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:
- Primary focus on is product and features, not market problems and solutions.
- Lip service paid to “product/market fit,” but it’s often considered something you do after you have a product.
- There is still confusion over product manager vs. “product owner.”
- Tool discussion is all focused on managing backlogs and project management, not on finding and validating customer/market problems, or go to market.
- The value of product management is recognized qualitatively. This is fantastic and a great change. But the quantitative value – the top line and bottom line benefits of product management – are not well understood. (Or managed to!)
- There is some lack of care when talking about customers, markets, prospects, problems, and solutions. (This is related to the fact that we inherit a lot of our lexicon from IT/internal application development, where the same words often have radically different meanings.)
- Generally go-to-market is not understood as a critical component of product management.
Where (I hope) product management will be in five years
- Product management will be understood to be more about finding market problems and solving them than about “product” per se.
- 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.
- The business value of PM – i.e., revenue per PM – will be well known and (somewhat) managed to.
- Product managers take strong control of their part of go-to-market.
- We will have escaped from the fetters of the old inherited IT lexicon.
Three things you can do
- Make sure you’re spending enough time on the most valuable product management activity – finding and validating market problems.
- Understand where you and your company are in terms of finance-related product management ratios.
- 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.