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What is the future of product management?

by Nis Frome
November 16, 2015

Product management has only been in the spotlight for a short time but we’re already thinking about the future. More than 100 product managers and enthusiasts gathered at our office to hear from a dozen experts about what the future of product management has in store. Steven Haines, the author of The Product Manager’s Survival Guide, gave the keynote presentation of the night and was followed by a panel of enterprise product managers and then one of startup / SMB product managers.

The speakers discussed a wide range of topics, from the evolving definition of product management to the role big data will continue – or not continue – to play. Here are some of the highlights and takeaways from the evening:

Product managers are horizontal and connect the verticals

fence

Haines talked about the function of a product manager as similar to the rail, or backbone, that holds together all the individual pickets of a fence. A product manager provides lateral connectivity to a company that is focused on upward growth.

The definition of product management

As a company grows in size and maturity, the role of a product manager not only becomes more important, but needs to change and adapt to the ever-evolving climate of his or her respective company. That’s why there are so many varying definitions of product management. But, at it’s core, product management is the business management of products throughout their lifecycles, Haines says. He predicts that, in the next few years, the product management function will become genetically-embedded into the organization, bringing C-suite alignment and clarity to the role.

Metrics and KPIs are extremely important

Data for the sake of data isn’t worth its weight in bytes. It’s identifying the few metrics and KPIs that matter, and then collecting the data to generate and support them. KPIs need to be communicated in the context of goals to everyone on the team. Referring to organizational KPIs, Helen Bui noted that even her marketing interns are “incentivized by the same things she is” as the founder and CEO of Stash-it.

Collect the “purest” data possible

Flavio Masson of AARP brought to light how difficult it is to collect “pure” data, despite the endless stream of new tools and services. As Flavio said “searching for that data purity, a wildlife photography view of data”, is vital to an operation. When you bring consumers into a room and ask questions like “Do you care about your family?”, consumers will often give you the response they think they should give, rather than their actual feelings. It’s Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle manifested in product management, and it’s critical to collect data that accurately portrays users’ natural behavior.

Don’t forget about the story

Valla Vakili, entrepreneur-in-residence at Citi Ventures, said the ability to tell the story behind a product, to illustrate what makes your product unique, is “what distinguishes the exceptional product manager from the very good.” The future of product management is filled with leaders who can navigate the increasingly complicated and diverse workspace to foster collaboration and build consensus.

Product managers must identify the right problems to fix

Yieldmo’s VP of Product, Josh Wexler, noted how product managers often become the dumping ground for everybody’s problems. A good product manager can filter through the mess to identify and solve the problems that are the highest priority, especially as their company grows.

The future will be, in many ways, like the past

In the face of more advanced technologies, devices, and capabilities, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that at the other end of product development is a human user. This sentiment was echoed by panelists throughout the evening.

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Nis Frome

Nis Frome is the co-founder of Alpha, the platform that enables management teams to make data-driven decisions about users, products, and new markets.