Alex Mitchell, Chief Product Officer at ICX Media, the author of Building Digital Products and Disrupting Yourself.
The world of Product Management is changing and it’s not just because of COVID-19/Coronavirus.
The Product Manager of the Future will, in many ways, look very different than the Product
Manager of Today.
Don’t quite believe me?
Let’s harken back to one of the most well-known blog posts ever written about Product Management: Good PM, Bad PM by Ben Horowitz.
So much has changed for Product Managers since Horowitz penned that post several decades ago, but much has also stayed the same.
What changes, what stays the same, and how can you adapt to the Future of Product Management?
- Accelerated Remote Work
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. Remote work was already a strong trend in the making and COVID-19 added a ton of fuel to the fire. While it has been clear that remote development can be a fit for many organizations, remote Product Management has historically had a bit of a stigma.
How can Product Managers communicate with all stakeholders remotely?
How can Product Managers facilitate brainstorms over video conference?
How can Product Managers do all of those post-it note ideation exercises digitally?
That last question is a bit in jest, but I actually was one of these skeptical non-remote Product Managers. While I’m certainly still getting used to the changes of Remote Product Management, one thing that’s clear is that this trend is here to stay.
There are so many advantages to remote work (health, efficiency, cost, work/life balance, just to name a few) and now we have proof that many of the parts of the Product Management role can be done well remotely.
P.S. If you haven’t read it yet, check out Remote: Office Not Required by 37Signals/Basecamp founder Jason Fried, you’ll enjoy it!
2. More Changes, Faster!
One undeniable truth of technology and society is the acceleration of change.
It used to take generations for significant technological changes to transpire, then it took decades, now these changes happen in years and even months. For example, think about the rapid rise of [everything] delivery, telehealth, and streaming services over the past few years, just to name a few.
The Product Manager of today and of the future needs to be ready for an environment where change accelerates even more. It’s a topic I wrote a LOT about in Disrupting Yourself and it’s why it’s so important that Product Managers (and everyone) continue to prioritize learning.
The skills that got you here won’t get you there.
This fact is only going to become more and more obvious in the future.
3. Companies Born Faster, Grow Faster, Die Faster
It’s easier than ever to found a company today (this is coming from someone who did).
It certainly still takes a LOT of effort, but with services available for almost every single thing you need (payments, website, legal docs, scheduling, etc.) you can get a functional MVP app of pretty much anything up in less than a week and start collecting valuable feedback.
When you combine this ease of creation with the concept of Blitzscaling and rapid, massive funding (temporarily on-hold during Coronavirus times), we’ll see companies continue to grow faster and die faster.
Instead of battles between competitors lasting years or a decade, we’ll see winners and losers in the period of months.
This raises the stakes for the Product Manager of the Future, especially if you are in a competitive industry or if your company is still searching for product-market fit.
There will be pressure to go bigger and make riskier decisions because things simply need to keep happening faster and faster. Also, you’ll likely find that as a result of these changes that you’ll work at significantly more companies during your Product career than someone a generation older did.
4. Internationalization (esp. SE Asia + Africa + Latin America)
One of my favorite quotes is from a YC startup called Microverse. The company provides instruction and pair programming for aspiring developers around the world and likes to say:
Talent is evenly distributed around the world, but opportunity is not
I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve worked with so many talented developers and QE engineers around the world over the course of my career and I’ve only seen things improve dramatically over time.
The Product Manager of the Future is almost guaranteed to have a very diverse and distributed team. This team will likely still include traditional remote development countries like Eastern Europe and India, but now will also include Africa (shout out to Andela!) and Latin America (shout out to Digital House!).
What Stays the Same?
While a lot of things will change for the Product Manager of the future, many things will stay the same, as they have since Horowitz’s Good PM, Bad PM.
- Extreme Generalists
A successful Product Manager of the Future will still be an extreme generalist.
They will have enough skills to be dangerous in many, many, many different areas, but will be true specialists in only a few.
They will recognize quality designs vs. crappy ones, they will understand their customers wants and needs, they will know how to market and promote their products, they will understand what analytics they need and how to interpret them, they will even understand technical trade-offs and the high-level differences between programming languages.
