A common question I’ve seen new Product Managers ask is what is the difference between a Junior PM, a Senior PM, a Head/VP of Product and a CEO/Founder?
The answer is the roles don’t change, in each role you’re still trying to answer what and why, but the scope of the question changes.
A Founder/CEO’s what
What market problem are we solving?
For example, a Founder might say, “I’ve worked in the film industry, and the way films are produced is antiquated and inefficient.”
What the Founder wants to solve, is to make film production more efficient, they will now work to build a team to do that.
Identifying why that is the right what to solve right now, is all of our jobs. See How to ask “Why?” for more of my thoughts on this subject.
A VP/Head of Product’s what
What should our approach to product be?
Following our example from above, the VP of Product will say, “the Founder tells me that we need to make film production more efficient. After looking at the way films are currently produced, it’s clear that what we need to do next is to build a digital call sheet.”
The VP of Product has determined what the product approach will be, starting with creating a digital call sheet.
A VP or Head of Product would typically do this across a broad swath of related products in the company.
A Senior Product Manager’s what
What features should we build next?
Keeping with our example, the Senior Product Manager will now determine what features should be in the first version of our digital call sheet, and what features will not be in. A Senior Product Manager might say, “on-set, it' is most important that the cast and crew know where to be when things change, we need to focus on alerting users of changes on-set.”
The Senior PM has determined what we should add to our digital call sheet next, alerts.
A Senior PM might do this for multiple, closely related products if paired with Junior PMs on each.
A Junior Product Manager’s what
What should the next feature do?
Rounding off this example, the Junior Product Manager will determine what specifically this wildcard alert feature should do. The Junior Product Manager might talk with the cast and crew and get an understanding of how they alert each other of changes now, and say, “today, the assistant director sends text messages when things change on-set. We won’t be able to capture all of the different types of changes that can happen on-set, our alerts should allow the assistant director to send arbitrary text in the body of the alert.”
The Junior PM has determined what our alerts will do, they will be wildcard alerts that allow someone on-set to send any type of change notification.
A Junior PM would typically only do this for a small number of features on a single product.
Identifying your what
These guidelines follow a larger company, and were close to what we did when I led engineering for Studio Production Engineering at Netflix. In fact, this example above comes directly from one of the first applications we made for the cast and crew, a digital call sheet called Prodicle Move.
Not all companies are the size of Netflix, and you may find yourself performing some, or all of these roles in the PM role at a smaller company or startup.
If you are at a Netflix, I hope this article helps illustrate the soft boundaries between roles.
If you aren’t, I hope this article helps illustrate some of the many hats you’ll need to wear.