The role of a product manager is ever expanding and is gradually becoming all encompassing. It is primarily due to the increasing use of data in decision making and evolution of software development methodologies such as Lean architecture and agile thinking. In the recent years with the evolution of digital technologies lots of emphasis is now being made on the UI and UX of any product. If you are going to ask me I would say- more of less every company is a product company in some sense of approach. Even conventional international service companies like Deloite and KMPG are also catering to building in-house products for efficient delivery of services. Every service company has a Market development COE which is a whole unit function to make the product (in this case the entire company brand) stand out. Irrespective of your position as a fortune 100 global brand or a early stage start-up.
A company before being anything else is a product and this approach is what is increasing the importance of product managers. Unlike the PMs of the past who were primarily responsible for creating weekly or daily release charts and ensuring on time delivery of the engineered product. Present day CEOs are more dynamic and are performing a 360 degree role of –engineering, design, sales, marketing and customer experience. They have high end MBA degrees with keen interest in technology or past engineering experience and are reaching out to the global audience for a feedback on their product.
These all encompassing and limitless job description are making the product managers the virtual CEOs. These folks wear multiple hats , work with cross functional teams and have a say in every movement of the company –be it global expansion, GTM strategy or acquisition . If you will take a closer look Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella and even Marissa Mayers each one of them had previously worked as a product manager before climbing the ladder to become the CEO. They all have a technology degree with a Masters in Business (Except Marrissa Mayers who has a MS in computers ) . This is not a pattern or a industry need –it is the demand of the profile which eventually forges the PM into the CEO.
According to Mckinsey – there are three archetypes of the mini CEO product manager which are as follows “There are three common profiles of the mini-CEO archetype: technologists, generalists, and business-oriented. These three profiles represent the primary, but not the only,
focus of the mini-CEO product manager; like any CEO, they work across multiple areas (for instance, a technologist product manager will be expected to be on top of key business metrics). Most technology companies today have a mix of technologists and generalists . As these three archetypes emerge, the project manager is a fading archetype and seen mainly at legacy product companies. The day-to-day engineering execution role is now typically owned by an engineering manager, program manager, or scrum master. This enables greater leverage, with one product manager to eight to 12 engineers, versus the ratio of one product manager to four or five engineers that has been common in the past.”
What does this mean for Indian Start-ups?
The Indian start-up scenario is quite hazy when it comes to developing a really good product. I have friends (from my undergraduate school) who have become great entrepreneurs building brilliant technology products. Most of the other entrepreneurs (CEOs) I know are just acting as hiring managers who hires people to build the product for him and then hires marketing people to sell it for him. There is no apparent harm in doing so (as long as you are able to manage this financially) . It is further no harm in hiring marketing and sales guys to sell the product for you –but when it comes to building a tech product the founders should ensure that they are technically smart enough to lead the product development.
The irony is –anyone can sit in a room and can come up with an idea but what differentiates an entrepreneur from an wannapreneur is the depth of knowledge (not only industry but technology, design and basic channel marketing) and the capability of emerging as a leader and not a manager .( Read difference between leader and manager).
The future of product managers:
The future of product managers looks bright and shiny irrespective of which direction you are looking at it from. However with the evolution of time and technology this role will become more data extensive. PMs will have a deeper focus on data and greater influence on non tech decisions.
According to Mckinsey “Product managers of the future will be analytics gurus and less reliant on analysts for basic questions. They will be able to quickly spin up a Hadoop cluster on Amazon Web
Services, pull usage data, analyze them, and draw insights. They will be adept at applying
machine-learning concepts and tools that are specifically designed to augment the product manager’s decision making.”.
The basic skill set of a product manager of future will be measured in six different segments as shown below
In the future A PM will spend 30% of their time on external engagement and outreach activities engaging with customers and other tangible components of the ecosystem . Similarly the prejudices regarding the background of PMs will also dilute to match the ever increasing demand of the job. A foundation or previous experience in software engineering will remain essential but it will be supplemented by coursework and depth of experience.