PRODUCTHEAD: Charting your career path

PRODUCTHEAD: Charting your career path

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

climbing up the products #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Early in your career, focus on building one skill at a time

Find out what a company’s really like by meeting a contact there informally before the interview

Practice experts can enjoy a varied career, but may find it harder to work in some domains

As a product leader, what are your identity, superpower, mission and impact?


This week I’ve gathered articles and talks for you to help you plan your career path as a product person from Marc Abraham, Rich Mironov, Emily Tate and Donna Lichaw.

Keep an eye out for my new article on force multipliers on the main blog on Wednesday. I’ve also been working on a longer-form guide for people who want to get into product management. That will publish towards the end of September if you know someone who’s thinking about it.

Subscribe here to receive the long-form articles straight to your inbox.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I planned my career. There was far too much happenstance for that. I did at least acknowledge where I lacked direct experience and tried to fill the gaps.

I started out working in a small startup, so I looked for roles in a large corporate. I had reasonable technical experience but lacked commercial experience, so I shadowed the finance team and was mentored by the VP of sales for a while. I only had experience in private sector companies, so I worked in government for a while. You get the picture of my career progression — broad brushstrokes.

Your career path as a product person probably started out the same as for most others: as an individual contributor responsible for a product. From there, you can then go in a couple of different directions: you can either continue gaining experience as a hands-on product manager, or you can branch off in the direction of looking after other product people.

As you become more experienced as an individual contributor

you could stay general, looking after a portfolio of products, more complex products, products with more politics attached, or ultimately the organisation’s entire product strategy; or

you could specialise in products operating in a particular domain, such as AI / machine learning or healthcare; or

you could focus on enabling a particular aspect of product management, such as growth or product operations.

To go down the people management path, you first need to gain enough hands-on experience to be credible as a product practitioner, but also as a team leader. Many organisations simply promote people into line management positions and expect them to be good people managers as if by magic. Not everyone is cut out to be a people manager.

Becoming a head of the product team means putting the hands-on product management to one side. Your primary concern becomes to help the team of product people to grow professionally. To give larger product teams the care and attention they need, you’ll find you have very little time for anything else.

But whichever path you end up taking — individual contributor or people manager — you will always have a responsibility to pay it forward. Where you can, share your knowledge and experience as a coach and mentor to others on your team (and beyond).

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Can a product career be planned?

Kick-starting a product career can be difficult, especially if you’re looking for a straightforward route. In this ProductTank London talk, Marc Abraham, Product Ownership Practice Lead at ASOS gives us a framework for breaking into product management.

[VIDEO] You’re neither the boss nor the janitor

[Marc Abraham / Mind The Product]

Thoughts for in-the-job-market product leaders

I’ve had a lot of discussion over the last few months with product leaders looking for their next opportunity. Some of this is normal exec-level churn (the half-life of a CPO role is about 20 months) and some from the recent wave of tech layoffs. As a sounding board for many going through this, here are a few ideas …

Job hunting tips not just for product leaders

[Richard Mironov / Mironov Consulting]

Domain expert or practice expert: your product management career

One of the most common questions I get when talking to product managers about their career path is, should I become an expert in a specific domain? Should I go deep into AI, or FinTech, or travel? Or should I try to work in different types of companies?

The answer, of course, is the product manager’s standard… it depends.

The choice is not an irreversible decision

[Emily Tate / Mind The Product]

Career alignment

Donna Lichaw, product expert, consultant, and author of ‘The Leader’s Journey’ joins us on the podcast this week. She shares the lessons to reinvent your leadership journey, by activating your superpowers, transforming your team, and poising your business for success in product.

Leadership is a pressure cooker

[Donna Lichaw / The Product Experience]

recent posts

How to sharpen up your vision and strategy

When the vision and strategy are focused and clear, they allow product managers to prioritise and filter the possible options for their products more easily.

Use these straightforward questions and worked examples

[I Manage Products]

Always have a plan B

Have you ever wondered why product managers say “it depends” quite so often?

Always seeking the best possible compromise

[I Manage Products]

What games taught me about customer onboarding

Video games aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but some of the most successful games and products share a common attribute: they help the user become more skilled throughout their journey.

Onboarding is really a continual process

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from holiday ice cream withdrawal symptoms.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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