Making the jump

Next May I'll officially be complete with my MBA from Babson College, which means it's time to start thinking about my next career move.  As a product manager and senior product manager, I have been responsible for products ranging from software to SAAS products to e-commerce sites, always sitting under the technology branch of the company.  One of the components of the MBA program is a strategy course which provides insight into what the CEO thinks about.  I like to think of product managers as mini-CEO's (I think it's the easiest way to describe what product managers do) - but what's the difference between a product manager and the director of product management, and what does it take to make the transition?  What does it take to 'make the jump' from product manager to director of product management?

I have been researching the topic and have a few helpful resources:

Inc Magazine: Director Product Management
Pragmatic Marketing: Product Manager

Not suprisingly, there is a lot of overlap.  Both the Director of PM and the PM will need to have:
  • exceptional project management, communication and leadership skills
  • indepth technical knowledge
  • the ability to efffectively work with customers to understand and capture requirements for various product lines
  • develop, manage and own the product roadmap
  • translate market requirements into products that meet standards of/for customers
While the list goes on, the above gives a broad overview of the position.  It will vary depending on where you report - whether to technology or marketing but the focus always remains on the customer.

If there is so much overlap between the two, then where is the difference?  What makes a director so much different than a manager?  My research led me to this: "the most significant differentiation
between Management and Directorship is vision. In simplest terms, a manager is responsible for ensuring processes are executed in accordance with established policies. Directors are responsible for ‘directing’ the growth and profitability of a department through innovation.  In a perfect world, directors are grown from managers through mentoring and learning how to ‘think outside the box.’ "

What do you think? Is vision the biggest differentiator?  Are product managers on their own strategic enough to make decisions and choices about how to accomplish their mission?  If Mission, Vision and Strategy are the three components of what make a great CEO, how different is a product manager and a CEO?  I know there are lots of questions here, and some answers make sense - but others are a little more vaugue.

As I attempt to transition into a new role, I'll be relying heavily on my MBA skills to define the Mission, Vision and Strategy for the product lines I manage, as well as the other products in our business suite.  I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with you!


  1. Seems there are two parts.

    One is coping with the volume from scale. More stakeholders, more products, more features to describe and prioritize, more delivery systems and destination platforms, more things to go wrong.

    The other is coordination. Bringing unity to design, keeping all the projects aligned with strategic intent, helping people in diverse parts feel connected to the process and the product families.

    Prodmgmt directors get meta. As custodians of the product mgmt process their peers are custodians of other value drivers. Like anyone aspiring to sit at the CxO table, they manage up.

    1. You certainly bring up a great point Phil! Coordination and ability to scale are two important pieces of the puzzle. Managing up is also really important! Thanks for commenting.


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