Group Product Managers vs. Principal Product Managers: Differences in Job Responsibilities

In this article, we will compare two of the most important positions in product management- Group Product Managers and Principal Product Managers

 · 7 minutes
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Being a relatively new discipline, the structure of product management job titles, seniority, and hierarchy can be confusing.  In addition, a discipline as diverse and evolving as product management has various long-term career tracks which give birth to different job titles with varying responsibilities down the career path. Knowing about different career-tracks and important job titles in product management helps you to plan your career right

In this article, we will compare two of the most important positions in product management- Group Product Managers and Principal Product Managers. We will outline each of their responsibilities and further talk about the career-tracks that they fall on. Let's have a look at the responsibilities of a group product manager first:

What are Group Product Managers?

Group Product Managers are product leaders higher up on the product manager career path who have the responsibility of managing a team of product managers. GPMs focus on product strategy and long-term initiatives for the product while leading product managers and ensuring alignment in the product teams. There is a lot of scope for growth for this position with the next steps on the career path being Head of Product, Director of Product Management, or a VP of Product.

Every product cohort under the VP of Product has a GPM as the leader of that cohort. Group Product Managers also guide product managers through the product development roadmaps. Apart from this, entry-level and junior product managers regularly report to GPMs about their progress and user needs analysis reports.

Responsibilities of a Group Product Manager

Group Product Managers act as the authoritative owners of their product scope. They inspire their product teams and prioritize and execute initiatives which both  maximize product profitability, and enhance business performance. Apart from overseeing the operations of their product teams and optimizing them, they also have the responsibility of keeping the executive leadership updated about the progress.

GPMs also convey the issues that their respective product teams are facing and gain leadership buy-in. They are also vital contributors in ensuring strategic alignment on the lower levels of product structure. Being at one of the highest levels of product management career path, GPMs also drive major features and functions of the larger, high-visibility products.

Other responsibilities of a Group Product Manager include:

  • Developing business models and plans for the product to achieve corporate revenue growth
  • Motivating and supervising their product team to meet departmental goals
  • Monitoring and evaluating metrics to measure the efficiency of the product operations along with the product roadmap
  • Understanding customer needs and suggesting effective product solutions and features that increase engagement and profitability of the product
  • Planning, coordinating, and managing product development and enhancement projects to optimize product operations
  • Developing project plans, budget, and schedules based on the product strategy and business requirements
  • Updating the executive leadership about the product’s status and progress on a regular basis.
  • Addressing their team members’ concerns and issues promptly to the executive leadership.
  • Enhancing the quality of the end product and ensuring that it meets the quality standards and customer’s expectations
  • Identifying the product’s market and other competitive products in the market along with their strengths and weaknesses and accordingly recommend product improvements.
  • Hiring and training new candidates for their product team

It is evident that the responsibilities of a Group Product Manager revolve more around leadership skills than hands-on product management. But this is not the case with Principal Product Managers. Let’s see how their responsibilities differ from Group Product Managers. Now, let's try and understand the principal product manager role.

What are Principal Product Managers?

Principal Product Managers are product leaders who have the highest seniority and experience on an individual contributor track. The role of Principal Product Managers revolves around hands-on product management and the fundamentals of business products and strategy. They have the responsibility of handling the most complex and critical aspects of product vision and strategy. Unlike positions on other long-term career tracks of product management, they do not manage other product managers or product teams.

This is not to say that PPMs don’t collaborate with other product teams. In fact, one of the core responsibilities of PPMs is to collaborate with product teams to identify efficiency issues and create strategies to solve them. They also work closely with engineering and business teams to create strategies and solutions to increase the profitability of the product. 

Responsibilities of Principal Product Managers

Being on the individual contributor track, the responsibilities of principal product managers are less inclined towards leadership skills and more towards hands-on product management skills. Supervising the company's product roadmap, building effective strategies to ensure optimal operations and services, and overseeing production and marketing communications are some of the primary responsibilities of principal product managers.

They also collaborate with engineering and development teams to build systems for the product that address and meet users’ needs to increase profitability. They are also responsible for implementing the company's policies and regulations in the product.

Some additional responsibilities of Principal Product Managers:

  • Defining the product vision and creating strategies to implement it with maximum business impact.
  • Conducting data-driven analysis and creating decision processes to inform project prioritization, assess feature effectiveness, and troubleshoot issues
  • Determining product feasibility, prioritization, and project ROI by analyzing complex business cases
  • Training stakeholders on how to manage, scope, and prioritize their backlog
  • Formalizing product portfolio management practices establishing business ownership across different product divisions
  • Collaborating with growth and marketing teams for demand forecasting, product marketing positioning, and analyzing marketing ROI

The responsibilities of Principal Product Managers clearly manifest that they are the highest individual contributors to the products. They have the most critical role in the wider product vision and strategy as well as the most significant decisions and features of the product.

Now that we know the differences in responsibilities of Group Product Managers and Principal Product Managers, let’s look at the differences between their career tracks.

Which Product career track should you choose?

Even though Group Product Managers and Principal Product Managers share several steps on the product management ladder, there is a huge difference between both of them in terms of responsibilities and the overall career track. PPMs are the product managers that chose hands-on product management skills as their core skills and continued on the individual contributor career track. On the other hand, GPMs are product leaders that went ahead on the management career track and have responsibilities that incline more towards leadership and collaboration skills.

The individual contributor track is for the members of the organization that want to contribute to their organization's goals independently, without having any leadership responsibilities. They are only tasked with managing processes, strategies, and tasks regarding product operations and problems and have nothing to do with managing people. The management track, on the other hand, features responsibilities that revolve around managing other members of an organization. Professionals on this track supervise a team's efforts to achieve an organization's goals.

As a PPM, you will be the highest individual contributor to the product and you will be tasked with some of the most challenging work within the Product craft. You will be the go-to person for Senior PMs and even GPMs when seemingly unsolvable and serious issues with the product arise. As a GPM, you will be directly managing and overseeing your team of product managers, designers, developers, and marketers. Your responsibilities will be less about product management and more about team management and leadership.

Both career-tracks lead to lucrative and coveted roles down the line. However, being a leadership position, growth opportunities with GPMs can be much more than those with PPMs. Beyond the position of GPM, you can advance further into upper management. A great track record as a GPM sets you up for positions like Head of Product, Director of Product Management, or a VP of Product. 

You could also go further to become CPO, COO, or GM if you do a phenomenal job in executive positions. On the other hand, Principal Product Manager is often the highest rung on the individual contributor career ladder. Some organizations have a “Fellow in Product” role which is a level above, but relatively few companies have this title. Having said this - if you are passionate about the product management discipline, and love to do the most challenging and significant product work, the PPM role  is the most optimal for you.

To sum up, both the career-tracks have their upsides and downsides, and choosing between both career tracks can be complicated. If you are an aspiring product manager, you don’t need to make the call right away, and nor should you. Once you get into product management, gain experience in both hands-on product management leadership skills, and start exploring your particular strengths and job preferences. Your experiences will help you make the choice and choose a career track that is best for you.