Working hard will help you be more successful, but it’s not enough. The person with the most hours is not always the one who lands the promotion. What’s equally or more important is how you work and what you work on. As you build your career; these tips will help you achieve greater success.
1. Demonstrate you can consistently deliver work at the next level
Most of the larger companies have an explicit career ladder with descriptions of the skills needed at each level. These ladders can be frustrating because they look so explicit and concrete, and yet PMs can meet all the requirements for their current level without being promoted.
Two things are going on here. First, you need to meet all the requirements for the next level before being promoted into it. Second, you need to have earned a reputation for consistently and repeatedly delivering work at that level. Sometimes you’ll have shown you can deliver on a requirement once, but your team doesn’t have the confidence yet that you’ll be able to repeat that.
2. Don’t just do what’s asked of you. Get the job done.
As a new PM, it can be tempting to think of your work in terms of deliverables such as proposals, specs, and analyses, and then to think you’re done once the document is written.
Those documents aren’t your job; they’re just the tools you use to get results. Make sure your engineers use the specs to build features, or rewrite the specs or find another way to get your ideas across. If you made a proposal, did you convince your team to pick it up? If not, find another way to make your point.
3. Don’t let your team do unimportant work.
Sometimes big companies lose track of all the projects going on, and you might be assigned as the only PM for a team that’s really not delivering much value for the company. Ideally, you’d redirect the team to work on something more important. If that’s not possible, consider suggesting to your manager that the team be shut down
(make sure you do your research and can support this) or consider switching to another team. It will be hard to get promoted launching a product that doesn’t matter.
4. Define and measure success.
One way to really stand out as a PM is to get more concrete about what success means for your team. Depending on the project, success might mean more user growth, increased revenue, or increased customer engagement. For other projects you might have a more specific feature-based goal.
Think about what you’re aiming for, communicate that to your team, and measure whether you’re hitting it. This makes it clear when you’re achieving your goals and helps you learn when you don’t. Once you’re clear about your goals, you can better prioritize what work is helping you and what work is unimportant.
5. Take on cross-team or company-wide tasks.
At some point in your career, your visibility across the company is going to matter if you want to be promoted to higher positions. Sometimes you can get this visibility just by launching big projects that are important to the company, but there are other ways to get your name out there.
By leading and doing a good job on big company-wide projects such as UI reviews or goal setting, you help more people across the company think about you as a good PM. Similarly, you can teach a class or present at an all-hands. When a committee is deciding if you’ll get promoted to the next level, it’s great for all of them to have heard your name and appreciated your work.
Another reason this cross-team work is valuable is that it helps you form relationships with people throughout the company. Sometimes work between teams can be tough, but it goes much more smoothly if you already have a friendly relationship with the PM on the other team.
6. Help your team with something tangible early on.
Most teams are a little bit suspicious of new PMs. They’re worried you’ll create busy work for them or slow them down in other ways. It doesn’t help that most of the work a PM does is behind the scenes, so your coworkers might not see
how hard you work. You can counteract their fear by focusing on helping out your team when you’re new.
Look around your team to find some grunt work you can take off of someone’s hands, or do some research that people have been putting off (but really wish they had done). This is an easy way to get off to a good start with your new team and earn goodwill that will help you in the future.
7. Understand how your role fits into the company.
Career advancement as a PM usually means expanding the scope of the area you work on. You might start by working on a feature, move to PM-ing a larger area, and then eventually own a whole product or even a product suite.
To grow in this way, you need to understand how the pieces fit together to see the bigger picture. Ask “How does my feature fit into the product?” and then, “How does this product fit into the suite of products?” Think about the connections to get a broader picture.
8. Focus on your own efficiency.
As a PM, you’re bombarded with tasks, and you need to know what you can drop. You want to be responsive to your team and never become a bottleneck, so it’s important to prioritize how you spend your time.
If you have trouble getting to “Inbox Zero” (no messages in your inbox), try learning a time management system like Getting Things Done. A few small changes to your routine can sometimes make a big difference in how organized you are. As you become more efficient, you will feel like you are gaining hours in the day.
9. Choose a growing company
At a growing company, new opportunities are always opening up, and you quickly become one of the more senior employees. This means that even if you had to join a different team or take on different title from what you wanted, you’d likely get a chance to transition soon.
“If you’re in a growing company and working on a product you’re excited about, there will always be more opportunities.” said Sara, a PM at Twitter who started on internal tools and then moved to customer-facing teams.
10. Pick the company where you’ll learn the most
At different stages in your career there will be different things you need to learn. You can optimize your learning by choosing a company that’s set up to support you.
When you’re a brand new PM, you’ll need to learn the basics of product management. You might want to pick a company that has several strong PMs to learn from.
Working closely with PMs is an excellent way to pick up the trade. After you’ve been a product manager for a while you might want to increase your responsibilities and learn how to work more independently, so you might want to
pick a smaller company.