What Is a Lead Product Manager?
A lead product manager is a position that has different responsibilities in different companies. Three of the most common definitions of this role are:
- The senior product manager is responsible for a complex product made up of several individual components or apps (each with its own product manager).
- A senior product professional in charge of driving the development of a new product for a large company. (This role can be equal to a Director or VP of Product.)
- An experienced product manager is responsible for driving product strategy and managing and mentoring other product managers.
Note: Many companies also use the term “product lead” to describe this position.
When Would a Company Need a Lead Product Manager?
We’ll use the three definitions above to describe examples of when a business would want to create a role for a lead product manager.
1. The company has a complex product requiring several product managers.
Think of Google’s Photos application. This is a complex product made up of several smaller apps. The Photos app has an album-grouping feature. It has a Print Store. And in the background, it requires Google to read several different image formats.
We can assume each of these components of Google Photos has its own product manager. But the company also needs a single product professional—a lead product manager—overseeing and coordinating them all. This helps ensure Google Photos creates a seamless experience for the user.
2. A large corporation needs an experienced product professional to drive the development of a new product.
Launching a new product can be risky for a big corporation. The company has a reputation and brand equity to protect. Products can fail in the market, and a major corporation’s product failure will be much more public than for a startup.
Here’s how Product School defines the lead product manager role:
“Product Leads are primarily responsible for new products within a company. When large companies launch something brand new, they need experienced and trustworthy professionals to lead the way.”
3. A business wants a senior-level product manager to handle product vision and guide the product team.
This type of product manager is similar in many ways to the traditional product management role. They will develop the product roadmap and communicate the strategy and plans to stakeholders across the company.
But in this case, two things will distinguish the lead product manager from other product managers. First, the business is looking for an experienced product professional to handle more of the vision and strategy. Second, the business wants a product professional who can guide other product managers.
Here is how ProductManagementSchool.com defines this type of lead product manager:
“Lead Product Managers have largely the same responsibilities as Product Managers. In addition, their role involves managing/mentoring product managers, as well as taking a fuller role in strategizing and execution of the product roadmap for the short, medium and long term.”