Product Marty Cagan

The GPM Role

I’ve been working with several companies that are experiencing rapid growth, and there’s a role in these growth-stage product organizations that I find especially effective. The role is titled “Group Product Manager,” usually referred to as “GPM.”  The role has been around for a long-time, and I’ve been a long-time fan, but I realized recently that I’ve never actually written about it, so I wanted to share this as it’s proven so helpful to so many companies.

The GPM is a hybrid role.  Part individual contributor, and part first level people manager.

The idea is that the GPM is already a proven product manager (usually already coming from a Senior Product Manager level), and now the person is ready for more responsibility.

There are generally two paths.  One is to stay as an individual contributor, which, if you’re strong enough, can go all the way up to a Principal Product Manager which is a person that’s an individual contributor but a rock-star performer, and willing and able to tackle the toughest product work.  This is a very highly regarded role and generally compensated like a director or even VP.

The other path is to move into functional management of the product managers (the most common title is Director of Product Management) where some number of product managers (usually somewhere between 3 and 10) report directly to you.  The Director of Product Management is really responsible for two things: the first is ensuring his or her product managers are all strong and capable.  The second is Product Vision and Strategy, and “connecting the dots” between the product work of the many teams.  This is one of the most important roles for ensuring holistic view.

But lots of strong senior product managers are not sure about their preferred career path at this stage, and the GPM role is a great way to get a little of both worlds.

The GPM is the actual product manager for one product team, but in addition, she is responsible for the development and coaching of a small number of additional product managers (typically 1-3 others).

While the Director of Product Management may have product managers that work across many different areas, the GPM model is designed to facilitate tightly coupled product teams.

This is easiest to explain with an example.

Let’s say you’re a growth stage marketplace company, and you have roughly 10 product teams.  You may very likely have those ten teams split up into three types: a platform / common services group, and then a group for each side of the marketplace (e.g. buyers and sellers, or riders and drivers, or hosts and guests, etc.).

There might be one VP Product, and then 3 GPM’s, one for each of the three groups; for example, a GPM of Buyer Side, a GPM of Seller Side, and a GPM of Platform Services.

So now let’s drill in on the GPM for Buyer Side.  And let’s say there are 3 product teams comprising the buyer side experience.  The GPM of Buyer Side would have one of those teams, and each of the other two teams would have a Product Manager that reports to the GPM.

We like this because the Buyer Side really needs to be one seamless solution, even though there may be multiple product teams working on different aspects.  The GPM is able to work very closely with the other PM’s to ensure this.

This role is often called a “player-coach” role because of this dynamic of leading your own team, in addition to being responsible for coaching and developing 1-3 other PM’s.

Some GPM’s go on to become a Director or VP of Product Management; some go on to a Principal Product Manager role, and some decide to stay as a GPM because they love the blend of hands-on working with their own product team, as well as the ability to impact other teams and other product managers through coaching.

In general, I think you’d find this role to be very helpful in scaling your product organization and developing the skills of your staff.