Asana Board Member on Building A Product Career
Aligning Your Product Career with Company Stages
Product career decisions are big decisions. How do you apply a product mindset to your own career? How do you build a life and career you are excited about? Most importantly, how do you make it fulfilling and fun?
I once asked a trusted friend of mine about career advice. She said it’s like the childhood game of finding something. You’re either getting hotter or colder as you get closer or farther away. Don’t forget that listening to your heart and gut is really important. This can give you the courage to leave an environment that seems cold to you so you can find a better fit.
When thinking about product career choices, I like to break it down into company stages. This framework predicts what kind of opportunities and expectations apply to product managers.
Early Stage Product Manager
At the early stage, companies look for:
- Fit with founder. Founders are still very involved in product so you must fit well.
- Product process. It used to be under C-level control – now you’ll have to take this over.
- Relevancy. Does your experience match?
- Aptitude for strategy. Do you have a strategic mindset?
- Potential to scale. How much of the journey have you seen, led and built?
At the early stage, your product career experience may include:
- Founder and board access. You see every aspect of the business, as it’s still very product focused.
- Fast impact. Small teams and fast delivery are the norm.
- Close customer relationships. It’s mostly you and not much team support – you’re probably writing marketing copy too.
- Opportunity to grow. You may end up building the product team.
Growth Stage – Product Lead
At this stage, there’s already product-market fit and solid growth. This makes your product organization super critical to strategy.
For example, growth stage companies look for:
- Delivered strategy. This is much more important at this product career stage. Can you articulate a solid strategy to internal and external stakeholders?
- Mastered process.
- Ability to manage.
- “Seen this journey.”
At growth stage companies you often get:
- Leadership role
- Scale core product or build next project
- Build and manage team
- Launch new market
Scale – Build & Lead Product Teams
A company that scales has gone global and product teams are well established. There are new products being launched, and many customers on board. Also, they might be in the acquisition phase. Here you’re involved in key decisions, and you might even find yourself on due diligence and closing teams. During this product career phase, you may get offered the GM spot at a new division.
Companies at scale look for:
- Managed teams.
- Created strategy.
- Communicated vision.
- Owned metrics.
- Scaled revenue.
With companies at scale you often get:
- Multiple product lines
- Large customer base
- Involvement in acquisitions
- Ability to shape strategy
- Ownership to drive metrics