Editor's note: This article has been adapted from an original piece on the Product-Led Growth Collective.
There’s a new kind of product manager in town: the growth product manager. This emerging role is taking hold throughout the software industry, but is especially prevalent within product-led organizations. In these companies, the product itself is a primary lever for growth, so it makes sense for the product team to take on growth responsibilities tied to revenue.
But introducing a growth mindset to the PM role can be a pretty big shift for traditional product managers. It requires traditional PMs—who are used to focusing on long-term, customer-focused roadmaps—to wrap their heads around a wider perspective that also encompasses short-term, business-focused objectives.
To help would-be growth PMs (and the companies that need them) put their best foot forward, we’ve compiled an overview of what it means to be a growth PM, how the responsibilities and required skills differ from that of a traditional PM, and what it takes to do the job right.
Traditional vs. growth PMs—what’s the difference?
Traditional PMs and growth PMs have a lot in common, and spend most of their time on similar product- and customer-related tasks, but there are some key differences that set them apart.
* IMPORTANT CAVEAT:
While growth PMs are ultimately accountable for building the business, that definitely doesn’t mean they aren’t focused on the customer. Product-led organizations grow by delivering amazing user experiences, so making sure customers are happy and engaged is a high priority for any PM, traditional or growth.
Core skills for a successful growth PM
So, what does it take to be a good growth PM? There’s no set profile for this still-evolving role, but there are some clear patterns in the kinds of skills and attributes that we see in successful growth PMs. Turns out that there’s a certain type of person who is naturally suited to the responsibilities and challenges of blending product management and growth.
A good growth PM is naturally curious, skeptical, and analytical. This is the kind of person who takes nothing for granted, asks a lot of questions, and is constantly taking things apart to see what makes them tick.
For this reason, growth PMs are people who are willing and able to take a data-driven, almost scientific approach to any challenge. They are people who are willing to dig under the surface of a situation to understand what’s really happening. And they aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo in their quest to find a better way of doing things.
Their analytical nature doesn’t just come into play during the investigatory stage of an initiative, but also carries through to the execution and post-mortem stages as well. Using carefully collected data, they carefully evaluate outcomes against hypotheses with a focus on delivering measurable results that either prove a win or provide valuable insight into why something didn’t work out.
Just like a scientist, a growth PM doesn’t believe in failure in the traditional sense. After all, every so-called “failure” is a valuable chance to learn.
Standard operating procedure: Agile
If PMs were cars, a traditional PM would be a highly reliable vehicle that gets great mileage, has all the best safety features, and features the world’s best GPS system. A growth PM, on the other hand, would be something that was built for speed and maneuvering—something designed more for a lap around the racetrack than a cross-country trek.
Growth PMs have a need for speed that drives them to tackle challenges in iterative sprints rather than long, drawn-out campaigns. When it comes to results, they prefer immediate gratification, which is why their strategy often focuses on making constant, incremental improvements rather than addressing everything in one fell swoop.
To be successful, growth PMs need to be flexible and adaptable. They need to be comfortable with uncertainty and willing to try different kinds of problem-solving to get where they want to go. While a traditional PM will spend a lot of time buffing the edges of their product to achieve an optimal user experience, a growth PM will be tinkering away at all the moving parts to see which small changes can make the biggest difference.
In short, growth PMs are happiest when there isn’t too much structure, and they have plenty of room to experiment.
Growth PMs also need some serious people skills if they are going to succeed in their mission.
The role of the growth PM is one that intersects with many other functions in the organization, so they wind up needing to work well with many different kinds of people and personalities. From engineers to analysts and designers to marketers, a growth PM needs to be able to build strong relationships that enable close collaboration.
And growth PMs don’t just need to wrap their own heads around the big picture—they also need to be able to get buy-in from other parties. This requires trust and good negotiating skills. A good growth PM has to be able to process many different and divergent viewpoints and opinions and then work cross-functionally to get everyone on the same page and moving forward together.
Strong diplomacy skills are particularly crucial when working with traditional PMs who may be territorial about their specific products or roadmaps. They may initially resist requests to sideline their own plans in favor of a growth experiment, so growth PMs need to be able to respectfully persuade them to provide their support and resources to the “greater good.”
Business skill: Communication
In addition to interpersonal diplomacy skills, growth PMs need strong, general communication skills pretty much every day. From keeping people in the loop on what’s happening to building relationships with various stakeholders to negotiating the terms of collaboration—growth PMs benefit greatly from being able to make their cases clearly, succinctly, and convincingly.
What’s more, strong communication skills help growth PMs educate their peers and company leadership about what, exactly, a growth PM does and why it matters. Growth PMs that can “sell” themselves and their growth initiatives to other parts of the company have a much better chance of getting the resources and leeway they need to make a real difference.
What’s next for the growth product manager
The interesting thing about the emergence of growth product managers is that we’ve seen this same thing play out before. It wasn’t that long ago that people first started inserting the term “growth” into marketing conversations. But today, growth marketing is synonymous with good marketing. The industry learned pretty quickly that so-called growth marketing is really just a way of doing things that delivers the most value to the organization.
It’s likely that we’ll see the same evolutionary path for the growth product manager. It will start out as a distinct role, but eventually we’ll drop the qualifier and all PMs will be growth PMs. It makes a lot of sense, especially given the rise of product-led companies in which traditional PMs already directly influence revenue by ensuring a better user experience.
So, for any aspiring growth PMs (and the companies that might hire them), this is the time to step back and give some serious consideration to the kinds of skills you might want to hone if you’re going to make this transition. This trend is gathering momentum at a steady pace—so if you want to stay ahead of the crowd, it’s time to get on board!
Eric heads up Marketing at Appcues. When he isn't helping companies become more product-led, he’s likely to be found keeping up with his wife and 2 children, exploring the White Mountains with his dog Barley, or fermenting things at home.