As a general manager, I own specific business goals and outcomes that I need to achieve, and am responsible for on an organization level. Those goals are very specific and measurable, so I always know where I stand on them. As a team leader, I measure success through my team's happiness, proficiency, ability to grow their careers, and our ability to scale the team (e.g. we can quickly and effectively onboard new team members and set them up for success). As a product manager, I tie my own evaluation of success to value I deliver to my customers (measured both qualitatively and quantitatively) and to learning - I love to learn as most product people do, and how much have I learned and whether I have gotten a better as a PM, teammate, team leader and general manager is the lens I see my succes thorugh. Those success measurements have been fairly consistent over time, but I started practicing them in "chunks" - first the PM set when I was an individual PM, then the leader one when I started managing a team, then the GM one when I started running a business unit.
Check out my other answer in the AMA outlining the difference in skills between different PM levels. As for how do I know that someone is ready to take on a Sr. PM role, the answer is I can see them operating with a mastery of skills that I expect from a senior product manager, while their title may still not have a Sr. in it. Best folks always uplevel themselves a little faster than the title, because if you are a growth mindset person who always likes to learn, you will most likely outpace your title at some point. My recommendation is also to work with your manager as well and establish what are their expectations for a Sr. PM - they may have a different idea in mind. But getting to a clear list of what you'd need to do to get to a Sr. PM title in your org, and then checking in with your manager consistently on your progress is a path to get there.
Check out my other answer in this AMA to a question asked by someone from a construction industry. You can repurpose the steps I outlined in that answer to your situation. The key parts to figure out will be the WHY behind your interest in SaaS, a list of skills you have today that are transferrable into product management, and updating your resume/profile/interview practice accordingly. Good luck!
Your path to landing a product role will depend on being able to show how your skills from the current role translate to the new world, and proving that you can bring value to a product team on Day 1 when you join. Here is how I would tackle this:
Best product management candidates craft compelling, concise and inspirational narratives when they interview. They demonstrate clarity of thinking, knowing both the facts and the "why" behind their answers, and genuine curiosity. I always walk out of an interview with a great product manager feeling like I have learned something valuable, and inspired. I spoke to the skills I've seen among successful product managers in another answer to the AMA, but if you are looking to impress hiring managers specifically, I recommend practicing storytelling and becoming a great conversationalist in addition to the core skills you need to the job. The good news is that your conversational and story telling skills get better the more you practice - and you are not limited to interviews only. Any sort of verbal presentation mastery - Toastmasters, Improv and comedy, acting classes etc. will help you become a master storyteller.
A common pitfall that slows teams down is inability to make good decisions quickly, especially if these decisions involve many stakeholders. One of the best-kept team velocity secrets, especially in larger organizations, is having a consistent and efficient decision-making framework that is practiced across teams. With a small initial upfront investment of agreeing on a decision making framework within your organization (or just starting to practice it consistently), you will be able to save many weeks and months by unblocking the team quickly and moving on with your important decisions. There are many frameworks out there, and you can develop your own, too. I absolutely love the Atlassian playbook's DACI which we use religiously, and something I have heard from ALL Atlassian alumni they brought to their new teams. Check it out here: https://www.atlassian.com/team-playbook/plays/daci
The most concise way I've described the difference between being an IC and a manager to someone was: "As an individual contributor, you need to get sh*t done. As a manager, you need to make sh*t happen". I have covered the specific skills need for both senior PMs and Directors in another answer to this AMA, but the most important difference between a senior PM and a people manager PM is that the former needs to excel at being a good PM themselves, and the latter is evaluated on how good their team is as PMs. The skillset to make others grow their potential and become their best is very different from how you get better yourself.
Despite being a cliche, a coach vs players in the field metaphor works well here. So if you're looking to find out whether people management is for you, try to mentor a junior PM on your team, interns etc. and focus on making them successful. If you enjoy the challenge, management might be a good track. I also have a tremendous respect for PMs who are self-aware enough to know that they do not enjoy management, and prefer to focus on an advanced individual career track. Those folks end up deepening their expertise in a domain area to become product "architects", product strategists, internal consultants etc. There many opportunities for very senior IC folks, and if you get most joy out of being an expert that helps others through sharing knowledge, that might be a preferred route for you.
Your ability to create value quickly will depend on how quickly you can identify the problems and gaps in ways your organization operates today, and demonstrate progress towrds fixing them. Here's how you can do that:
My personal acronym for the skills that make product managers succesfull is H.A.C.K.
