🧑🚀🚀 The PM career roadmap
How to find a job you love
It's December, the traditional time of the year to reflect and make plans. Your personal goal might be to hit the gym more often or to finally buy that first NFT...
But what about your professional goals? How are you going to get closer to your 10-year vision?
As with product decisions, we need to have a clear north star. Nobody knows what the "right" step is, but we can build a framework to improve our decision-making.
Exactly what a PM would do... 😉
Where do you want to go?
Let’s start with our end goal. Where do we see ourselves 10 years from now?
Don’t put too much emphasis on where you are now, as that would make us prone to the anchoring effect. We might undershoot, or miss out on exciting opportunities.
So we start from the end, and work our way back.
Some common career goals for product nerds:
CPO / VP of Product
You've reached the top as a manager. You focus on building your team and laying out the overarching vision, you will likely not be deeply involved in execution. Examples in Amsterdam are Rogier Schoute of Mollie, or formerly David Vismans at Booking.com.
Senior Product Manager (IC)
You've reached the top as an individual contributor (IC) in the product realm. This means you do not manage other product managers, but you do hands-on product work. This is a relatively new path, that is more suitable for people who want to keep building themselves. Thijs Niks is doing this at Whatsapp in SF.
From "CEO of the product" to actual CEO. Your scope will be vastly broader, but I know little about this transition. Examples are Sundar Pichai (Google) and Susan Wojcicki (Youtube). I do not know of any current examples in the Netherlands.
A significant number of PMs become (co-)founders of a startup. This gives you more autonomy in building your product and organization, but you need to deal with peripheral matters. Notion's Ivan Zhao worked as a PM before starting Notion. When big tech acquires the startup, founders often transition back into a product role. This happened to Martijn de Kuijper at Revue (acquired by Twitter).
There are of course many other paths, but this article focuses on the main career paths.
Needless to say that these goals are by no means easy! Most of us might not reach any of them. Ouch.... 😥
But you are reading this newsletter, so you are ambitious. Let's work our way backward to see how we can get there!
What type of company suits you?
Company cultures are widely different, and a PM that thrives at one place might fail miserably at another. So it’s important we pick the right one. We can define 4 types of company cultures:
Engineering-driven companies often build complex technical products. The engineers are in charge, and to be effective you need to have a deep understanding of how the product works. Elastic is such a company in Amsterdam
Data-driven companies put most emphasis on data to guide their product strategy. What conversions need to go up? Which experiments can we run to get there? Booking.com is a good Dutch example of this.
Some companies are design-driven. Here the user experience is the key differentiator. Apple is a clear example, and in Amsterdam we have Miro. At these places, you need to have deep empathy for your user, and the ability to deal with ambiguity.
B2B products such as Adyen or Yourcampus are very sales-driven. This means you need to deliver the right features for your customers on a reliable timeline.
Mo good or bad here. But each of these cultures rewards the set of behaviors that align best with how they operate. Map your profile against this list and think about what suits you.
What type of role do you prefer?
What gets you going? To help you articulate this, we identify 3 archetypes of PM roles (stolen from this blogpost).
Builders like to.. well.. build! They are experts at taking an existing product with users and making it much better.
Builders are strong executors. They know how to figure out what the user needs, ruthlessly prioritize, and then get it done.
This role is most prominent in mature scale-ups where the foundation has been laid, but there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit for improvements.
Tuners love tweaking and analytics. Give them a north star metric and they will turn all the buttons at their disposal to make it go up.
Tuners know their data. Their approach is scientific, driven by hypotheses. They love improving their experimentation infrastructure and velocity.
Data and conversion-driven roles at companies such as Booking or Adyen are a good fit for these types.
Innovators want to make an impact. They are tasked with finding product/market fit for an entirely new product.
Innovators need an extraordinary product intuition and market understanding. This role might sound cool but is challenging. You will not succeed if you don't at least have proper builder skills.
A company spinning up new products (Apple's iPhone back in the day) or companies that are just getting starting (such as BRXS in Amsterdam) will be the best fit for this type of PM's.
What paths can we take to go from A to B?
We now have an idea of where we want to go, and what we must consider. How do we move forward?
Move up within your company
If you like the company you are currently working at and feel challenged, you should probably stay! But to get to that CPO role in the end you want to move ahead, and they don't let you? Nobody is going to just give you trust and autonomy. You have to earn it.
Join another company
If you don't see an interesting path forward in your current company, you can join another one. Most companies put a premium on relevant experience, as this makes you a less risky hire. So if you are considering doing something very different, think about how you can build some relevant experience beforehand.
Start something for yourself
If none of this helps, you might need to create your own dream job by starting a company.
How to make the "right" decision?
In the end, it boils down to very simple questions:
What are you interested in?
What are you good at?
I hope this article gives you a framework on how to answer these questions. If you have thought this through, I'd advise doing two things:
Talk to other PM's
Talk to PMs you respect, who are a few years ahead of you in their careers. They are often very willing to help, as long as you come prepared. We do this monthly at Amsterdam Product Club.
Try things and learn
The only way to truly know what works for you is by trying. Do things and take feedback from reality. Reflect on why something feels right.
Image credits to ultimarm