It’s completely normal that many, if not most, of these general skills will lie dormant for months for successful Product Managers of the Future; however, they will have the ability to activate the right skills for a new product, a shifting business landscape, or a strategic opportunity.
2. Prioritization Machines (Say “No a Lot”)
A successful Product Manager of the Future will still shift their mental priority list on a daily basis.
The successful Product Managers of the Future will still run a business, not just a product, and that business requires constant adjustment.
This doesn’t mean that they will communicate those changes to the team or to leadership on a daily basis.
This does mean that they will always be thinking of new opportunities and weighing those against the priorities of the past, even if that past was yesterday.
The successful Product Managers of the Future also will still say “No” at least 10 times as often as he or she says “Yes”.
“No” can take many different forms for a highly-effective Product Manager of the Future.
“Sure we’ll consider that for version 3” or “Let’s try asking customers about that first before developing” are powerful phrases for a Product Manager to say “No” while preserving team morale or relationships with other teams.
3. Passion for Product (Evangelist)
A successful Product Manager of the Future will still have a palpable passion for their product(s).
· If they aren’t considering future opportunities and strategies for their product on the weekend, then they aren’t likely a successful Product Manager of the Future.
· If they don’t worry about the pain points their customers experience in their product, then they aren’t likely a successful Product Manager of the Future.
· If they aren’t thinking about their product when they wake up in the middle of the night, then they aren’t likely a successful Product Manager of the Future
· If they don’t get excited about new companies and technologies in their industry, then they aren’t likely a successful Product Manager of the Future
This does not mean that a successful Product Manager of the Future has to have a destructive work-life balance, but rather that they have to have a passion for the product, their customers, and the problem they are solving.
This also does not mean that they let their passion cloud their judgment and what is truly right for the business and their customers.
4. An Adaptive Focus on the Past, the Present, and the Future
A successful Product Manager of the Future will still know the right amount of time to spend on the past, present, and future and when to shift their focus between these areas.
Past: What trends have brought the business to where it is today? What mistakes were made in the past and why? What were the huge wins of the past?
Present: What do customers love about the product today? What do they hate? What trends of the past continue today, what ones don’t?
Future: What are the next things we should build? How can our product be differentiated from the competition or the industry? What should we abandon, what should we keep?
A successful Product Manager of the Future will still always be selling their product(s) too.
They will sell their products to family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. They aren’t afraid of negative feedback; in fact, they love it as it gives them the fuel to improve.
A successful Product Manager of the Future will still actively seek out the people that will provide them the highest quality feedback wherever they are: at a conference, at meetup events, virtually, or even on the street.
Even more, they should not just be an attendee at these events, they should be a presenter. It’s much easier to spread your product when you’re speaking to hundreds of people at once instead of 1:1, though the successful Product Manager of the Future sees value in both levels of interaction.
5. Constant Learner
A successful Product Manager of the Future is always learning. If they see a weakness in their skillset, they fill it.
· Aren’t familiar with SQL and Elasticsearch queries?
· Not sure how to do multivariate testing?
The successful Product Manager of the Future still doesn’t know everything, but they attack their shortcomings at the right time to deliver the right decisions for the right product.
How Do You Adapt?
- Continuing to Learn
I’ve mentioned it several times and it’s something I talk about a lot in Disrupting Yourself. A successful Product Manager of the Future should always be learning something new and challenging their Product knowledge.
2. Keep Reading and Listening (Books/Audiobook)
I pulled together these lists of great books and audiobooks for Product Managers that can help keep you on the top of your game, regardless of how fast things change.
3. Check Out These Podcasts (Or Start Your Own)
Great podcasts are a fantastic way to keep challenging your brain to think about new concepts and new perspectives. Subscribe to these podcasts or create your own!
4. Keep Building!
Building doesn’t always mean building digital products with developers, it can be building your personal brand, writing, speaking at meetups, answering questions on Quora and more.
5. Find a Great Mentor; Spend Time With PMs and Founders
Although it’s difficult/impossible to get an in-person coffee with a potential mentor these days, one way for the Product Manager of the Future to succeed is to spend time with other great PMs and Founders.
Here are a few great places to find those other PMs and Founders:
What Do You Think Will Change and What Will Stay the Same in the Future for Product Managers?
Share with us in the comments!