A New Leveling Framework for Product Managers
It’s not about doing more things. It’s about doing things differently.
When I joined Postlight in early 2019, the company had fewer than 50 employees. Today, we’re close to the 100-person mark, and our product management team is growing quickly (if you’d like to be one of them, we’re hiring!). Growth, as it tends to do, has made us evaluate a lot about how we work and what it means to be a successful Product Manager at Postlight.
Last year, as new people joined the product management team, we started getting our first questions about what PM growth looks like at Postlight. We had a version of a leveling document that we could point to, but it had issues. For one, it was additive — the way it was laid out, it felt like leveling up in your career was about doing more things. Meanwhile, the reality was that senior members of the team weren’t doing more things (people management aside). Rather, they were doing things differently and tackling larger and more complicated problems.
It was time to evolve our leveling doc to better capture the PM ladder and chart a clearer growth path for PMs at Postlight. I’m excited to share our new Product Management Growth Framework, our process for creating it, and how it’s making a positive impact.
How we redefined PM growth at Postlight
After articulating our needs and some of the main goals for the framework, we researched how other companies were thinking about PM growth. Guides from Intercom, Oscar, or the XO Group were helpful inspiration. We combined these with our mission and values to come up with a few key characteristics for our guide.
One key objective was that rather than presenting a path to promotion, the guide should be a reflection of the evolution of a PM’s skills. It was less about demonstrating specific actions, and more about capturing the type of thinking and approach that changes as we grow in seniority.
Over a few sessions, we landed on six competencies that captured the range of skills PMs had to demonstrate in their role. Then, for each competency, we charted how those skills changed with seniority. Here are our six core competencies:
- Strategy: Ability to take multiple inputs and identify the right problems to solve.
- Execution: Ability to get work done and deliver results.
- Stakeholder Management: Ability to build trust with stakeholders and properly advocate for both the client and Postlight, as appropriate.
- Communication: Ability to deliver the right message with the right level of detail to the right audience.
- Collaboration: Ability to properly empower and leverage the right people to move a piece of work forward.
- Growth Mindset: Ability to understand and own your development, along with helping others do the same.
Within each competency, we identified the two or three skill areas we felt were most important. For example, for Strategy, we differentiate between the Opportunity Space and the Solution Space; for Stakeholder Management, between Partnership and Alignment. This not only helps us to speak about the progression more clearly but to also capture the nuances of the range of abilities PMs need to demonstrate.
Lastly, we created a heatmap that illustrates the progression of each skill. This visualization allows us to indicate how different skills evolve and the baseline for each. It visually communicates that some skills progress more uniformly throughout one’s career, while others require a baseline to be effective but may not progress much beyond that, and some are not expected until late in the game.
Three positive outcomes of our growth framework
We started using the new version of our Product Management Growth Framework over four months ago, and it has changed the way we communicate about product management at Postlight, both internally and externally. Here are some of the ways it’s making an impact:
#1 Reduce hiring bias. We used our new framework to redefine our hiring process. We identified three competencies we consider deal breakers — if a PM doesn’t demonstrate strong skills in those competencies, they won’t be successful at Postlight. For the remaining three, we look for PMs to show strengths in at least two and a signal in the other. This helped us define interview questions to evaluate a candidate’s mastery of each of the competencies (pro tip: Standardize your interview script!). We also use the competencies as a rubric that interviewers use to evaluate candidates.
#2 Establish career goals. It also helps our PMs establish career development and goals. When new people join the team, we ask them to do a self-evaluation against our framework during their onboarding. Then we have a conversation with their manager about it. This helps their manager get a sense of what that PM thinks are their strengths and weaknesses so that their manager can adjust their approach accordingly. PMs and managers then work together to define goals against those growth areas, and can measure progress against them during the next review cycle.
#3 Evaluate performance. During review cycles, we now have a standard way to evaluate PM performance. Each PM is scored as learning, effective, or surpassing, and we’ve established clear criteria for what it takes to be promoted so that everyone has clear expectations. Both the PM and their manager complete this evaluation, which serves as the basis for a conversation during the cycle to talk about past performance and set future-facing goals.
So far this year, we’ve used the framework to hire nearly 15 new product managers, complete our midyear review cycle with positive feedback from our PM team, and promote one person using the framework as rubric.
It’s hard to state how impactful it was for us to spend the time to think and standardize our growth framework for PMs, and we would encourage any growing organization to do the same. We’re super excited to be able to share ours today!
👉 Check out our Product Management Growth Framework, and if you have any feedback or questions, feel free to reach out!
Jorge Mir Alvarez (@jmiralva) is a Lead Product Manager at Postlight and once tried 150 apps to stay relevant. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Story published on Aug 4, 2021.