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.
Tobias Liljedahl is Chief Product Officer at Humly.com Starting his career in Logistics while working his way through Uni, Tobias discovered a passion for process optimisation. This triggered further study in lean manufacturing, six sigma and math applied to physical processes. In 2018, Tobias joined Kambi as a Insight and Learning Strategist before moving to Humly as Chief Product Officer.
We were keen to ask Tobias what he believes make an effective product manager.
With several schools of knowledge, like Dean Leffingwell and Don Reinertsen, for you to draw your product development potential, distinguishing yourself as an effective product manager often comes down to how well you can stand these concepts up financially and practically – but also how you back them when talking to the rest of the business.
“I have never met a good product manager that is afraid to challenge the board. If you’re just being passive and you never stand by your own beliefs, you’ll become an administrator. So, there’s basically two things understand the fundamental principles of product leadership, the finances and systems that surround it and why they are there. And then there to question your management in order to protect the integrity of your development process.”
Evelin Kaup is Head of Product at Liber AB. Starting her Career at Klarna focusing on customer and fraud errands. Deciding to she wanted to work towards creating solutions instead of dealing with problems all the time, Evelin moved into product.
“This is probably the most common reason I see people go into product management.”
To truly understand the customers needs and behaviours was the key that captures Evelin to continue wanting to grow within her product management skills. After years at Klarna she continues her journey to Spotify, with the aim to get more knowledge in how to build, test and launch features to one of the worlds most popular products.
“Every time we launched, we needed to be as sure as possible that the customer wouldn´t scream and hate us more than necessary So for better or worse, we spent a lot of time doing user research, A/B testing and gathering as much data and insights as possible before we launch in order to ensure that we didn´t end up as a headline on the news the next day.”
Evelin’s experiences at Spotify taught her a lot about who she is as a professional. She learned that she is a product person who enjoyed the big challenges, which was why her next step was to join Nordnet, a bank within investments and savings that had a lot of legacy systems but wanted to go digital-first. Evelin headed the product team for 3 years and worked closely together with engineering and design to drive the digital transformation and build a customer focused organisation with data and insights as the foundation.
After going on Maternity leave and then consulting for a few years, Evelin joined Liber AB – one of the world’s biggest publisher for schoolbooks who, like Nordnet when Evelin first joined, lacked knowledge within digital.
For Evelin, who has a strong product pedigree, the key to starting your career in Product starts with the mastering of the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities.
“You will be the key spokesperson of your product which means that everyone will want to talk to you. So I think the best skill you can have is to be able to manage your own time, say no and truly focus on where you get the most value for your product.”
Volodymyr Melnyk is the Chief Product Officer at Estabild – an early-stage Stockholm based startup that provides a digital platform that consolidates and streamlines construction project management data. Originally from Ukraine, Volodymyr studied economic cybernetics before starting working for a tech company in the entertainment space. Moving to Sweden in 2018, Volodymyr first worked for a fintech company and now he’s responsible for the development and management of the Estabild product.
Volodymyr, who didn’t land on product management right away at the beginning of his career, believes it’s incredibly important to get practical experience to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. The easiest way to do that in the product space is to build something, anything – no matter how small or simple.
“Since university years, we were working and participating in tech competitions and building our own products – like web and mobile applications. I feel that I gained so much from that experience, even more than from university programs, because we had a clear goal in our mind what we want to achieve and what we want to build. Of course, there were many uncertainties how to get there, how to basically make it happen, we needed to figure it out ourselves. It encouraged us to find relevant information and grasp as much knowledge as possible by reading blog posts from industry leaders, reading books, reviewing and analyzing other solutions on the market, somehow get this knowledge off to make it happen.”
Pontus Holmberg is the Head of Product, Tech at Paxport. Having full control of the product, development and execution side of the Paxport roadmap, Pontus works closely with product managers, developers and fulfills an executive management role at the company.
“it’s a very good sort of combination of instead of us focusing on, you know, sales, having the financial function there, and the CEO, it’s also we have a sort of a key focus to try to become a more sort of product driven company rather than yesterday technology company. “
Pontus’ day-to-day involved paving the way for the talented people at Paxport to do their best possible work.
For anyone looking to start their career in Product, Pontus recommends coming to love working with people and don’t go into it thinking you know it all.
“I’ve learned this the hard way. When you’re young and ambitious, you want everything and know everything. But you alone will not be able to do 100 percent in all the areas a product works in. So I think that you don’t need to be technology oriented, I think you need to use to be seen him be curious. But if you have a good business acumen if you if you develop that business, acumen, people’s person, if you have some good ways around with developers. “
Starting her career in front-end development back in her native Russia, Oksana naturally started gravitating towards leadership responsibilities in the tech teams she worked in. She would regularly find herself on customer calls, taking requirements and relaying that back to the team.
When a Product Management position came up, that handled product management and strategy, Oksana was a natural fit. Joining a Swedish company based in Russia, Oksana cut her product management teeth before making the move to Sweden where she now works and lives.
Oksana had to move from Russia to Sweden to realise her product potential. This was a decision she was happy to make and one that she would recommend to those who are struggling to gain traction in their career.
“You should never be afraid of chasing something bigger. You should never be afraid to apply for a position in Europe, for example, because that’s where the things in product are happening where you can get the best skills and where you can get the best experience.”
Like most areas that fall under the technology umbrella, product management in the Future will, in many ways, look very different than product management today.
Remote work was already a strong trend in the making and COVID-19 added a ton of fuel to the fire. While it has been clear that remote development can be a fit for many organizations, remote Product Management has historically had a bit of a stigma that it’s still trying to shake – how can you work closely with all those stakeholders while remote?
For Oksana, the more immediate future holds a shift in the way Product Management roles are formalized and narrow.
“In some companies, PM role is close to the tech, in others, it’s close to the business, in general, the skill set of PM is pretty broad now. The product organization tends to lead strategic and growth-driving function in more and more companies nowadays. With this comes the demand for a more complex structure of the product organization itself and roles that are more formalized and narrow.”
In turn, this will create more scientific framework-driven practises
“There are so many theories, approaches and ways of working now. However, PMs are becoming more and more scientific in defining a strategy, setting objectives and key metrics. I think we will come to more standardized and framework-driven practices covering routine aspects and lifting the impact though at the same time unlocking more opportunities for innovations.”
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