It’s a bit of a dirty word, isn’t it? It suggests a definite split between classes, a forced division of power.
Still, that’s one way of looking at it in a social sense.
But in the heady world of business, especially tech, hierarchy is vital.
Because tech companies live or die on the strength of their products. And that means the product management team has to be firing on all cylinders (pardon the cliche).
But that’s not easy.
Because a product management team isn’t made up of just one or two people. It’s a tightly-structured department comprising hard-working professionals with a shared goal: bringing the best product the company is capable of to market.
There’s a clear hierarchy to product teams. But, what exactly does each role involve? What’s expected of them? And — because we’re all curious about each other’s money — how much do they earn?
Oh, and since I want to keep this
This is the first rung on the ladder to the top of the product-management food chain (to mix metaphors a little).
As you might have worked out by the name, a Junior Product Manager position is for newcomers to a company.
It’s an entry-level role usually filled by graduates with some experience, or those with a beneficial background in other industries.
But just because a Junior Product Manager is product management on a smaller scale doesn’t mean it’s easy to work. They still need to bring ideas to the table and offer valuable input whenever the opportunity arises.
A Junior Product Manager may be assigned to work on a small feature or minor area of a product’s overall development, though they’ll still receive leadership from a senior product manager.
They may be expected to prioritize tasks and collaborate with team members at different levels.
They’ll be involved with a development team and take some responsibility for its progress too, aiming to prove themselves suitable for a senior role in the future.
In the US, a Junior Product Manager’s base salary is typically around $37,000, though it may be significantly higher depending on the scale of the tech company. In Europe, it hovers around the €26,000 mark.
The next step up from Junior Product Manager, a Product Manager will take more responsibility and enjoy greater independence in their day-to-day tasks.
Generally, a technical Product Manager will lead product development teams’ work and has a tighter grip on the specifics of proper prioritization.
Good communication and collaborative skills are fundamental, even more so than with Junior Product Managers (where both attributes will strengthen if they’re weak, to begin with).
The Product Manager also serves as a conduit between the product’s developers and other key stakeholders, helping to keep the product on track.
A good technical Product Manager has an in-depth understanding of a product’s purpose, USP(s), and value to customers. The customer journey is an important aspect of their work, and they’ll help to keep the product team focused on satisfying user needs.
Product Managers are goal-oriented and help devise strategies that advance the product along its journey to market effectively.
Performing well in a technical Product Manager role will demonstrate the individual’s strengths and candidacy for a role further up the hierarchy. They will be overseen by Senior Product Managers and/or Product Owners.
US-based Product Managers may expect to earn a great salary, from around $68,000 and up. European Product Managers typically pull in competitive salaries starting at approximately €57,000.
As a job title, Product Owner is a little less explanatory than the previous two.
Basically, a Product Owner takes responsibility for establishing, prioritizing, and overseeing the work performed by the team to ensure the final product achieves its potential.
They act as the client’s voice and collaborates with stakeholders, to keep them updated on progress (and sharing stakeholders’ expectations/concerns with the development team).
Their work involves collating requests for product features, scheduling upcoming releases, and — in Agile environments — coordinating sprints.
A good Product Owner has the skills to pinpoint user needs and understand expectations at a deeper level than Product Managers. They will take a more direct role in directing products to align with the original vision and intention, as well as representing the company at its very best.
A Product Owner essentially represents the end user and ensures their needs are met. They should serve as an ambassador for products in an external and internal capacity too, while being the main contact for major product-related queries.
In short, the Product Owner is a critical link between the ‘client’ (this can be an internal client) and the team responsible for bringing the product to fruition. Any problems or decisions that must be made to that end will involve the Product Owner in one way or another.
Product Owners in the US can earn from as much as $99,000 and above, while their European counterparts may secure around €63,000 per year.
Anyone stepping into a Senior Product Manager role has experience in the field. They’ve likely worked their way up from a more junior role, so years of training and skill-development are usually part of the road to this position.
In truth, the Senior Product Manager performs the same job as a Product Manager — so where does their seniority come into play?
Well, typically speaking a Senior Product Manager will look after a portfolio of products, meaning they are looking after multiple products at once.
Senior Product Managers are usually tasked with enhancing the value of existing products too, maximizing the profitability of investments already out there on the market.
They should have an eye for innovation and a natural flair for knowing what consumers want.
They will likely liaise with the Product Owner to ensure their product portfolio aligns with the client’s and users needs as best it can. And they’ll communicate with the Product Lead too, as well as being responsible for Junior Product Managers and Product Managers.
