, I created a career ladder. I’m hoping that by sharing it’ll foster better career conversations. If your organization doesn’t have a career ladder, take this one! Feel free to share and modify. Just link back with attribution please.
Just like online recipes, I’m going to talk at you for a little while and then get to actual career ladder at the end. Don’t worry, you can
Side note: Based on a sample of about 20 companies, there is no real consensus on what to call these things. I’ll refer to them as Career Ladders, but other common names include: PM Competencies, PM levels, Rubrics, Job Ladders, Career Framework, Role Guidelines, Career Pathways and Career Tracks.
What is a career ladder?
Career ladders outline the skills needed for each level of product management. They’re primarily used for consistency in performance reviews and promotions across the product organization. Demonstrating the skills within a column means you are meeting expectations for that level. They’re also helpful in setting expectations for cross-functional partners.
I like to think of Career Ladders as a merging of the
Levels of your Product Management organization
Core skills you expect PMs to have,
Dimensions you expect PMs to mature in as they progress
Usually end up being a table with columns for PM Levels and rows for PM Skills. As you go across from column to column, you have will expect more maturity in each skill.
Career Ladders are the start of a conversation
Career ladders aren’t designed to be exhaustive and they are not a checklist to get promoted. They help set a consistent baseline for career conversations throughout your company and should be used as a starting point for career conversations. Managers and leads will have calibration processes to instill consistency in leveling.
This varies company to company, but promotions typically happen when you have demonstrated the ability to perform at the next level for 3-6 months.
Product Management Levels
Associate Product Manager (aka PM1)
Senior Product Manager
Staff Product Manager
Group Product Manager / Product Lead
Principal Product Manager
Director of Product Management
There are no rows in this table
Usually you have two tracks for PMs where you can switch over into management around level 5. Sometimes there is something like an interim or entry level management position at level 4 to ease someone in before promoting them into a full time manager role. Ideally your career ladder highlights differences between the IC and Management tracks for the higher levels.
In my career ladder I only went up to Level 5 (Staff and Group Product Managers) in my career ladder but you can go all the way up to Chief Product Officer if you want.
Product Management Skills
Delivering tangible outcomes for the company
Setting vision and direction and adjusting as needed
Executing with best in class velocity and efficiency
Deeply understanding the customers and problems we are solving for
Strengthening, expanding and demonstrating our values
There are no rows in this table
Your company may choose to highlight different skills or put them into different groupings. There’s often some overlap between groupings. You will need to have very clear distinctions for each skill as you go from level to level. And you’ll need to show how these skills mature along your chosen dimensions.
Dimensions to level up
Ability to take responsibility for broader and/ more complex work streams.
Ability to operate with less definition and clear boundaries. Able to explore larger unknowns.
Ability to contribute back to the PM community at the company, PM community at large and the overall company culture. This includes 1:1 mentoring and coaching.
There are no rows in this table
Other common dimensions include Autonomy and Complexity. In my example I’ve chosen to have autonomy be a part of Ambiguity and Complexity as a part of Scope.
Product Manager Career Ladder
Staff PM (IC) or Group PM (Manager)
Works with lead to form and articulate hypotheses and assumptions
Forms clear hypothesis based on insights.
Drives impact by testing hypotheses and underlying assumptions
Forms clear hypotheses based on broad set of insights.
Drives material impact by testing hypotheses and underlying assumptions
Forms clear hypotheses based on diverse set of insights.
Drives material impact by iterating through multi-step hypotheses that may require broad collaboration.
Capable of adapting after multiple disproven hypotheses.
Creates a culture of hypotheses driven experimentation.
Guides teams to drive significant impact that change the trajectory of the organization.
Consistently derives valuable learnings from both proven and disproven hypotheses.
Delivers customer benefit and business goals within well defined projects
Delivers a balance customer benefit and business goals across large projects
Reliably delivers a balance of customer benefit and business goals over their team’s full domain
Reliably delivers significant customer benefit and business goals over a broad and complex domain.
Spots non-obvious opportunities within and adjacent to their teams domain
Acts as a multiplier for impact across multiple teams and initiatives.
Champions difficult opportunities requiring cross-organizational alignment and coordination.
Responsible for teams reliably delivering customer benefit and meeting business goals.
Works with their lead to define metrics and priorities that correlate with high impact
Sets metrics and priorities that correlate with high impact
Delivering material impact by defining proper metrics and priorities on large projects
Identifies risks and conflicting goals
Has a track record of delivering significant impact by defining proper metrics and priorities, especially on key projects
Proactively mitigates risks and conflicting goals
Creates structure and guidance that helps teams within their area set successful metrics and priorities.
