Progression from Jr PM to Sr PM to Principal PM to Partner PM

Product managers often struggle to understand their roles and responsibilities as they progress from being a Junior PM role to a Senior PM to a Principal PM to a Partner PM.

The objective of this blog is to help you understand what are your roles as you progress various roles as a PM. This can also help you to learn what is required for you to get promoted from one role to another.

This dog has nothing to do with your progression but that is how I looked when I was a Junior PM by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Watch instead of read

If you prefer watching a video instead of reading a blog then you can go through this workshop video where we discuss the product manager role progression. I also share products that I built at each role.

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Below is an over simplified understanding of what could be the core responsibility of a PM at each level.

What do you build at each level as you progress from a Junior PM level to Partner PM?

There are a lot of grey areas in what I have written e.g. a Principal PM could be responsible for P&L (Profit and Loss) as well. A Senior PM could have folks reporting to her therefore she may be responsible for building a team etc.

Now, extending the role progression further, into two distinct areas.

  1. Market research & customer liaison
  2. Product design and build

Let us look at the roles and the responsibilities for these 2 areas.

Progression of a PM

Market research and customer liaison

Understand the roles of a PM during the initial phase of product development when a PM is involved in market research, product inception, customer research etc.

Junior PM: A junior PM would liaison with the customer to solicit feedback and identify feature gaps. She would also work on market research to understand compete offerings, regulatory impact, market trends etc. A junior PM can also recommend experiments and solution options that a team can undertake in the product backlog.

How I looked on my first day at Microsoft by Joe Caione on Unsplash

Senior PM: A senior PM on the other hand can become a customer champion. She may be able to completely own customer relationships and be able to generate problem and solution hypothesis based on customer conversations. She should be able to identify complex opportunities by looking at telemetry data and conducting market research. A senior PM also acts as a coach for junior PMs.

Yep, that’s me and my beautiful mentor by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Principal PM: A principal product manager may act as subject matter expert for her area. She would be a key liaison for the customer who operates on finding meaning from highly complex patterns using problem hypothesis, data, insights, etc. A principal PM may help to generate clarity from highly ambiguous scenarios. While evaluating the market size and opportunity size, a principal PM may have a say in downsizing product investments or investing in particular industries/ products. A principal PM envisions products that translate to viable business opportunities.

You learn a lot at your Senior level by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Partner PM: A partner PM would also be responsible for framing complex problems into relevant business opportunities. She would be required to have a deep knowledge of financials, business objectives, and customer value. She is a liaison with the business drivers and CXOs from the customer’s organization and is responsible to evaluate business impact of investments. A partner would hold other leaders in the organization accountable. She is not only driving decision making but also sharing the principles of decision making.

Now you are the big dog by Bibhash Banerjee on Unsplash

Product design and build

Let us look at the progress of these 4 roles during product build and design. This is when execution of the product building is full blown.

Junior PM: On the product side, a junior PM is expected to create functional product specs for a feature. She should be able to get closure on the product spec with various stakeholders such as engineering, design, research etc. A junior PM should be able to prioritize features with adequate structure, ensure alignment with the OKRs and influence the backlog. A junior could also be considered as a technical assistant for the product. Once the product is released, a junior PM should be able to create telemetry or data insight reports to validate the success of the product. From a go to market perspective, a junior PM should be able to project manage and release a product for various stages such as pilot, private preview, general availability etc.

Senior PM: In addition to everything that a junior PM can do, a senior PM should be able to provide inputs on design architecture and identify the most optimum architecture that map to customer scenarios. A senior PM should collaborate with stakeholders to bring alignment. While a junior PM may follow the OKRs, a senior PM should be able to define and own product metrics & OKRs. A senior PM is able to understand and articulate the return on investment for any feature investments. A senior PM would collaborate effectively with engineering, design, legal, sales, marketing, research etc. to ensure alignment across the organization. From a project management stand point, a senior PM monitors processes & holds stakeholders accountable for the product execution by ensuring tracking and management of dependencies across teams. A senior PM is also on the lookout for continuous improvement in the team for processes, products, or technology. She is a customer champion and a technical advisor for partners.

Principal PM: A principal PM while performing all the tasks of a senior PM will have some additional responsibilities. A principal PM may help in reviewing design architecture and provide approvals. She may identify available solution options and help the team brainstorm to arrive at the best one possible. She should be able to easily translate customer and business needs to product goals. She should be able to define OKRs, metrics, & product goals and help the team achieve the same goals. She should be able to clearly understand the ROI for products and features and translate to senior leadership. A principal PM builds on relationships and helps team seek closure on dependencies. She is able to evangelize product value across teams and business boundaries. In case the product execution has any concerns, she is able to identify, escalate, align & adjust when projects are not on course. While overseeing development of staging and implementation plan for product release, a principal PM is accountable for product release. She also acts like an evangelist and a coach for the product and the team.

Partner PM: A partner PM builds on top of the roles and responsibilities of a principal PM. She builds effective leadership team and drives org structures that are most appropriate for driving success. She communicates strategic direction for the product and adapts her leadership approach based on the situation. She is poised, articulate, thoughtful while candid about the product and team strategies. She demonstrates conviction in his or her own decision making and brings the organization together towards a common goal.

No matter where you land up, dont forget to thank the people who stood by you by Howie R on Unsplash

I hope you found this blog helpful to understand how to make your career transitions. And I wish you all the best for your career growth.

Claps and likes are not that expensive these days by Sincerely Media on Unsplash



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