H for Humility. There are two particularly important benefits of humility. First, humble people better navigate the emotional roller coaster of being wrong and having to admit it. They quickly recover from situations where their ego might have gotten hurt and move on to the next experiment or iteration. Product managers make a lot of decisions and the ability to course correct quickly without dwelling produces a huge advantage in retaining velocity over time. Second, product managers need to will things into existence by leading people who do not work for them. The list of stakeholders is often long and involves different personalities. While all leadership styles have their merits, humble, servant-leadership style product managers tend to deliver better outcomes thanks to their ability to get along with others, and drive teams toward a goal.
A for Analytical Skills. One of the most underrated quotes from Ben Horowitz’s iconic Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager: “Good product managers err on the side of clarity.” Clarity of vision, clarity of spec, clarity of progress tracking. Behind all of that is clarity of thinking, which is driven by exceptional analytical skills and the ability to dissect complex systems into core elements. Unlike the whimsical “technical” skills, analytical skills are easier to spot and evaluate regardless of their variety. For example, someone who writes or speaks clearly and concisely, or organizes information well in other contexts, is likely analytical. Product managers with strong analytical skills can quickly master any syntax or context they need to have a productive conversation with engineers, or to communicate the value of technology to the market.
C for Creativity. I have observed that a person’s ability to understand and articulate what makes a user experience great often comes from their creative skills. What I mean by creativity is an ability to produce objects or experiences that users enjoy. Whether it’s painting, improv, woodwork, writing or managing a running community, there is something special about product managers who can produce things others enjoy. They understand how to create value not only on the rational, but also emotional level. I have noticed that people with a pronounced sense of aesthetics tend to have strong creativity as well. A strong sense of aesthetics can manifest in how they dress, how they organize their desk, and even how they choose tools to use They all have a style. It’s less important what the style is, but that it is present. This is a clue that a person can produce an experience that at least one user (themselves) enjoys. The best part of creativity is that it is contagious. Having at least one such person on a team helps their teammates develop similar skills. I would argue that without creativity, one can become a good product manager, but never a truly great one.
K for Knife. My favorite product management quote is attributed to Michelangelo (the sculptor, not the Ninja Turtle). “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Understanding and deciding what not to ship is the most important decision a product manager can make about product development. Spotting a future "master carver" PM during interviews isn’t as straightforward as assessing candidates for other skills. Asking a candidate about hypothetical scenarios where they have constrained resources, especially time, certainly helps, but it doesn’t simulate the high pressure that product managers will have to operate under. One approach that I use in interviews is asking about non-product related experience that involve decision making and execution under pressure. For example, you can ask a candidate how they would pack their bag, and what they would pack, if they would have to go on a two week long trip to Europe tomorrow.
Let's take a look at common milestones of a product management career, and which skills you need the most on each level. This not an exhaustive list, but you can see the trends of how the skillset evolves.
Individual contributor (IC) PM: Prioritization, trade-offs, taste (sense for what makes a good user/developer/API experience), empathy for users/stakeholders/engineers/designers, knowing how to develop and test a hypothesis, grasp of success and guardrail metrics, growth mindset (ability to change one's mind when new facts become available).
Senior-Principal IC PM: Everything above plus thinking in systems (ability to see how what you're building is making impact in a broader context of your product/solution/business), influencing stakeholders, thinking in bets (Annie Duke's book is a fantastic read on this), sense of product-market fit, knowing how to craft a strategy and 1-year+ roadmap, compelling written and verbal communication skills.
Between the IC and Manager levels the skillset evolves from being craft-centric to a more generic one:
Manager of IC PMs (e.g. Group Product Manager or Director): vision setting (ability to articulate how a product strategy ties to a set of beliefs about the world/future), clarity (ability to absorb complexity and convey it in abstractions that are easily understood), efficiency in managing dependencies across your group and others, ability to inspire others, ability to identify talent and strengths in others, creating space for others
Manager of Managers (e.g. Head of Product): Everything above plus sourcing context from other parts of organization to keep your team aware, ensuring team alignment and optimization for global goals vs local optimas, managing team headcount growth (e.g. advocating for when the team nees more people), public speaking skills to represent your team/company (you may develop public skills earlier in your career, but at this point you it's a must have), identifying good opportunities the team is not working on helping with exploring them, M&A/ability to integrate an acquired team.
Manager of Managers of Managers (e.g. CPO): Everything above plus crafting internal and external narratives telling the story of what the product(s) and product org stands for, "translation" and mediation between executives and product org, advocacy up and down, dirving cohesion in quality of hiring, defining and maintaining principles and standards of product craft/PM levels/promotions, keen market awareness, sense of global product opportunities and innovation, exceptional listening skills and ability to quickly get to the core of any problem.