Product Management has a long and checkered history.
An inspection of Google Trends data, which tracks the relative popularity of a topic over time, goes far to show the journey the role of Product Manager has been on – with the start of the last decade being a bit of an inflection point for the role that has grown in popularity ever since.
A role we often recruit for, we wanted to bring together a few leading figures in the product space to discuss the future of Product Management and advice they have for those starting out of their product journey.
Emil Scherdin is Head of Product for sport team communication and management app Heja. His journey to Head of Product has been punctuated by a passion for sport in any capacirty.
“I’m a huge sports fan. And I’ve been in all different teams, sports and video sports since I was a little kid. I really love everything about sports. I want to make more kids be able to do sports and be able to experience the positive effects that sports has for kids. “
After getting his first computer at the age of 13, Emil discovered a second passion – web development and design. Working as programmer, Emil realised his affinity for design and product management. Combining both his passion for design and sport, Emil became one of the founding members and Head of Product at Heja.
We were keen to ask Emil what he thought made an effective Product Manager.
For Emil, the breakthrough moment for him came when he realised that the key to being successful in this space was having an unbridled appreciation of products – how they’re built, why they’re built and more.
“It’s about not believing that you have the best ideas yourself. Diving deep into the big products like Facebook, Airbnb, and Microsoft on how they develop and what ecosystems they have managed to build.”
Without feedback, a company will never know if customers are getting value out of their product. Without knowing if they’re getting value, the product and go-to-market teams won’t know if they’re nurturing loyal customers (not to mention be able to measure customer retention and customer health).
Gathering end-user feedback is high up on a Product Manager’s to-do list, but the future holds new and innovative ways to understand how your user interacts with your product.
Emil see’s Product Management moving deeper and deeper into user psychology and bringing that into feedback and product development.
“That unlocks another level of optimization of your product. So being able to affect how users look at your product, and how excited they are about it is probably the thing that you can unlock another level of optimization. And that requires us to bring in psychology. However, it’s a fine line doing things for the good and doing things that users don’t want. And I believe like, the only way to find out if you’re doing that or not, is to learn more of user psychology.”
Marek Stark is the Senior Agile Product Owner at construction company NCC. Having spent the best part of the last 10 years consulting, Marek’s career moved towards technology and met his passion for business when he started to work in the product space.
We were keen to see what advice Marek has for those starting their journey into a career in product management.
We all come to a point when working on projects where we feel like we may have hit a brickwall. If you’re in marketing, for example, the stage where it’s time to look at technology usually puts brakes on the entire project. That’s tech stuff, and I’m not a tech person – some might say.
For Marek, professionals in the product space don’t have that luxury.
“That’s an extremely limiting mindset. If you don’t understand anything about the tech, how will you work with developers? Get yourself out of that mindset and do whatever it takes to understand what your project needs.”
Likewise, that goes both ways. For people in a technical space who want to make a move into product, don’t limit yourself to just the technical aspects of a product. Understand it all.
“If you want to be successful, don’t be afraid of the other side. Embrace it. You can be expert in business but get a solid knowledge of everything else by asking questions and reading up. That’s the key to success as a product owner, I would say.”
It seems like we can’t go a single day without hearing about a new tool or a new solution. The fact of the matter is there has never been more ways to do things. Whereas 10 or 20 years ago you could afford to be more specialised, now you need to have a broad understand of almost every aspect of your domain.
“You need to have a lot of knowledge to be able to perform in all of those areas and not be left behind. So I would say the role of the product manager will become more and more complex with time because the competition is fiercer.“
Today you can never get complacent, always strive to deliver value in your role. You need to be ready to change and work with the next great tool otherwise you risk competitors stealing a lead in the market. As long as you keep pushing yourself you will see success, it is when you stop that you lose.
Jan Tryggvason is the Head of Product at pay later solution Paynova. With a product portfolio that takes him from Klarna to Nordnet, Jan is an experienced and seasoned Head of Product and someone we were very keen to gather some insights from.
Given that effective product management necessitates a high level of domain and company knowledge, companies often look within for Product talent before going to market. It’s for that reason Jan recommends obsessing over domain knowledge first.
“I know lots of people internally that were made product managers. Maybe Customer Service or merchant support – they have gathered so much knowledge and they see customer issues in real time and interact with customers too and that’s really important when building a product.”
The best product managers are visionaries. You guide the success of a product and lead the cross-functional team that is responsible for improving it. It is an important organizational role — especially in technology companies — that sets the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for a product or product line.
The Agile Manifesto, written in 2001, lays out twelve principles, one of which reads, “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” Product Managers stepped in to fill this role and with the growth of agile came the rise of product management. Today, the demand of technology companies for skilled “product people” has led to an explosion of new variants.
“I hope the role will grow more, so that the product managers actually get to do their job as how product managers are supposed to do the job to drive the product.“
Bahareh Zand is the Head of Global Product Area: Payments at H&M Group. A Product area with multiple product teams that have end to end responsibility for payment solutions globally for all brands, online and store under the H&M Group banner.
Bahareh’s background is in Chemistry and Life Sciences where she started as scientist but after realising that she enjoyes the more holistic view of things Bahareh moved into leadership. In 2017, Bahareh decided that she wanted a new challenge and started work at H&M Group.
It’s not easy being a product manager, it is a full-time assignment and you are expected to have knowledge in business, design, technology, data, be customer obsessed as well as understand the market and industry. For Bahareh a product manager leads by empowering their team and influence. They focus on collaboration across the company and bringing people together to move the product forward. It is about creating a common understanding of the customer problem and to engage everyone to solve it in order to achieve the business goals. Understand that will set a product manager on their path to success.
“ It is important to understand and be passionate about your product, , understand your customer and be willing to explore the possibilities. But at the same time, you also need to bea humble leader, listen to your team, understand that they are the experts, you can describe the why and what , clarify the vision and direction, . But you need to trust in your team and that they have the knowledge to come up with the how and that they will deliver what is needed. Not to forget, foster a learning and explorative culture is a key success factor.”
In future, I think it will be an advantage as product manager to understand AI and be able to spot opportunities to innovate with AI and machine learning. It requires a human-machine collaboration. A program might be very intelligent, but it still needs a person to give it question to ask. As I see it product managers will probably be the one deciding which question to ask. For that reason, understanding machine learning and data processing will become important and necessary.
We will probably see much more of AI product management where focus will be on using AI and deep learning to enhance, improve and shape products. The success will come with asking the right questions and a successful product manager will look for ways to solve customer problems in a simple way.
“Product managers need to understand the powerful influence of AI to stay competitive.”
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