Product School

The Product Strategy Skills You Need to Take You from Associate PM to VP of Product

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Author: Product School

August 24, 2023 - 7 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 7 min read

Do you ever feel like you’re stagnating, struggling to advance in your product career? If so, you’re not alone. There comes a point in almost everyone’s career when they feel they’ve plateaued. But don’t give up on your ambitions! While the path to your dream position might seem unclear, there are actually some very concrete steps you can take to climb the product management career ladder, like leveling up your product strategy skills. 

But before we see why product strategy skills are a key pillar when it comes to getting a product promotion, and what you can do to improve them, let’s take a moment to zoom out and look at the steps you need to take to advance your product career. 

How can you transition from Product Manager to Product Leader?

What makes a great individual contributor isn’t the same skill set as that of a great Product Leader. To advance in your career you’ll need to make these four major transitions:

  1. move from executing one type of product work to managing multiple types of product work

  2. move from solving with the resources you have to solving by allocating resources and influencing others 

  3. move from being good at your job, to coaching others how to be good at theirs

  4. move from being told what analysis to run to using insights generated from data analysis to guide decisions

transition to product leader in four steps

As you can see, there’s a lot to take on board, so let’s focus on the first transition – leveling up your planning and product strategy skills. 

Product strategy skills for Associate Product Managers to VP of Product

Product Strategy is essential for the success of any product. Implementing the right strategy has so many benefits including increased alignment, customer satisfaction, competitive advantage, and better resource allocation to name just a few. Good product strategy skills will be essential throughout your entire career in product management, but those skills need to evolve as you climb each rung of the PM career ladder. 

Let’s take a look at what specific product strategy skills are required at each stage in your career.

Associate Product Manager

On this first rung of the PM career ladder, you’ll be expected to understand project goals, their connection to team objectives, articulate the relation between the current roadmap and pod/pillar goals, and comprehend the overall strategic direction of your pillar and the company. 

As you can see, at this early stage of your career, you’re not expected to be an expert at product strategy. In the beginning, it’s all about learning and understanding the goals and strategies set by more senior members of the team. Take this opportunity to learn as much as possible from your coworkers. You’ll need that knowledge to climb to the next rung of the ladder. 

Product Manager

Congratulations! You’re a Product Manager! Now that you’ve assimilated some basic product strategy, you’ll be able to make a meaningful contribution to product strategy. Aside from that, you’ll be able to articulate the goals of a series of projects, influence the roadmap, and understand the overall strategic direction.

As you can see, this is a clear step up from Associate Product Manager where the focus is on learning and understanding. As a seasoned product manager, you can now use that knowledge to make more informed decisions that impact product strategy.

Senior Product Manager

At this stage, you’ve sharpened your product strategy skills and will have more authority in your company. You’ll be able to make decisions considering product-wide trade-offs, craft a near-term product roadmap that aligns with pod and pillar goals, and effectively take into account pod and pillar strategy when making roadmap decisions.

Lead/Group Product Manager

As a lead or group product manager, you’re responsible for outcomes driven by your team. At this level, you’ll be expected to take on more responsibility and make adjustments to direction or process, consolidate similar themes into an investment thesis, guide junior team members, and tie pod's efforts to pillar and company strategy.

Making the leap from Product Manager or Senior Product Manager to Product Leader can feel like crossing a huge chasm. After all, to reach a leadership position, you need to be able to demonstrate advanced product strategy skills, manage teams, oversee complex processes, coach others to drive those processes forward, and make data-driven decisions based on qualitative and quantitative analysis that drives impact. 

Without this experience, it can be difficult to get a promotion to a management position, but without being promoted, it’s difficult to get the experience. To escape this Catch-22, many product managers boost their skillset with the Product Leader Certification (PLC)™. By learning directly from instructors who are proven Product Leaders from top Silicon Valley tech companies, you can enhance your leadership and product strategy skills to break into your first product leadership role. 

Principal Product Manager

By now you’ve honed your product strategy skills and proactively make changes to strategy, roadmap, and process to maximize outcomes at the pillar level. Moreover, you can contribute meaningfully to defining strategy, and clearly articulate the importance of your team's investments to key stakeholders. 

Director or VP of Product

At this high level, you’ll be responsible for defining your team's focus and setting clear expectations for outcomes. You’ll also be contributing meaningfully to defining strategy at the pillar level and can clearly articulate the impact of your team's investments.

product strategy skills needed to advance

How can you improve your product strategy skills?

As you’ve seen, improving your product strategy skills is crucial to advance in your career. While you start out by merely understanding and learning about product strategy as an Associate Product Manager, by the time you reach Lead Product Manager you need advanced product strategy knowledge that you use to drive product success. And as Director or VP of Product, you’ll be owning product strategy at the pillar level.

But how can you improve your product strategy skills? Fortunately, there are several ways to go about it. 

Find a mentor

Although mentors are especially helpful for those just breaking into Product Management, they are founts of knowledge that can help you to level up your product strategy skills throughout your career. In fact, the role of mentors is so important that about 70% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentorship program.

Even if your company doesn’t have a formal mentorship scheme, it’s usually possible to learn the ropes from a peer or more senior PM in your company. And of course, you can cast a wider net by maxing use of LinkedIn groups and other online product management communities – these are excellent resources to help you network and develop relationships that could evolve into a mentor/mentee dynamic. 

Attend Product Management Events

Leading on from that point, attending product management conferences is an excellent way to network with others in your field, deepen your knowledge of product strategy, and possibly even find a mentor.

This can include both in-person and online events. Check out Product School’s 2023 online Product Con, led by top Silicon Valley companies and attended by over 5,000 members of the PM community

Listen to Product Management Podcasts

We get it! Upskilling takes time. If you’re someone who’s always busy, and let’s face it, PMs always are, podcasts may be just the thing for you. The Product Podcast brings you interviews and actionable advice from Product Leaders that you can listen to in bite-size chunks when you’re on the go. 

Read up on Product Strategy

It looks like you’re already taking this step to sharpen your product strategy skills because you’re here on our blog, so keep up the momentum. Explore our treasure trove of product strategy blog posts to find key product strategy frameworks and advice for career success

Take a course on Product Strategy

To really level up your product strategy skills in a more formalized way, why not take our FREE Product Strategy Micro-certification? This self-paced course will teach you how to construct and implement a successful product strategy. You'll explore how to effectively communicate your plan and gain a proven formula to devise a top-tier Product Strategy.

Product Strategy Micro-certification overview

Take your Product Strategy Skills to the next level

Whether you’re just starting out on your product journey or are a seasoned professional, we hope you feel empowered to take the next steps toward gaining your dream product position. Happy learning! 

Updated: January 24, 2024

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