How to gauge if a company is Product led?

Before I proceed any further, let me explain what I mean by “Product led” in this context. In very simple terms, at a product led company, Product Managers make (most of) the decisions that influence company strategy.

After being in this role for a few years, my hypothesis is that PM growth is much better at Product led companies as opposed to companies where product plays a support/ consulting role. Growth here refers to growth in PM skills, a path to leadership positions, and exit opportunities.

That brings me to my question – While researching a company, how does one find out if its product led? Sometimes it’s obvious but often it’s not evident when you are viewing from the outside

Here are a few techniques I have been using to figure this out. Would really appreciate feedback on the techniques and any additional pointers!!

  1. Understand what’s the core product of the company

If the core product is not the consumer-facing digital product, the company is likely not Product led. For example, the mobile app is not the core product for an insurance provider like Anthem. It’s the insurance plan and partnerships. A PM here will no doubt influence metrics but will never drive strategy

  1. Talk to PMs working in the company

A few questions I have tried asking are:

  • What part does product play in setting the roadmap/ vision in the company?
  • Does the Product team own outcomes or only features?
  • What job family holds most of the leadership positions at the company?
  • Do they have a chief product person?

What else could one use to identify product led organizations?

Also, if you are aware of any companies (small/ medium/big) which are truly product led and have a good Product culture, please mention them in the comments! I’m looking to jump ship and this info would be really helpful.

Thank you!!


Ask the PMs and your hiring manager something like this:

  • What was a feature you didn’t ship and how did you decide not to do it?
  • What was the most recent feature you shipped and how did you decide to do it?

Pay attention to how concrete their answer is or whether it’s high-level fluffy bullshit.

Says a lot about who actually gets to make decisions and how data-driven the org really is.


Agreed @AngelaBlue. This should also reveal something about their culture of experimentation


Lots of good suggestions in here: How to know if you're interviewing at a product-led company


You’re right @AngelaBlue. Quite agree to what you say.

Thank you @JuanAllo for the post. I just quickly went through it and it’s amazing, answers most of my questions. Will read it thoroughly at ease.


I think your definition of a product led company needs some work. I think product led is mostly talked about in the form of product led growth as a go to market strategy. This as opposed to a sales led growth for example.

I don’t think product managers should be making company strategy, I think they should be in charge of executing the strategy as it pertains to their product or portfolio of products. It feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog the way you phrased that.

As to your questions, what makes you think product management principles can’t be applied to a non-digital product? What if the chief product persona is the CEO/founder? I’ve seen that in a lot of companies that are still growing the technical founder will still do a lot of product management function.

I also think you should keep in mind a good product culture isn’t the same as product led. Meta is known for a very good solid product culture, same for places like Netflix and Uber. I don’t think they’re product led, certainly not by your definition. I think having a good product culture is what you’re truly asking about here. And be wary of product managers in name only at companies but also the opposite. A technical program manager in many places I know is a product manager by another name.


From the perspective of A product manager on A product or product suite, sure. I’d say one sign of a non-product-led business is when there’s no Product representation in the broader strategy conversation.

The Head of Product or CPO or whatever should have a big, perhaps outsized, voice in company strategy. No other division so directly impacts revenue or brand.

The company I recently left used to have an Executive for Product Management over my BU who was amazing–visionary but also tactical. She had huge standards for her people, and then worked her ass off to make sure you met them. One of the best managers I’ve ever had. Under her, product strategy and tactics rolled up from the line PMs, and she worked with us to align that with the business strategy, which she basically owned.

She left and the BU got handed from the top a new “executive team” who started talking about themselves as “the strategics” and started demanding a lot of poorly informed (and often just bad) directives. I spent a few months struggling to keep doing my job in that environment before ultimately peaceing out.

So as someone who’s gone from a killer product-led org to a really poor one, I’d say the key difference is where Product is or isn’t included in the bigger strategy conversation.


