What Is Product Leadership?
Product leadership can describe several management-level roles with responsibility for the success of the company’s products. The purpose of a product leader can include building and overseeing the right product team, owning the product’s strategic direction, and ensuring the team has the tools and systems it needs to build successful products.
Note: Product leadership does not refer to product managers using their leadership skills to drive successful products. Instead, the term describes people in positions of leadership—directors, vice presidents, etc.—who manage the product team and help the company identify opportunities to achieve product-market fit.
What Are Common Product Leadership Titles?
Product leadership roles can take many different titles and will vary according to the company’s size, industry, as well as where the organization places its product responsibilities.
Not all businesses have a standalone product management group. Some companies, for example, place the product function under engineering. (Here’s why that’s a mistake.) In those cases, the vice president of engineering might be the company’s product leader.
Small or new companies also might not have a dedicated product department. In those companies, an executive such as the CMO or CEO will often have the product leadership role.
For organizations with a dedicated product department, the product leadership position might belong to someone with a title such as:
- Chief product officer
- Vice president of product management
- Head of product
- Director of product
- Product team leader
- Group product manager
What Are Product Leadership’s Responsibilities?
One way to think about product leaders is they handle the organizational details, which allows the company’s product managers to focus on building outstanding products. For example, people in product leadership roles take on such high-level strategic initiatives as:
- Hiring, training, and mentoring new members of the product team.
- Developing projections about the costs, potential revenues, and development timelines of various product development initiatives.
- Sharing the senior staff’s business objectives and product vision to ensure their product teams are developing strategies that align with those high-level goals.
- Presenting plans to company executives and investors to secure a budget for the product team to move forward.
- Making sure the product, design, development, and other teams have the tools and processes they need to do their jobs successfully.
What Do Effective Product Leaders Do?
Product leadership is a wide-ranging profession, and responsibilities can differ from one company to another. However, there are steps any product leader can take to make themselves, their teams, their products, and their companies more successful. Here are a few examples.
5 Steps for More Effective Product Leadership
1. Build and mentor the right team.
A leader is only as good as their team. Product leaders focus both on choosing the right people to work with and empowering those individuals on their teams to grow and be successful.
2. Develop processes and practices that improve teamwork.
In addition to building a team of all-star product management professionals, product leaders need to think about how the individuals on the team will work together most effectively.
3. Create a culture of collaboration among all teams working on the product.
The product development organization is at the heart of a business, and as such, they are well-suited to be the glue that holds the organization together. When Product leaders promote collaboration across various groups in their organization, it can help their team, and the organization be more effective.
4. Promote a culture of customer-centricity.
It doesn’t matter how well-designed and efficiently-engineered your product is, if customers don’t love it, it simply won’t thrive. Therefore, product leaders work tirelessly to keep customers at the core of product decisions and top-of-mind for their product teams.
5. Consistently experiment and learn.
Product teams have a great deal of influence over whether a business succeeds or not. In today’s fast-paced business landscape, successful product teams make experiment-driven learning a high-priority. As a result, product leaders find ways to empower their teams to learn new things every single day.
As Craig Daniel, Vice President of Product Management at Drift told ProductPlan for our book on becoming a product leader:
“I build stuff that makes people’s jobs easier and learn every day on how to improve it. It’s all about building and learning.”