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How I got promoted to senior product manager in 1 year

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

5 tactical things I did to make sure I was on track for a promotion

Background I joined my current company about a year ago as a software product manager. I was tasked to build out a 0–1 greenfield B2B enterprise product. After 367 days, I got promoted to senior product manager. To be fair, I already had experience and exposure as a product manager. Previously, I was the manager of product management at a smaller company managing a portfolio of physical hardware products. This company was my first exposure to software product management. I had to make sure all of my prior experiences translated to software product management. I will share a couple of key steps I took to make sure I got a promotion in a year.

person looking down at a phone excited

Understand your role Starting at a new company is exciting and nerve-racking because you get to start fresh — new coworkers, new manager, new leadership, and new products. However, it is easy to get lost and stressed out when getting familiar with a new environment. The single most important thing to do is to truly understand your role at the company. For the first 2–3 months, I suggest you do 3 things.

  1. Meet as many coworkers to form working relationships. This can be done via 30-minute 1-on-1s or lunch at the cafeteria. I know it can be awkward, but if there is ever a time to do random 1-on-1s, this is the time to do it. You will be able to paint a map of what other people do.

  2. Observe how the organization works. Ask a lot of questions. People are surprisingly willing to help out new employees. How do they launch products? How do they work with engineering teams? What are the processes? Note any gaps or inefficiencies in processes or cross-functional collaboration. This is important as you can identify major initiatives you can own.

  3. Learn about your product. As a product manager, you are ultimately responsible for the success and direction of your product. Make sure you spend sufficient time learning about the climate, collaborators, customers, and competitors.

Identify big initiatives that will impact the broader company This piece is key in setting up your objectives and key results (OKRs) to have enough impact and scope that will convince your manager you are a senior material. It doesn’t matter how well you execute your OKRs if the impact is small. For how to set your OKRs, stay tuned and I will link it here.

Set expectations with your manager It is ultimately your manager that is going to review your performance and consider your promotion. Make sure you understand his needs. Focus on identifying projects/initiatives that will help resolve user or business needs. Discuss your observations, get to know your manager’s working style, and set expectations on deliverables. To do this, I suggest 2 things:

  1. Set a weekly 1-on-1 with the manager. Adjust priorities as needed, discuss any blockers, and track your objectives and key results (OKRs)

  2. Identify your OKRs and review them with your manager. If you were to explain to anybody what you are working on, you should be able to just show them your OKRs because good OKRs will clearly tell them your focus and what outcomes you are working towards. Review and track the progress of your OKRs with your manager.

Execute well and show results You have a great set of OKRs and are aligned with your manager. Now what? You need to execute and bring in results. To do this, I suggest 3 things:

  1. Establish strong working rapport with teams you need to work with. Understand their working styles, dynamics, motives, and goals. This will help you when collaborating.

  2. Learn how to influence without authority. None of the engineers report to me and yet they receive directions and feature requests from me. How is this possible? It is because we believe that the features defined by the product team will ultimately help resolve business or user needs. Remember that without the work of engineers, there is no product.

  3. Learn how to leverage. As a product manager, you need to be able to collaborate with multiple teams. This can be a major headache because they all have their own priorities. Learn when and how to leverage your manager or leadership to reach decisions and accelerate progress.

Set an example for your peers and others As a senior product manager, it is expected that you set an example for others to follow. To do this, I suggest 2 things:

  1. Be on top of your product management fundamentals so that you can be the go-to person for anything product related. For example, I made sure I was really comfortable with product planning processes and playbooks to help me come up with visions, strategies, roadmaps, and product requirements documents (PRDs).

  2. Share best practices. Did something work well with your team? Are you delivering faster? Are you getting great feedback? Share and educate other product teams so that they can benefit too.

Closing In a nutshell, to become a senior product manager, work on large initiatives that will bring large benefits, align expectations with your manager, and deliver results.

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