Twitter can (and should) be leveraged in that objective. Pinning that article you wrote about what you think (or what someone else thinks) about Wealthsimple’s on-boarding experience will put you on the record as a Product person. Getting people to notice you might not  advance you in your current company but it will certainly open up opportunities elsewhere.

Carve your career in tours of duty

Gone are the days when you could spend 35 years in the same company and retire with a gold watch. However, the alternative can be better than drifting from one job to the next pursuing better salaries or benefits. You have the opportunity to be deliberate about your career and align your job (or the next one) with your growth objectives. Where do you want to be in 18 to 24 months? Do you need to be involved in your company’s strategic conversations? Does your next job title need to include the word “Product”? Being able to answer those questions will help you direct your career forward.

Understand the business

Earlier, I mentioned the career chasm in Product Management, where is it? This gap is situated at the point where your manager cannot help you get the next promotion. From an Associate Product position to a Senior Product role, producing great work and having it noticed by the right person will suffice to push your career forward. However, how does one convince their manager they should be VP of Product? To make the jump to Product Leadership, you will have to develop the ability to understand your organization, spot the cracks that can be addressed and articulate a plan that no one else thought about.

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