In this guest post, Garima Dhingra, Group Product Manager at Google helps us understand different categories of product manager roles that exist in tech, and how to evaluate which one to pursue.
As you all are likely aware, not all product manager roles are created equal. Based on my 8+ years as a product management professional, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles and interact with several that were different from mine. In my view, product management roles fall into the following four broad categories that I have summarized below.
Admittedly, I have applied some broad stroke generalizations but I feel this framework is a great starting point to narrow down your search for product management roles. I definitely encourage you all to do further due diligence as all roles have unique needs.
The Full Stack Product Manager
This is a product manager that owns their product’s front and back end. They are responsible for the user experience/interaction as well as the underlying technology supporting the product features. Some examples here could be a product manager for:
- A product detail page of a retail company
- A rental listing page
- Profile pages of a dating app
The technical complexity of storing and retrieving the information is often low, which makes it viable for a single product manager to own both the front and back-end components of their product. As a full stack product manager, you engage with a range of cross-functional partners such as user interface/experience research and design teams, front-end and back-end engineering resources, and often marketing as well. These roles also tend to have fewer dependencies on other organizations or teams. They can usually facilitate rapid iteration and product launches if that is a high priority for you.
The Front End Product Manager
Front end product managers are focused on ensuring a delightful experience for customers as they interact/browse their products. They work very closely with user experience teams, designers, and researchers. The design cycles can be iterative, especially for more complex interactions between the customer and product. One example of this could be the home screen of a fitness tracking device’s app. The underlying metrics such as calories burned, sleep quality assessment or heart rate tracking could depend on complex technologies owned by different product managers. The front-end product manager is responsible for bringing the most valuable metrics to the user in an experience that is sticky, inspiring and actionable.
Front-end product managers work with engineering teams to make changes to the user experience. These engineering resources often specialize in front-end development. For more complex changes, you will likely work with partner teams that have the expertise and ownership of underlying technologies leveraged by your product. This is a great role for people who are energized by visual design (in more recent years it could be voice-based interactions as well).
For both the front end product manager and full stack product manager, running A/B tests with live traffic and rapid iteration based on results prove to be valuable exercises for product development. Also, successful product managers in these areas pay close attention to engagement metrics with various features on their product and customer contacts on ease of use. Additionally, there are a range of scenarios to ensure scaled usability such as accessibility or optimizing for various device/browser types etc.
The Back End Product Manager
The back end product manager is responsible for a complex technology or a suite of technologies that often fuel a variety of customer use cases. These customers could be external, or even internal if you own a platform that is used by several other product teams within your company. These roles are likely to be more technically complex and require the ability to understand technical architecture and infrastructure needs of products. Product managers in these roles need to work very closely with the engineering teams primarily and also often receive intakes from other product managers/teams whose products rely on this technology.
An example here would be a product manager role for a personalization engine for a music streaming service or central infrastructure that supports all payment transactions for a company. These roles require managing prioritization of internal use cases, managing use cases from clients, and ensuring effective roadmap processes and communication. Additionally, back end product managers often need to ensure that their systems are sufficiently optimized for latency, server usage etc. This is to ensure their product can scale in a cost-effective manner. Individuals who need to be able to “touch and feel” their product to be motivated should perhaps avoid these roles.
The Growth/Customer Acquisition Product Manager:
These roles can be a blend of marketing and product management. As a growth product manager, you are responsible for bringing new or churned-out customers to your product. This could be through a range of activities such as:
- Adjusting pricing
- Introducing offers/sales
- Formulating product bundles
An example of this could be driving subscription growth for a streaming service or a dating app. Note, depending on the product, this role could have some overlap with a front end product manager role. They work closely with finance (likely more so than other product management roles) and partake in financial planning. They also tend to partner with sales teams (when available), and engineer teams to implement newer growth strategies and experiences. You might also come up with plans for integrating and cross-market with other products/platforms.
I have intentionally omitted product management roles for enterprise products and cloud as they can come with additional nuances. Especially, if you are a product manager of a product that is a multi-party ecosystem, the cross functional engagement and dependencies are significantly expanded. Additionally, given the increasing resource allocation on privacy and security issues across the board, the privacy and security product management roles can have some distinct characteristics as well entailing legal and regulatory engagement/processes. I will save discussing these roles for a future post.
So how do you decide which role to pursue?
That in my opinion is a personal decision to a great extent depending on your goals for your next career adventure. For instance, ask yourself whether you are looking to expand your product management skill set or looking to move up the ladder on something you already have expertise on. I do highly recommend trying a few formats of product manager roles earlier in your career. Regardless of what kind of product manager role you end up specializing in, you will often have to influence product managers who are in roles different from yours. And once you are high up enough in an organization, you will manage teams made up of different role types. As an effective and unbiased product leader, developing an appreciation for each of these role types is paramount.