The path to becoming an expert product manager typically starts with a junior role. In many companies, newly minted product managers are called Associate Product Managers (APMs) or Junior Product Managers, but other variations are possible, too.

Regardless of their titles, ambitious new product hires are likely to have plenty of ideas and opinions about their upcoming responsibilities–but sometimes their assumptions can be incorrect.

To help newly hired product managers understand what’s in store for them, we’ve asked experts from Google and Thomson Reuters to tell us about how junior PMs function within their organizations and what they can do to advance their careers. By understanding and investing in a company’s overall product strategy, proactively identifying new feature opportunities, and being tactful self-advocates, junior PMs can chart a clear path toward success.

These product management experts have shared their advice for junior PMs:

This is the first part of the upcoming series on typical tasks of junior product managers in different companies.

Thanks to Kristen Poli for crafting this piece for GoPractice.

Kristen Poli is a product leader and tech journalist.

She previously held the position of product manager at Contently and was the product management lead at Curacity.

Her articles have been published in outlets like WIRED and Hackernoon.

What tasks do junior or associate product managers typically handle at your company?

While junior product managers are unlikely to have influence over every aspect of a product or feature, entry-level PMs at Google and Thomson Reuters typically undertake a diverse set of responsibilities across a product’s life cycle. As such, junior PMs are often tasked with analyzing data, generating progress reports, reviewing user feedback, and assisting in cross-team collaboration. For teams who use Agile methodologies, this may look like preparing for (and assisting with) Scrum ceremonies or backlog grooming. For other teams, this may translate into undertaking competitive analyses or drafting feature requirements alongside more senior team members.

(Almost) all aspects of product development + management

The tasks that Associate Product Managers (APMs) do at Google are pretty similar to the tasks that other PMs do. That said, APMs usually have less control over the projects or products that they’re assigned to, and the tasks that they’re expected to undertake will vary from organization to organization. Oftentimes, they’ll be assigned to projects that are more boxed in and well-defined; these projects will typically have distinct guidelines, timelines, or goals.

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Additionally, Associate Product Managers typically work directly with senior product managers on projects. APMs collaborate with UX research teams, analyze relevant data, and write product requirements, all with senior PM oversight. They’ll also inform, but typically not deliver, presentations to senior management on a product’s progress. APMs are less involved in determining the initial scope of a project or producing finalized requirements.

If you’re in an organization where you have to write tickets as PM, you’ll probably be doing that until you become a director (or reach a management position). Just because I’m a senior PM, doesn’t mean there are tasks that I don’t have to complete. In general, many people think PMs have a lot more control over what’s on their roadmap than they realistically do!

Project and product management tasks

Junior PMs work with senior leaders to learn the art of product management by managing smaller feature scopes, shadowing senior PMs, and learning fundamental product management principles.

At Thomson Reuters, they mostly work on tactical implementation and operations, but have some exposure to product strategy. Tactical implementation is crucial to building a successful product. Below are some of the day-day tasks performed by Junior PMs:

  1. Drafting feature specifications: Often referred to as PRDs (Product Requirement Documents), these documents succinctly describe the problem statement, user segment, value proposition, and key differentiators guiding a product. They also detail the functionality, success criteria/metrics, and user flow of a product.
  2. Refining the backlog: Based on the roadmap and strategy, junior PMs prioritize tasks and user stories for upcoming sprints. This is done in collaboration with engineering and UX teams. 
  3. Gathering feedback: Junior PMs gather feedback to learn more about user needs and verify if the product addresses them.
  4. Conducting competitive analyses: This entails obtaining data on the products, feature sets, pricing schemes, and market positioning of competitors.
  5. Analytics and reporting: Junior PMs use analytics tools to track product performance while monitoring data and compiling reports to share their findings with the organization.
  6. Cross-functional coordination: Junior product managers frequently serve as a point of contact for other divisions, including engineering, marketing, sales, and customer service. 
  7. Sprint planning and reviews: They take part in daily stand-ups, retrospectives, and sprint planning in agile contexts. To make sure the team stays on track with the product plan, they assist in creating sprint goals and evaluating progress.
  8. Problem-solving: During the course of a product development cycle, they frequently troubleshoot and resolve difficulties. In order to address bugs or other technical issues that affect the user experience, this may include working with technical teams.

How are tasks or projects assigned to junior product managers? 

At Thomson Reuters, junior product managers develop proposals alongside members of leadership in order to secure a project or product assignment. These briefs not only assist product leaders in matching PMs with assignments but also allow junior product managers to practice critical thinking and clear communication. Junior PMs who are drawn towards a particular product are advised to clearly outline which of their special skills or competencies can help drive the product forward.

Through project proposals

Junior PMs discuss with leadership which particular features or products they’d like to work on. In order to effectively promote their preferred assignment, a junior PM needs to present a thoughtful justification: this entails outlining relevant experiences, describing how they can improve the feature or product, and proving why they are a suitable fit.

Junior PMs should explain how their contributions will advance the project; for example, by improving the final product with special knowledge or covering a skill gap within the team. This strategy demonstrates initiative and proactive thinking.

In the end, although leaders frequently take into account the preferences and professional development objectives of Junior PMs, they also evaluate overall team dynamics and business goals when deciding which tasks to allocate to whom. Junior PMs are more likely to be assigned to tasks or products that they are interested in if they can demonstrate how their engagement fits the project’s criteria. To support their career advancement, we provide junior PMs with coaching and resources to gain further knowledge. 

How can junior product managers excel in their roles (and careers)?

At organizations like Google, being proactive and strategic is critical for career advancement. Junior product managers seeking to level up in their careers should spend time networking with other product managers, learning about the organization’s core product strategy, providing tactical support to senior leaders, and thoughtfully proposing new projects, products, or features based on what they’ve learned.

Proactivity and reliable execution

I’ve seen junior PMs excel when they speak out and ask for more projects, reach out to others, and pitch new ideas. Even if a junior product manager pitches a project that ends up on another (more senior) PM’s roadmap, it’s actually a good sign: it shows initiative, and can still be beneficial for their career development.

In addition, newer product managers who focus on a particular skill set–such as data analysis–can be really effective. One APM on my team decided to consistently retrieve and analyze data for new projects. His ability to deliver data-driven insights to product leadership really made him stand out and win the team’s trust. Now, I reach out to him often to ask for support with complex projects.

As junior PMs get more experience, that’s when product sense becomes more important. Then, they’ll get to decide what’s on their roadmap and have the ability to veto certain features. 

For junior PMs, it’s all about showing initiative across the organization and letting others know that you’re thinking about the bigger picture. I would advise junior PMs not to get too caught up with authoring specific product launch announcements or other small details, which can feel pedantic. The more junior you are, the greater your ability is to execute–lean into that!

Conclusion

Securing an entry-level role in product management is a serious accomplishment. While most junior product managers won’t have complete ownership of a particular product or project, our experts suggest that junior product managers can (and should) practice a litany of product management tasks that correspond to different parts of a product’s life cycle. By taking a deep dive into a company’s product strategy, effectively communicating interests, ambitions, and skills, and approaching new projects with humility and care, junior product managers can advance to more senior positions quickly and effectively.

Illustration by Anna Golde for GoPractice