Proactively mitigates risks and conflicts across multiple teams.
Staff PMs drive impact directly through their work and by influencing others. Group PMs contribute by aligning and guiding their teams to work cohesively.
With help, can articulate clear vision within their well defined scope.
Uses insights and opinions from their team to set a vision within their team that ladders into area strategy.
Comfortable working with incongruent insights and opinions to set bold vision that ladders into area strategy.
Leverages diverse insights and opinions set vision that ladders into area and company strategy.
Comfortable taking appropriate risks in order to innovate
Consolidates diverse insights and opinions to help define company strategy and set direction for their teams.
Pushes teams to take risks and innovate in new areas
Interprets ongoing learnings and works with their lead to pivot when necessary
Interprets ongoing learnings and knows when to pivot their project
Accelerates learnings and anticipates upcoming pivots to their project.
Guides team through necessary change
Accelerates learnings and anticipates changes and trends beyond their immediate project. Knows when to pivot entire team.
Keeps team engaged through large roadmap changes.
Maintains composure through stressful situations.
Responsible for high velocity and agility on their teams. Helps teams accelerate gathering of insights and anticipate pivots and broader trends earlier. Knows when to pivot teams before they do.
Gracefully leads through changes. Keeps teams motivated through multiple changes in direction.
Maintains composure through stressful situations and incomplete information.
Clearly articulates tradeoffs and priorities
Leverages prioritization framework for difficult and complex tradeoffs
Creates prioritization frameworks for team and projects.
Comfortable making difficult tradeoffs
Creates durable prioritization frameworks to make trade-offs across ambitious initiatives.
Consistently makes good trade in difficult, complex or ambiguous situations.
Creates and refines prioritization frameworks to drive alignment on multi-team initiatives.
Track record of good trade offs in difficult, complex or ambiguous situations. Knows when to step in and make decisions on behalf of those who are stuck.
Group PMs are responsible for the direction and strategy for all teams within their area. Staff PMs often set direction between the seams of different areas.
Can clearly articulate goals, and requirements with help.
Follows effective processes to ship products with consistency and agility.
Clearly articulates goals, and requirements for features.
Follows and improves effective processes to ship products with consistency and agility.
Clearly articulates, milestones, goals and requirements for multi-stage initiatives.
Establishes and improves processes to ship products with consistency and agility.
Track record of shipping complex initiatives requiring multiple teams and/or 3+ months of effort with clear milestones, goals and requirements.
Establishes robust processes to create consistency and agility for complex initiatives.
Creates an environment where teams ship successful products. Track record of all teams consistently meeting or exceeding company standards of operational excellence.
Helps raise company standards for robust and agile processes
Responsible for a portfolio of initiatives ranging from small experiments to multi-team, multi-quarter initiatives .
Effective cross-functional collaborator within their team
Effective cross-functional collaborator within their team. Can drive cross-team collaboration with some help.
Drives cross-team collaboration by establishing strong relationships outside of their immediate team.
Builds momentum and commitment despite disagreements.
Drives collaboration through strong working relationships throughout the organization.
Builds momentum and commitment even when faced with significant disagreement.
Helps break down silos between teams and functions across the organization.
Drives productive collaboration, working relationships and cadences beyond their area of responsibility.
Positively influences organizational leaders and adjacent teams.
Effective written and verbal communicator for well defined projects.
Effective written and verbal communicator for their team. Clearly explains ambiguous problems and concepts.
Effective written and verbal communicator for their team and stakeholders.
Excellent written and verbal communicator at several altitudes, spanning individual contributors to executives.
Brings clarity to complex problems and concepts.
Excellent written and verbal communicator at all altitudes, spanning individual contributors to executives.
Teaches others how to break down complex problems and concepts.
Effective evangelist for all teams within their area of responsibility.
Unblocks team members with help.
Effectively unblocks team members and drives team alignment.
Proactively unblocks team members across various projects
Drives alignment and quickly recovers from misalignment.
Proactively resolves blockers across multi-team initiatives, including dependencies.
Can work through significant misalignment.
Proactively unblocks teams through direct action or coaching.
Quickly resolves team and organizational misalignment.
