For a PM, managing your career is akin to managing a product. Similar to a product launch, the success of your long-term career depends on how well you can define and execute on your (i) overall goals, (ii) success metrics and (iii) mechanisms to measure success. In my personal experience, intentionally planning out my career goals has been as important as executing on the career path. Here is my career-planning framework that’ll help you in planning and defining the 3 core requirements of a long-term career strategy:
Setting your career goals: As a PM, you can choose to take multiple career paths based on your background, interests and opportunities that come your way. But it's important to be intentional about your choices (i.e. career decisions), especially in the mid to mature stages of your career. Proactively setting your career goals is one of the most effective ways of guiding your decision making process. You must ensure that your goals are future-focused, actionable, measurable, inspiring, and ambitious. For example, here are some of my goals that I have defined over the last decade of my PM career:
I. Launch a “0 to 1” product, from ideation to launch, over the next 18 months
II. Consistently launch products with a large engineering team (50+ SWEs) over 24 months
III. Get promoted to a Principal PM in the next 3 years,
IV. Transitioning from Principal PM to Director PM in the next 2 years
Defining the career success metrics: Defining the success metrics is critical to ensuring that your career path and actions are aligned with your career goals. When defined correctly, the metrics are a great indicator of your progress, alignment and/or deviation from your goals. But remember, there is no one-size-fits-all metric to define your career success. You should take the time to identify the right metrics for your goals. Ideally, there should be no more than 3 success metrics for each of your career goals. Here are examples of success metrics for some of my goals that are mentioned above:
Goal 1: Launch a “0 to 1” product, from ideation to launch, over the next 18 months
i) Product concept idea approved by senior leadership in first 30 days
ii) Launch within +/- 30 days of the initial launch date
iii) Final launch scope should be 85% or higher than the initial launch scope
Goal 2: Get promoted to a Principal PM in the next 3 years
i) Get buy-in from the direct manager on the path to promotion by the end of year 1.
ii) Identify strengths, gaps and action plan based on the promotion leveling matrix by year 1.
iii) Learn new skills for managing data science and machine learning teams by year 2
Identifying Mechanisms to measure success: After clearly defining your career goals and success metrics, the next step is to identify and establish the mechanisms to measure success in a repeatable way. The mechanisms should be inclusive of the internal factors (personal satisfaction, family and health, learning and growth) and external factors (manager/peer reviews, customer feedback, industry trends, etc). Here are some examples of mechanism to measure success metrics:
I. Quarterly Review with Manager: Your manager’s support and timely feedback can act as a catalyst for your career goals. You should set up quarterly reviews with your manager where you can review your progress towards the goals and success metrics. Ensure that you have clear takeaways and actions from the meeting, so that you can apply them moving forward.
II. Personal satisfaction: Personal satisfaction is an absolute must for your career success. You should ask yourself some basic questions that are reflective of your personal satisfaction towards your career. You can use your responses as a yardstick e to review and re-evaluate your goals and success metrics. Here are some example questions to ask - 1. Do you find your work interesting and fascinating? 2. Do you enjoy/look forward to working with your peers? 3. Can you clearly see the impact of your contribution at your work?
III. Peer reviews: Proactively gather feedback (both positive and constructive) from your customers and peers at regular intervals.. This is also an effective mechanism to gain support from peers who will advocate and vouch for your performance and growth, at the time of promotion and annual raise.
IV. New learnings: Learnings are an important, yet often overlooked, component of your PM career success. In my observation, lack of continuous learning is one of the most common reasons for PM career stagnation. You should identify and set mechanisms to measure that rate of acquisition of new skills, which can act as a forcing function to push you further towards acquiring new skills for your PM career growth.
In conclusion, I recommend PMs to manage and plan their careers just like they manage their products. Take the time to intentionally set the overall goals and identify the right success metrics for your career. You should review these goals and success metrics with your managers and peers through repeatable and scalable mechanisms. Don't be afraid to change your goals and metrics, if they aren’t aligned with your interests anymore. Just like any product launch, managing your career is a continuously iterative process, and progress matters more than perfection.
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