A Beginner's Guide to the Director of Product Role

Author headshot of CareerFoundry contributor Renganathan Padmanabhan.

As you evolve from a product manager who has just begun their career to someone who’s spent considerable time building products, you’ll find yourself at a classic fork in your career path.

Do you continue focussing on products, or do you spend time with the people building those products instead?

If you chose the people path, you might be contemplating the Director of Product role.

In this article will explain what a typical director of product role looks like and what it takes to prepare yourself for becoming one.

  1. What does a Director of Product do?
  2. What makes a good Director of Product?
  3. How to become a Director of Product
  4. Director of product FAQ

1. What does a Director of Product do?

Essentially a Director of Product (also known as a Product Director) enables their product managers to be capable and bold enough to drive through product outcomes aligned to the business.

So, how does you get there? By seamlessly transitioning from an individual contributor PM role to a more people-focused one with greater responsibilities.

Picture this: You’ve been responsible for building and managing the product roadmap of one or multiple products. As your product team grows, you get the support of one or more junior-level PMs, who assist you in prioritizing product features, looking at product usage data, and helping you drive product objectives.

Eventually, your role becomes more of being able to support and unblock the productivity of these PMs, and less about driving the actual product.

In effect, you are now streamlining the process of building these products with these PMs and ensuring that each PM stays aligned to drive the overall product portfolio through its key objectives.

Let’s look at what the typical responsibilities you’d need would look like. 

Director of Product responsibilities

The following list is not exhaustive, but you would find variants of the below-listed activities to be part of every Director of Product role requirement. 

Possess a player-coach mindset

A Product Director (PD) is not just expected to have years of experience developing and launching products across the portfolio, but also the ability to guide and groom newer PMs and hone their ability to deliver effectively to the product roadmap.

Product Directors also can have multiple PMs across different products in a loosely coupled portfolio but have the domain expertise to dive deep into their customer base to reflect on product insights and prioritize the product backlog accordingly.

Ability to communicate across the org

A Director of Product is expected to be able to communicate not just to individual stakeholders and PM contributors, but to their counterparts in design, engineering, data, and business operations.

They represent the product org in leadership meetings and can communicate key product performance metrics to leadership and critical business objective changes to their teams effectively. 

Demonstrate evidence to create and drive product strategy across teams

The key to enabling individual PMs to become good at product development and launches is clearly and consistently communicating the linkage between business and product strategy to their product teams.

For example, a Director of Product role would have a significant part of their day devoted to being able to drive product strategy decisions across the teams and continuously optimize the process to navigate product development roadblocks. 

Hold accountability for product OKRs

A Director of Product should hold full responsibility for how the business strategy syncs with the product portfolio in the form of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Establishing bold outcomes through these OKRs and enabling the product teams to achieve these outcomes would be vital to the Director of Product role.

2. What makes a great Director of Product?

So how do you excel as a new Director of Product? You embody these four qualities mentioned above as part of your role. Demonstrating these qualities would help your leadership evaluate and recognize your ability to excel at your role as a Product Director. 

  • Show evidence of your ability to groom and train new and mid-level PMs
  • Demonstrate your ability to influence and navigate the org with effective communication
  • Unblock bottlenecks to drive progress across the product portfolio
  • Set product strategy and talk about tangible outcomes toward the strategy

3. How to become a Director of Product

So now you know what it takes to be a great Product Director. So how do you apply to become one?

One aspect you might observe about the role is it’s typically favored as an internal promotion rather than a direct hire. Although that’s not the norm for high-level hires, product organizations feel more confident about a product leader rising from their teams with the deep knowledge and insights of building one or multiple products within the org. 

How can you then show the early signals of being a capable product director? The following data points should enable your leadership to preface the discussion about becoming a product director within your organization. Although it would apply well for an internal promotion, the following qualifications should also apply to your resume if you are applying as an outsider to a new product org.

Director of Product qualifications

Demonstrate that you can manage and mentor PMs 

You may have been able to drive the product roadmap for one or multiple products as a senior product manager or even as a group product manager in a tenured individual contributor role while guiding other PMs to be able to achieve their product outcomes with other products.

Leading toward the Product Director role would mean you step away from the daily tasks of leading product teams and individual product backlogs to look at the bigger picture.

To do that, you need to know how each product fits well within the product portfolio and then define critical outcomes to help each PM understand their product’s role within the business.

Add the ability to help them overcome roadblocks and impediments in building the product, and you’ll have shown clear evidence of your ability to step up to the director role.

Show your grasp of the business

Your leadership needs to understand the critical problem your products are solving and how your customers use your products to solve that problem.

In addition, understanding what opportunities lie ahead in the business and tying them to the business strategy would build confidence in your leadership to consider you for the directorial role. 

Optimizing the product process 

Understanding how your product teams ship the product and how to ship better in each iteration continuously is a great way to showcase your ability as a PM.

Continue optimizing the process at scale across multiple products. Then, you’ll have an excellent foundation for building a case for yourself to rise to the Director of Product role.

Showcase your prowess at influence and negotiation

Managing and communicating with several organizational stakeholders can be challenging to build a single product. For more tips on doing this, check out our guide to stakeholder management.

Compound this challenge by throwing multiple products and teams in the mix, and you might require expert negotiation and communication skills to get these products built and launched on schedule.

However, if you can develop and showcase repeatable instances of your ability to communicate and get product launches smoothly on time across several teams, you would have no issues presenting solid evidence of your ability to excel in the Director of Product role. 

4. Director of Product FAQs

Is the head of product higher than the director?

It depends on the scale of the product org. Think of the Head of Product role as the Product Director, defined across a discrete set of product business areas. The Head of Product role might also be responsible for researching and prioritizing which new products to pursue, and to manage new product or portfolio development.

How much time does it take to become a director of a product?

Although there is no set timeline, director-level roles are expected to have at least 5-8 or more years of product management, with clear evidence of people management skills within a product org. 

What’s the average director of product salary?

There is compelling evidence for you to consider the product director career path. According to a Payscale report, the typical base salary for a Director of Product role in the United States is $173,473.

5. Director of Product: running a well-oiled product machine 

As Marty Cagan and Ben Horowitz had remarked on the topic, the Director of Product role is the essential non-C level role in a company.

Their ability to groom the best in product managers and, subsequently, in the products they build defines the company’s trajectory in the long term. As a result, hiring the right Director of Product could take time and careful evaluation.

However, you can sow the seeds by showing evidence that you can run a tightly-run ship across multiple products within your org. In that case, you might build a comprehensive repertoire for your leadership to become confident about your abilities in a Product Director role.

If this article helped you clear out your questions about the director role, but you feel you would still want to read about other related roles in product, check out these articles:

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