3 Ways for Product Managers to Promote Their Career Paths

 Two weeks ago, I published three ways data governance leaders can promote their careers and stated, “Seeing data governance functions pigeonholed into compliance and data security responsibilities drives me a little nuts.”

In this part two of the series on the career advancement of Digital Trailblazers, I focus on product management, product ownership, and other roles charged with connecting customer segments, understanding their value propositions, and delivering agile releases of new capabilities. And I have a similar declaration for the hard-working leaders in this critical role.

Product Managers Career Checklist

Seeing product managers pigeonholed into chasing stakeholders’ never-ending and unverified wish lists drives me up the wall. Unverified, meaning that the stakeholder didn’t provide the opportunity for the product manager to review the idea, request, or problem with customers and determine whether it’s an important priority to address.

Career checklist for data leaders

If you’re a product manager, I hope you’ll review my Career Checklist for Digital Trailblazers, which has a full section for this critically important role. This report explains how product managers, data governance, and DevOps leaders can increase the bread and depth of their learning while seeking important leadership experiences that will ready you for more challenging digital transformation roles.

To give you a taste of what’s in the report, here are three ways product managers can advance their careers.

1. Improve stakeholder and executive communication

Let’s start with the basics. Product managers are boxed into the role of order takers because they don’t seize the opportunity to communicate their roles and responsibilities to stakeholders and business leaders. Don’t expect them to understand what product managers should be leading, and don’t assume that it’s only the head of product management’s function to bear in defining the function. All product managers must take an active role and focus stakeholders on the benefits of agile planning and experimenting.

“Communication is the most crucial among the many skills a product manager must possess,” says Marko Anastasov, co-founder of Semaphore CI/CD. “Mastering clear and effective communication enables PMs to connect teams and stakeholders, driving collaboration and innovation toward a shared goal.”

Here are three tips.

  1. Make it clear that you want everyone’s ideas, but it’s product management’s role to validate their importance to customers, estimate where they deliver business impact, and prioritize what agile teams should plan in their backlogs. Clearly communicate what’s not going to be on the roadmap and why.
  2. Demonstrate the importance of experimentation, and even when an idea is prioritized, the goal is to quickly deliver a minimal capability to customers, capture their feedback, and determine whether and how to improve the capability.
  3. Specify targeted releases demonstrating a balance of deliverables, including delivering new features, addressing technical debt, improving operational issues, closing security gaps, and meeting other business drivers. 

2. Prioritize your time to learn about customer opportunities and market trends

Digital Trailblazers should feel overwhelmed with too many things to do every day, and the most successful digital transformation leaders relentlessly prioritize their time and objectives. In my book, Digital Trailblazer, I share my struggles in getting out of the weeds because the CIO and CDO role requires balancing time between understanding the tactical issues while steering the longer-term objectives.

Defining roadmaps, communicating with stakeholders, prioritizing agile backlogs, writing agile user stories, and participating in sprint demos are all very important responsibilities. But there are not the most important functions for product managers aspiring to become Digital Trailblazers.

Perform primary research! Don’t just rely on surveys - speak to and visit customers! Attend conferences and determine your own point of view around what investments will leapfrog your competitors. Develop executive relationships and market your innovation plans and roadmaps. Investigate how businesses in other industries build differentiating capabilities with emerging technologies. Have a point of view on technologies such as ChatGPT and LLMs, digital twins, personalized experiences, and other emerging technologies.

3. Learn and collaborate with agile teams and co-creation partners

My last recommendation may be the hardest to achieve as it requires understanding people and learning how to get involved in the agile delivery process without becoming a micromanager.

Product managers must collaborate with their teams on their roadmaps, otherwise, their goals and targeted timelines will likely be overpromised and unrealistic fantasies.

What does a collaboration look like? One example is that product managers should partner with delivery managers, review feature estimates, and guide a discussion on tradeoffs to find minimally viable solutions. Product managers must also help create a sense of urgency with their agile teams without demanding fixed scope delivery timelines.

Agile co-creation

Secondly, product managers must partner with delivery leads and recognize when requirements go beyond their agile teams’ skills and capabilities. Outsourcing is usually not a good answer, but finding ways to co-create with partners can accelerate innovation, learning, and improving technical capabilities.  

If you’ve seen my previous posts, you know I believe digital transformation needs to be a core organizational competency. This only happens when organizations empower product managers to lead digital transformation initiatives – and that requires product managers to execute their complete responsibilities.

Want to learn more about advancing your career as a product manager? Please sign up for my free Career Checklist for Digital Trailblazers, which includes a section on how product managers should develop their skills and experiences for more challenging leadership roles.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.