Scope & Career Growth for Product Managers
Finding new opportunities for impact is the key to PM career growth
One fascinating concept I've learned as a product manager is the idea of creating scope.
In other roles, “scope” is a fixed list of responsibilities. But for product managers, scope tends to be extremely fluid. While you start with a set of responsibilities, these often change with business needs.
The best PMs seem to always tackle exciting areas of work and grow their role in the company. But their role isn't growing because they are given more scope — it's growing because they are creating more scope.
Generally, I've noticed what differentiates junior and senior PMs is the ability to find and drive new scope. This ability require proactivity, awareness and confidence in your own abilities.
Today, I want to share my learnings around scope and how you can create more of it. Doing this will let you:
Learn new skills by tackling interesting areas
Become invaluable to your company
Accelerate your own PM career.
🎨 Visualizing Scope
Six months into my product management journey, I became a PM on the Growth team for Watch, the video destination within the Facebook app. I was the most junior PM on the team.
The growth team (at the time) consisted of three "pods" - activation (acquiring new users), retention and international markets (products for specific markets). Each of these had its own product team and was led by a PM.
It’s important to note that PMs who report to the same manager can vary in seniority. What doesn’t vary is that seniority is directly tied to the size, ambiguity and impact of the scope they oversee.
This is also true for the Group PM. They are the most senior and have the largest scope of all PMs in a group.
But growth was only one group of Watch. Other groups focused on other parts of the product, for example, social features, the viewing experience, and the back-end platform. Zooming out, Watch as a whole looked something like this.
From this view, you'll notice that the Group PM of growth fits into a nearly identical organizational structure as individual PMs within the growth team. They are just a part of a larger area — in this case, all of Watch.
In both the Group PM and individual PM cases, PMs with larger scope have the ability to have more impact. This is because important areas garner more resources (ex. # of engineers), attention from leadership and are typically more aligned with the larger group strategy.
In summary, scope has two key traits:
Senior PMs have a larger scope (and therefore, higher likelihood for impact)
You can grow your scope in two ways: by managing other PMs or creating new scope within your area.
Managing other PMs is intuitive and a common career goal of product managers. I want to speak more to the second route of expanding your scope, which is much more nuanced.
🔍 Creating scope
In the middle of my time on the Watch Growth team, the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns started to sweep the world. With people stuck at home, more people were spending time on Facebook and enjoying videos.
We saw a surge in activation, which is the area I was responsible for at the time. But as the surge was ongoing, we realized the need to drastically improve our first-time user experience (FTUX) to make sure those new users came back.
I decided to lead this sprint as it was a natural extension of my scope. It involved creating a new strategy, aligning quickly with our leadership, and executing a series of brand-new features.
As the surge slowed down and we went back to business as usual, the "Activation" pod began to include the FTUX as an essential part of our team’s charter. We were planning projects for the next few quarters to continue to improve this area with new engineers. Our scope had grown because it now encompassed a larger area.
This story shows how scope creation happens in practice. Often, an event (internal or external) will make a new opportunity possible. It’s then up to the product manager to proactively understand an area and create a path forward. Capturing the opportunity and the ability to expand your scope requires four things:
A strong handle on your current scope. If you're overwhelmed by your current responsibilities, you won't be in a good position to scale your team.
Awareness of trends outside of your immediate scope. Follow industry news, tune into company All-Hands, socialize with other people across the company and speak to directors/VPs and understand the areas they are thinking about. This product discovery will help you find opportunities.
The ability to prioritize. There may be a reason no one else is tackling the area. Prioritize the opportunities that you think have the most value. I wrote a full guide on prioritization here.
An ability to proactively define a new plan: This may be in the form of a roadmap, a product brief, a strategy or a vision. But the key part here is that you need to find and create a path forward in an area to own the scope truly. Otherwise, you risk taking responsibility for an area and having no progress to show for it.
If you’re looking to grow, aim to improve on the four attributes above. Take time to research outside of your immediate area to identify worthwhile opportunities to tackle. I’ve been inspired by rockstar PMs that have done this themselves and am confident that it’s a clear path to growing your responsibilities and impact.
Growing your scope is the surest way to accelerate your career, learn new skills, and have more impact.
Seniority is directly tied to the size, ambiguity and impact of the scope you oversee.
Find worthwhile scope by keeping a pulse on trends in adjacent product areas and factoring in product discovery into your weekly schedule.
Proactively define a way of capturing the identified opportunity. If you need more resources (ex. a bigger team) to capture it, make the proposal.
Delivering on your existing and new scope will allow you to grow your skills and responsibilities sustainably.
🖼 Internet Things I’m Enjoying
How to Work Hard by Paul Graham: a great essay on how to pair focus with raw effort to achieve things you previously thought were impossible.
Instagram’s Evolution by Ben Thompson: a thought-provoking take on Instagram’s new focusses on creators, video, shopping and messaging.
How People Discover New Products by Lenny Rachitsky: Lenny highlights the seven ways people can hear about products with examples and tips on how to execute that growth strategy.
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Until next time,
Awasome. I particularly like the "visualising scope" part.
I'm happy to recommend Product Life here: https://huryn.substack.com/