What Will Product Management Be Like In 5 Years?

The future is hard to tease out, but here's what will happen in product management's future. (CC 2.0 by PunkToad)

The future is hard to tease out, but here’s what will happen in product management’s future. (CC 2.0 by PunkToad)

Earlier this year Janna Bastow of ProdPad put out a call for opinions on the future of product management. I quickly responded then. And realized later it would also make a good blog post.

To understand the future of product management I started from the “present” of product management. Where are we now in the product management discipline?

The “Present” of Product Management

Product management today has these characteristics:

Where (I hope) product management will be in five years

  1. Product management will be understood to be more about finding market problems and solving them than about “product” per se.
  2. Businesses will understand that the activities and effectiveness of product management are the primary leverage the business has on revenue and profits. Small improvements in PM effectiveness have outsize effects on the top and bottom lines.
  3. The business value of PM – i.e., revenue per PM – will be well known and (somewhat) managed to.
  4. Product managers take strong control of their part of go-to-market.
  5. We will have escaped from the fetters of the old inherited IT lexicon.

Three things you can do

  1. Make sure you’re spending enough time on the most valuable product management activity – finding and validating market problems.
  2. Understand where you and your company are in terms of finance-related product management ratios.
  3. Think about the literal and connotative meanings of the words you use – requirements, features, roadmaps, applications, agile. Make sure you understand not only what you mean by them, but what others hear when you say them. And if those aren’t aligned, change what you say.

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4 comments

  1. David L. French

    Your assessment of Product Management Today must be from limited exposure. That is the present of companies that are not successful or are market laggards. Successful companies are more than 5 years ahead of that already and have been for some time. Can send a list if you like but includes Nike, OXO Good Grips, Apple and many others who are creating user experiences with great value propositions for consumers…they solve and address needs, wants, desires and observe trends that will create these needs and experiences desired looking out into the future. Others unfortunately who do not address great Value Propositions, adding value and great consumer experiences are not adding value to their business…they are taking away from it in a race to the bottom.

    • Thanks for your comment! I think you’re illustrating the maxim (from Bruce Sterling?) that “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Thre are definitely some companies that are already doing what we should all be doing. You can often identify them as the leaders in their spaces, or as the most successful companies anyone can name. Of course, they still make mistakes, introducing products that fail. But it’s usually for a different reason than that there’s not a problem to be solved. So, well done them! And there are a lot of other companies that completely fail at this, even big, successful ones (think of Google Wave and Google Plus, for example). And lots of little startups that burn through lots of money and lots of talent making solutions to problems that don’t exist or aren’t important.

      I do wonder, though, how much even the very successful companies are thinking about improving the effectiveness of product managers per se, especially with tooling and capabilities. I believe they understand that product management is important, and I’m sure most of them train their product managers – but do they provide brain augmenting tools? Our developers and engineers are super-smart, and they could create great products simply using paper and pencil as their design environments. But we give them IDEs and build automation and prototyping tools to make them much more effective. I feel that product managers, unfortunately, don’t have comparable tools – most of our strategic work is done with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, or their hosted equivalents. So, my future vision includes not only that first point – that product management is understood to be about finding and validating market problems before solutions are built – but also the point that someday, we’ll have much better tools to make us a lot more effective at doing that job #1.

  2. […] What does product management look like in 5 years? In a field where the fundamentals have not shifted but the attention of the role is rapidly evolving, making 5-year projections is challenging, but product manager Nils Davis shares his ideas. Read them at  https://pmhardcore.com/2016/10/07/2103/ […]

  3. Nail many of the issues in product management. While I agree with most of this discussion overall, there is room to align product management accountability. It is not a standalone function and must share responsibility (while owning accountability) with other functions to pull it all together. In an organization which includes sales, marketing, technology, supply chain and industry vertical leaders, PM’s are the hub that pull it all together. This article is good at asking the right questions for the PM. Market back analysis is the key.

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