Director of Product

Director of Product

The Director of Product is a critical role in Product Management, and typically the level at which product strategy lives within the Product organization.  To really anchor on what a Director of Product is, it is helpful to first describe the other levels within Product for context.

The shape of a Product org can be radically different depending on the size and stage of a company, but in a moderately sized company, you can expect something like the following, where there are Product Managers that each work with a Scrum team and manage the create of features in support of a thematic product or product area.  There may then be one or more Product Directors, each looking after those broader products or product areas, and a VP (or a CPO) sitting on top, if there are multiple Product Directors, overseeing the aggregate portfolio of those products, and any officer-level responsibilities such as board, executive, and M&A responsibilities.  

From this perspective, it is reasonable to say that a Director of Product is a middle manager, though that is not always the case since leveling, titles, and positioning of the Product discipline can vary dramatically.  For example, product-first companies likely will have a CPO and a large product org to support it.  Traditional companies in a services or trade area such as retail may not place such emphasis on Product and thus the terminal level may actually be a Director of Product, who reports into another function such as Merchandising.

Assuming a normalized structure as shown above however, which should be a pretty familiar picture for 2/3s of product organizations. So let’s use that structure as the basis for defining the role of a Director of Product.  

What the Director of Product Is

The Director of Product is a strategic leader of their product or focus area.  They typically lead a team of Product Managers which could vary in size from 3-10 (most commonly 4-6).  They generally are responsible for the roadmap for their team, though they may defer to or collaborate with  Sr Product Managers on their individual lanes.  They lead their team in ideation and market discovery, and ultimately responsible for the team’s strategy, priorities, and stakeholder alignment, in delivery of the product or focus area the team is responsible for.

What the Director of Product is NOT

A true Director of Product is not an individual contributor. They are not writing user stories and grooming they backlog. Rather, they should be operating at a more strategic level, answering the question of what and why, not down in the weeds. 

It has become common in recent years to elevate market-facing Product Manager roles that are doing more than just Product Owner responsibilities, and call them a Director of Product.  In many cases however these are principal Product Managers, or Group Product Managers if they’re a hybrid both doing individual contributor (IC) work and defining strategy – but structurally it is in accurate to apply the label of Director to those roles.   To truly be operating at a Director level, the role should be primarily about strategy and planning, not performing individual contributor responsibilities.

Hopefully this gives a good understanding of the role of a Director of Product, both what it is and what its not. 

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