Staff and Group PMs are responsible for consistent operational excellence for their teams. Staff PMs sometimes go deep on a focused area and often are responsible for operations for a set of teams spanning organizational boundaries
Comfortable using both qualitative and quantitative insights to drive product development.
Blends qualitative and quantitative insights to accelerate projects
Helps cross-functional partners collect and synthesize qualitative and quantitative insights to accelerate product development.
Uses multiple sources of data to deepen insights. Can work through disparate insights to deliver non-obvious solutions.
Accelerates discovery and synthesis of insights for ambitious initiatives.
Uses deep understanding of insights to identify unexplored opportunities.
Accelerates discovery and synthesis of insights across multiple teams.
Uses deep understanding of insights to identify significant opportunities that can change the company’s trajectory
Grows domain expertise by understanding our customer problems, customer behaviors, competitors and industry trends for well defined projects
Proactively grows domain expertise by understanding our customer problems, customer behaviors, competitors and industry trends for large projects.
Establishes deep domain expertise beyond what is required for near-term projects.
Lends their expertise to others.
Leverages deep domain expertise to inform long term decisions. Anticipates changes in customer needs and competitive pressures.
Is a top expert in the company for their domain.
Actively seeks new ways of gathering insights.
Uses extensive domain expertise to guide teams in making short term and long term decisions. Guides teams in responding to upcoming customer needs and competitive pressures.
One of the top experts in the industry for their domain.
Encourages and teaches teams new ways of gathering and synthesizing insights.
Adds to their team culture through their perspective and experiences.
Helps build camaraderie on their team by participating in group activities.
Actively adds to team and company culture through their perspective and experiences.
Builds camaraderie on their team by helping to plan and organize offsites, lunches and other group activities.
Actively adds to team and company culture through their own perspective and encourages others to add to our culture.
Builds camaraderie on their team by leading offsites, lunches and other group activities.
Their contributions are excellent examples of upholding our company values and encourages others to expand our culture.
Build camaraderie by leading offsites, lunches and other activities that may extend beyond their immediate team.
Participates in company programs to strengthen our values such as community service initiatives or unconscious bias training.
Proactively raises and addresses cultural issues.
Responsible for cultivating a culture that reflects the company’s values. Leads by example and uplifts others to expand our culture.
Fosters community and camaraderie between teams.
Establishes, leads or actively participates in company programs to strengthen our values such as community service initiatives or unconscious bias training.
Addresses cultural issues and able to make structural when needed.
Provides constructive and timely feedback to their team.
Developing self-awareness for strengths and development areas.
Provides constructive, timely and personalized feedback to team members and other PMs.
Self aware of strengths and development areas.
Readily accepts feedback and improves.
Provides constructive, timely and personalized feedback beyond their immediate team.
Aware of strengths and development areas for self and others on their team.
Proactively asks for feedback big and small.
Helps other product managers progress in their careers.
Provides constructive, timely and personalized feedback across the organization.
Improves team dynamics and output by understanding strengths and development areas for self and others on their team.
Proactively asks for feedback and models a high standard of performance.
Has a track record of helping other product managers progress in their careers through ongoing coaching and mentoring relationships
Regularly provides constructive, timely and personalized feedback to their team and across the organization.
Strengthen teams by understanding individual strengths and development areas. Holds their teams accountable to the company’s high standard’s of performance (including themselves and their peers).
Proactively asked for feedback for self and on behalf of others.
Responsible for a high standard of performance and career progression for product managers on their team. Provides meaningful development opportunities and personalized guidance. Can mentor and motivate others to overcome prolonged difficulties.
Opportunistically refers candidates who would be a good fit for the company.
Joins social interviews (e.g. lunch interview, meet and greets) for their immediate team
Helps refer candidates who would be a good fit for the company.
Calibrated interviewer for at least 1 interview module and is an active participant in the interview process.
Helps recruit, refer and sell candidates from PM1 - Senior PM.
Calibrated interviewer for at 2+ interview module and is an active participant in the interview process.
Actively recruits and sells candidates of all levels.
Calibrated interviewer for 3+ interview modules and is an active participant in the interview process.
Improves PM hiring practices throughout the company.
Group Product Managers are responsible for hiring product managers within their area and ensuring hiring practices meet or exceed company standards.
Helps document and share instutitional knowledge
Ensures institutional knowledge is not confined to themselves through documentation, socialization and coaching.
Responsible for organizational planning within my area to optimize team structure for business needs
Designs development plans to ensure there are successors for key roles within their teams.
Ensures institutional knowledge is not confined to individuals.