Product Management Career Ladders (including 16 real-world examples!)
How to define sensible career levels that people understand and accept
There are many career ladder frameworks out there. You can just copy the one you like best, or feel inspired to create your own framework. I recommend creating your own framework that fits perfectly to your company and department. The good thing: You’re allowed to cheat!
When creating a career framework,
you’re allowed to cheat and have a look at existing frameworks!
I reviewed many publicly available career frameworks and found that they can be grouped into
Frameworks using a scale and
Frameworks using levels.
Frameworks using a scale
Using a scale of 1-5 (or any other number) to judge product managers’ performance is a common trait in several frameworks. Examples:
PM Wheel by Petra Wille: 8 dimensions rated on a scale of 0-7.
Product Manager Assessment by Sean Sullivan: 3 dimensions rated on a scale of 1-5.
PM Daisy by Julia Nechaieva: 10 dimensions rated using four stacked skill sets.
How to measure product manager performance by Jock Busuttil: 30 dimensions rated on a scale of 0-5.
The common ground between these frameworks is that product manager traits are defined and then rated personally. Sometimes, some questions guide the manager in rating the employee.
Frameworks using levels
These frameworks use a certain number of levels that are each described. Unlike the scaling approach, the levels describe in detail what to demonstrated performance of an employee should be.
The PM Competency Framework by Organa: 8 dimensions rated using 6 levels.
Engineering levels by Jade Rubick: 4 dimensions rated using 4 levels.
CircleCI's Public Engineering Competency Matrix by CircleCI: 16 dimensions rated using 6 levels.
Skills Maturity Matrix by CPJ.fyi: 8 dimensions rated using 6 levels.
Talent Growth Plan at Almundo: 9 dimensions rated using 4 levels.
Product Manager Skills by Brent Tworetzky: 7 dimensions rated using 5 levels.
Product Management leveling at Oscar by Sara Wajnberg: 5 dimensions rated using 5 levels.
Engineering Ladders by Jorge F: 5 dimensions rated using 5 levels.
Career Ladders by Sarah Drasner: 6 levels with explanations.
Square’s Engineering Framework: 8 dimensions rated using 5 levels. Plus managerial levels.
Product Competency Toolkit: 12 dimension rated for 7 career levels.
Which framework should you adopt?
Of course, you may adopt whichever framework you see fit.
I recommend using a framework with levels, though.
Defined levels are superior to a simple scale
I believe defined levels are superior to a simple scale because nobody understands intuitively what a certain rating on a scale means:
If you’re on a 6, what will you have to learn to come to a 7? You won’t intuitively understand without speaking to your manager.
What if you think you’re a 7, but your manager thinks you’re a 5? There is no definition of what is correct.
What if one manager rates all his/her employees rather high, while another manager rates his/her employees rather low? This is unfair in a company-wide comparison.
Levels that are clearly defined in terms of performance and requirements do not create these problems. I particularly like the concept of mastering a skill in different degrees, e.g. Knows → Uses → Modifies → Teaches → Creates.
Adaptation is (most likely) necessary
Finally, adaption is required. It may be that in rare cases, you can just adopt one of the career ladder frameworks listed above. In most cases, however, you should use them as inspiration and create a framework that is specific to your organization’s needs.
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