A Product Manager’s Guide to Crafting a Career Vision

Career fulfilment encompasses more than climbing the proverbial career ladder. For Product Management, context plays a significant role. The kind of products you work on and the size of the organization both have a significant impact.

“Organization size and type of product also play a large role. Some people are highly technical, they love to get their hands on JSON files, define APIs and system SLAs/SLOs, but for others, they couldn't imagine anything duller. Rather, they’d prefer to spend time in Figma, playing with designs and sketching on a notepad. They nerd out on brand style guides and interaction design – perhaps you are somewhere in the middle.” – APP

Therefore effective career planning and career visioning requires taking in more dimensions than simply the next role title – say you want to move from a PM to a Senior PM, in what organization size? In a startup? What about the type of product? A technical product or a customer-facing one? What about B2B vs B2C? Does it matter to you?

Step 1: Reflection

The first step is reflecting on your career to date as well as yourself. What are the things that you are good at, enjoy doing? What are the types of work environments you like/dislike? Where would you like to go next?

Some example questions you may ask yourself:

Personal questions

  • Project 5 to 10 years in the future, where would you like to be?
  • What are some of the aspects of your job that you enjoy doing?
  • What are the things which are important to you personally? Work-life balance, etc?
  • What activities do you do in your spare time that make you happy?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What do people often ask your help for?
  • What / who inspires you?
  • Who are some people that you admire? What about them do you admire? What is it about their careers that attract you to them? Are there aspects of their careers/them that you’d like to incorporate in your vision?
  • What aspects of your job / where you work makes you angry, frustrated?
  • What issues/topics are you passionate about?
  • What are your personal values?

Organization size questions

  • In the past have you worked in stable vs uncertain environments? How did they make you feel? Did one feel more comfortable than the other?

  • Think of a time when you worked in a fast pace environment, how did that feel? Did you feel ‘at home' or uncomfortable?

  • How important is a high salary to you? Do you have a mortgage, dependants, etc that require a certain benchmark?

  • In your current or previous roles, do you regularly lean on peers around you to bounce ideas off and brainstorm with?

  • Do you prefer to work alone, independently? Seldom asking for help from your peers or management?

  • Do you prefer to have clarity on your role and defined boundaries?

Role-specific questions

  • Do you enjoy being the sole owner of a product or comfortable working in a larger product team?

  • What skills are you missing or want to learn?

  • What are the things at work that you've noticed you were doing and time just flew by?

  • Are you passionate about the craft of product or do you wish to move into people leadership?

  • Is there a part of the product lifecycle you prefer? Or a part you would like to get more exposure in?

  • What aspects of your current job do you enjoy? Which parts give you a real buzz?

  • What aspects of your current job do you not enjoy? Perhaps you constantly procrastinate doing?

Step 2: Crafting your career vision

Take a walk into the future

Imagine it's 5-10 years from now, you've been successful in your career – what does that look like? Tell a story about your career. Remember to leverage the reflective questions above. Use your answers to form the basis of your story, jot them down and fill in the gaps. This should make forming your walk into the future much easier.

e.g. It’s 2030 and it’s a Monday morning. My alarm rings at 7:30am, time to rally the kids and drop them off at school. Work-life-balance is important to me and my current role provides me with many flexible options from working hours which suit me to working remotely. After a morning with the kids it’s 9:30am and it’s time to start the day. Mondays are my fully-remote days. Today I decide to spend the morning working from my local cafe – they do a great coffee there!

After jumping online I can see several messages running through slack about how successful the product launch was over the weekend. I feel proud as the Head of Product to have built a strong team of Product Managers who can launch new products successfully without help or supervision. They had my full trust and they pull it off brilliantly! As lunch approaches I get ready to jump on a regular mentoring session I have with our newest Associate Product Manager. Being a smaller company I’ve only just introduced having an APM program but am proud to have established it as supporting and growing our future product leaders.

What are the key attributes in the above story and in your reflective questions that are important to you? You may not be able to achieve them all but knowing what are ‘non-negotiable' versus ‘nice to have' are important.

Craft your Career Vision

Using your top priority attributes, start to turn your ‘walk into the future’ into a clear and concise sentence. You will need to iterate on this a few times. Don't expect to nail it on the first go.

Protip: It can sometimes be easier to have your attributes and start to try and string them together into a single clear and concise sentence.

i.e. Work-life balance, people leadership, mentoring, growing others, small company, fast pace

A product leadership role where I am mentoring junior PMs in a small but fast pace company who with a good work-life balance

Once you have this, take a look at the career options available to you. Based on your career vision what career path aligns best? i.e. should you change organization size? Look to specialize or move into a people leadership role? etc.

Step 3: Break your vision down into achievable goals

Finally, it's important to make your career vision actionable – what do you need to do next to get on the right path? What's your first step?

An easy way to facilitate this is to break your vision down into time horizons. Working backwards from your vision, where would you like to be in 3 years time? in 12 months? in 3-6 months? What roles or skills would you need to achieve your vision?

Remember to set clear measurables against each goal – How you will know that you've been successful in achieving that goal? Remember goals should be SMART (By George T. Doran, There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives):

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.

  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

  • Assignable – specify who will do it.

  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.

  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Setting Career Goals in APP

Association members will benefit from being able to input their goals within the member's site, under the menu ‘My Career'.

Setting a career goal works across two dimensions, one the role and the other the organization size.

When a career goal is inputted and is accompanied by a completed assessment, Association members can gain access to tailored recommendations for achieving their goal based on their assessment results.

Conclusion

Remember this is a career vision and therefore it should be bold and aspirational.

  • Dream big, think long and focus on success.
  • Be precise. Have specifics, make it vivid. You should be able to visualize it.
  • Use the present tense when articulating it.
  • Be clear and concise, don't use acronyms or jargon.
  • Make it emotional. Try to put passion into it this will help make it inspiring.
  • Ensure you align it to your personal values and goals outside of work. Your vision needs to work for you not the other way around.

Finally don't try to perfect it. Be prepared to iterate, adjust and course-correct.

About the Author​

Association Of Product Professionals

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Join the mission to advance the product management profession

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