@MarcoSilva, You’re totally right. Maybe it’s a case of semantics. 100% agree that product needs a seat at the table and a voice when it comes to strategy. Having a CPO or something similar is the way to go here. BUT having individual product managers setting strategy is a mistake.

Even the alternative of having the CPO set strategy is not right. Strategy is an org-wide thing. So, you need buy in and agreement from the other departments, and they may know things product doesn’t.


I think we need to differentiate product strategy from company strategy.

The company should have some big goals, and broad strategies for reaching them. Then Product Managers should be empowered within their own scope of product ownership to design and execute product strategies that serve those bigger ends.

In other words, nobody should come to a PM and say, hey your product needs to change in these specific ways. But the PM Lead might say, okay here’s this company strategic goal, perhaps with some desired outcomes we’d like to produce and a broad theme of strategic focus for accomplishing it. How do you see your product could contribute to that?


Absolutely. I think we’re generally on the same page, maybe just working from different definitions.


Product managers should absolutely be making company strategy. Product is foremost a strategy role, followed by execution and accountability for the results. If all product does is execute on someone else’s strategy, they’re not really doing product work at all.


@KaranTrivedi, Individual Product managers setting company strategy leads to a disjointed set of products in a larger portfolio and other departments having trouble executing in conjunction.

Product leadership (not individual PMs) should absolutely be part of setting company strategy, but product managers execute against those overarching goals. I know this is Product Management, but some folks take the whole “product management is the CEO of the product” too literally.


This is not true in my experience. Of course Product Managers should be getting oversight and guidance from leadership on their strategy proposals. This prevents the overall strategy from being disjointed. But PMs, not just PM leadership, should be thinking strategically about where their roadmaps should go next, and pitching new product ideas based on their understanding of customers and the market. It’s not about being the CEO of the product, but about scaling the strategy and business viability function beyond the executive suite.


@KaranTrivedi, the things you list here I wouldn’t consider part of strategy. So maybe it’s just a disagreement on definition but all that is part of the PMs job. But it’s not company or even product strategy in my opinion.


Thanks for your reply! My definition is currently a work in progress and it’s evolving as I talk to more and more people.

I’m not using the typical definition of product-led growth here. I’m trying to narrow down the traits of the companies where people with the title “Product Manager” have a major say in influencing the company’s roadmap/ vision. If I’m looking for a PM job, those companies would be my top choices.

And I agree with you on PM’s just being known by other names. For instance, in a lending company, a credit/risk analyst is the true PM as the core product of the company is credit. Decision on who to lend to vs not drives the product strategy way more than the app experience for a loan application. A person with a “PM” title here will be playing a support role. Not driving the product strategy.

And sure, I shouldn’t be limited to digital products. Agree with you there

I have noticed that product culture often goes hand in hand with product led. Great product people will flock to places where they get to drive a product’s vision.


I believe you must make a distinction between being product centric vs being product led — product centric is the operating model, whereas product led is the way of delivery to internal customers or external market facing customers. From this you would understand how things such as governance, strategy, etc. are applied.


Great discussion thread here about the definition of product led as it’s something I’m struggling with at the moment.

One thing to also consider is that even though some companies, like the insurance company example you gave, do not have customer facing products per se, you could consider the user experience of going through the digital sales funnel as a product as well. Hence the PM owning the digital sales funnel can also influence strategy by identifying key areas around the funnel which are addressing user problems and solving them.


Find out what company performance data you will have access to and how is it shared. This will give you insight into data maturity and transparency between functions. If they don’t share insight into sales, marketing, and overall company metrics then you can’t drive them through your product.


This makes sense. I’ve noticed that Product Manager seems to be a very broad title that many companies, and applicants to be fair, apply to many different roles. In my own personal search, I’ve seen many PM roles where the product is the e-commerce website, and the job is more of a marketing role.


Hmm, this bit I might disagree with:

Anthem may be large enough that their group building a mobile app could be product-led. No doubt that PMs here won’t define overall company strategy, but they may be the primary drivers of division or org strategy. There’s many ways to skin a big company cat.