Senior Product Managers collaborate with marketing teams too, to ensure the most accurate, compelling, and exciting message is conveyed in preparation for the launch (and beyond).
Senior Product Managers may earn upwards of $120,000 in the United States. And those in Europe? Around €78000.
So, onto the Product Lead (AKA Lead Product Manager).
What do they do?
Product Leads are responsible for the creation of fresh products, working with members of the development team to push projects towards completion. They’ll interact and liaise with employees across different departments too, such as marketing and research.
The Product Lead role isn’t unlike the Senior Product Manager or VP (see below), except they’re focused more on the hands-on aspect of development rather than intensive management. Product Leads may come from more of a technical background and bring remarkable knowledge of a product and its audience to the company.
This deep understanding will help them ensure the final result delivers on its concept and meets (or exceeds) the expectations of everyone from stakeholders and directors to users.
A Product Lead role may be best-suited to those whose extensive experience and company-leading knowledge of a product type allows them to oversee the development of a superior package.
The Product Lead will work closely with Senior Product Managers and Product Owners to keep the product on target throughout the development process.
They will also be involved in increasing the value and performance of existing products down the line too.
Product Leads in the US can earn from as much as $107,000 per year, while those working hard in Europe might expect more than €83,000.
Of course, this varies from business to business, and by the level of experience/technical proficiency the Product Lead boasts.
Product Directors benefit more from good people skills than those in the roles we’ve looked at so far.
They’re less involved with the day-to-day tasks related to the development of products. Instead, they focus more on the overall strategy and leading product managers at lower levels.
The Product Director must have a strong background in product management and understand the product job responsibilities of those across the development team. They’ll attend meetings on a regular basis, interacting with those from inside and outside the company.
Another aspect of the Product Director’s work is researching and understanding competitors.
Creating products that not only compete with similar ones but actually blow them out of the water is vital to make a powerful market impact.
They’ll study the current status of competing products available and identify exactly why theirs is such a valuable addition to the mix.
The Product Director will know the product roadmap inside out, and play a direct role in planning it. They’ll be as comfortable with strategizing as they are with monitoring progress and success in a holistic way.
Product Directors should be inspiring, and natural leaders.
They will have a sense of authority and experience, but must have an approachable attitude too. Why? Because other members of the development team, and those across other departments, will seek them out frequently.
This might be to pick their brains or update them on the latest progress, but in any case, the Product Director can’t afford to intimidate those at lower levels so much that they actually avoid interacting with them.
A US-based Product Director could earn a huge salary, starting from around $150,000. That’s an incredible income in exchange for what may be intense work, particularly when a product approaches its launch date. European Product Directors, on the other hand, can pull in around €110,000.
The VP/Head of Product is a common fixture in bigger tech companies with a sizeable portfolio of products and several layers of management.
In smaller businesses and startups, the Head of Product may have less experience but is still the most senior product-development expert.
The Head of Product is similar to the Product Director role, with much of the work involving managing those other Product Managers taking a hands-on approach.
The Head of Product may have a responsibility for managing the team’s overall budget and representing executives.
Their work can also require them to represent the business to the public, perhaps when providing the media with in-depth information on an existing or forthcoming product.
A Head of Product in the US could receive a salary of up to $180,000 or thereabouts, and in Europe will earn somewhere in the region of €95,000.
Finally, let’s talk about the Chief Product Officer.
The Chief Product Officer (CPO) plays a critical part in a product’s development, becoming deeply involved in the vision, strategy, marketing, and more.
They should be something of a visionary and have extensive leadership skills, particularly when motivating and managing other product-management seniors.
The CPO will collaborate with the manufacturing and distribution teams, overseeing all aspects of the product’s progression from its original concept through to its post-launch success. Studying the market, competitors, and reviewing strategies relevant to the product’s release is also another element of the CPO’s duties.
They have a responsibility to ensure all products offer real value, are sustainable, and generate revenue for the company.
They may be able to earn as much as $300,000 in the US and around €100,000 across Europe.
While this is a fairly standard hierarchy for a tech company, it’s worth remembering that there's generally no one-size-fits-all rule for success.
Not every business creating and launching tech products will need to fill every one of these rules: it’s entirely possible to achieve goals without having the complete structure explored above.
However, it is crucial to have a clear program in place for bringing a product from the ideas room to the end-user in an ordered way. Just trying to ‘wing it’ can lead to chaos, ultimately disrupting the flow of product development and reducing the chances of delivering a genuinely impactful product.