Pursuing a long-term career in product management requires a nuanced understanding of how the role evolves from junior to senior levels. While both junior and senior PMs both oversee aspects of feature development, there are key differences between their responsibilities and skillsets.

To help early-career product managers succeed in their current roles and prepare for the next stage of their careers, we’ve interviewed experienced product leaders about the difference between junior and senior PMs in theory and practice.

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.

These experts have shared their opinions on role definition and their advice about how to stand out as a junior PM:

What separates a senior product manager from a junior product manager?

While details may vary across organizations, junior product managers typically focus on tactics and execute projects under the guidance of senior team members. On the other hand, senior product managers are expected to own the direction and long-term vision of keystone products or product families and align them with broader organizational goals. Lastly, junior product managers are unlikely to manage teams, and senior PMs are typically expected to delegate reporting and executional tasks.

The ability to find clarity in confusion

I think the biggest difference between a junior and senior PM is the ability to sift through a lot of feedback or data and determine where to focus your work. Essentially, be able to lead an ambiguous item on a backlog to success. There are many conflicting pieces of information, and even in the estimation and execution process there are questions that come up that don’t have clear answers. The ability to use all available inputs to determine what path to ultimately settle on in a way that your peers can understand is a sign of a more skilled PM.

The ability to steer a product’s strategy

A junior product manager typically operates on a project basis. Junior PMs are more focused on tactical planning, often under the guidance of more senior team members.

A senior product manager is expected to drive strategic decision-making on their own in order to shape the direction and impact the success of the products they manage.

The imperative to think ahead–and manage people

I bucket a product manager’s responsibilities into two areas–strategy and execution. Across different organizations where I’ve worked, strategy is typically done by senior PMs. For example, I create five year, three year, and one year product roadmaps. After roadmaps are created, their execution is delegated to junior product managers, who take them into production. In other words, they translate strategy into tactics by writing stories and working with developers and QA engineers. They’re also responsible for product launches.

Senior product managers set up strategies and build high-level requirements and guardrails for more junior team members to follow. They propose new ideas to the leadership team that are backed by research. Once new feature ideas get the go-ahead from leadership, they’re added to the roadmap, where associate product managers will take them forward.

People management is another differentiating factor. Director-level or senior product managers usually have other people reporting to them; junior product managers are individual contributors.

What are associate/junior product managers typically assigned at your organization?

In most cases, early-career product managers can expect to focus on the execution and launch of new product features. As junior PMs grow, they’ll become more involved in long-term product strategy, including roadmap and PRD (product requirements documentation) creation. To support their professional development, some companies will pair junior PMs with senior colleagues in order to tighten feedback loops and extend increased organizational support to juniors.

Tasks to build foundational skills

At Wistia, we’ve focused on having Associate Product Managers building their foundational PM skills. To us, the most critical part of this is getting proficient in feature delivery and execution of work. This pulls them into being focused on the short-term side of things and helping their squad be successful over the course of several sprints. We work in an agile format, which shows up in how they develop briefs, manage rituals, share learnings, etc. 

We’ve also found the most success pairing an Associate Product Manager closely with a more senior one. This helps them get detailed and speedy feedback on their work, and it supplies the squad additional coverage so they don’t skip a beat as an Associate Product Manager grows into the role. 

I think what’s hardest about this for Associate Product Managers is that they’re not driving strategy and the scope of their work is intentionally limited. Folks get into PM work because they want to be innovators and tackle gnarly strategic projects, but in reality this skill set comes later in one’s career, and if they want to grow into the next level (Product Manager) their development skills are the most critical dimension to make that happen. 

How can junior/associate product managers stand out?

Early-career product managers can build their reputations by seeking out tough challenges, conducting independent market research, and embracing a growth mindset. Junior product managers who are open to expanding their knowledge base and sharing their findings more broadly can not only position themselves as future leaders, but also encourage a collaborative culture of learning across their organizations.

Tackle big, hairy, audacious problems

Take something no one wants to touch and figure out what it needs to move forward. Even if “move forward” means we can definitively decide NOT to do it, there are usually ideas or issues that everyone knows about but no one has the time or energy to tackle. Taking it upon yourself to figure it out both shows off your PM skills and promotes your potential to the company at large.

Focus on revenue strategy

Junior product managers can stand out by keeping up to date with industry trends. In addition, junior PMs should devote the necessary time it takes to understand the basics of how the company they’re working for makes money. This will pay dividends in the future as they move up in the organization and are increasingly seen as dependable partners.

Embrace challenges and share learnings

To stand out and advance as a junior PM, it’s important to embrace the full spectrum of tasks in your role, from the exciting to the mundane. Through these experiences, you’ll improve your skills and identify opportunities for team and product improvement, ultimately laying the groundwork for future career opportunities. 

When I transitioned into my first product role, I found that my experiences as a health policy project manager did not prepare me for the new and unfamiliar terrain of API endpoints and backend engineering. More so, I was tasked with managing a developer community and answering their technical questions. Despite the learning curve, this task bridged gaps in my technical knowledge and simultaneously gave me opportunities to improve the user experience, such as streamlining the API documentation to expedite user onboarding. I also leveraged my strengths to improve areas like agile scrumming, user research, and stakeholder management. Through these contributions, I built a reputation that ultimately propelled me to lead a larger product with a broader user base.

Given the diversity of product management roles across companies and even within the same company, junior PMs will benefit from adopting a mindset that embraces challenges and adaptability. And my last bit of advice: remember to share your achievements and reflections regularly within your organization — you’ll foster a culture of learning and demonstrate your readiness for the next role!


Divisions between junior and senior product roles allow junior PMs to practice their skills with support from senior team members. In creating roadmaps, defining strategies, and offering mentorship, senior PMs provide associates with a stable structure in which to practice their skills. While many junior product managers are keen to get involved in product strategy, developing confidence in feature execution and launch will prepare them for promotions (and the responsibilities that come with them).

Learn more

If you’re eager to know more about the tasks that are usually given to junior PMs in various companies, check out these published stories.

— Typical tasks of junior product managers (at Google and Thomson Reuters)

— Typical tasks of junior product managers (at Meta, LTK, and Sonos)

Illustration by Anna Golde for GoPractice