A Wave of Change
Over the past couple of years, I've noticed a significant shift in the professional landscape of the tech industry. There's been a marked increase in individuals with backgrounds in commerce, marketing, or management moving into product management roles. This change has been either facilitated within their current organizations or through enrollment in product management bootcamps ranging from one to three months. This trend raises several questions: Is everyone becoming a Product Manager these days? Is this a good or bad thing for the industry? Let's dive deeper into this fascinating development.
The Product Management Safe Haven
During times of economic recession, companies often downsize their marketing and sales operations. In such circumstances, product management emerges as a relatively stable position. Product Managers (PMs) are seen as essential for maintaining the company's offerings, interviewing current and potential users, prioritizing feature development, and handling a workload that many executives are reluctant to assume. As such, PMs are less likely to be laid off during challenging economic times.
The Great Divide: Stellar or Subpar?
In my experience, PMs tend to be a hit or miss. It's almost as if there's no middle ground: they're either incredibly talented, capable of moving mountains to create great products, or they're resource-draining black holes, concentrating on menial tasks like Gantt charts and project updates. A significant issue arises when PMs perceive the project management aspects of their role as their primary or only job. This misconception is unfortunately common, and it detracts from the broader, more impactful responsibilities of product management.
The Tech Mainstream Effect
This trend of professionals transitioning into product management roles echoes the rise of coding bootcamps. As tech becomes mainstream, career paths in the field are becoming increasingly structured and predictable, akin to more traditional fields. This evolution, while beneficial in many ways, does carry its own set of challenges.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ordinary
Product management, in my opinion, is one of the toughest jobs in tech. It requires a keen understanding of various areas, including design, marketing, data analysis, customer relationships, and project management. While great PMs are rare gems, many PMs provide neutral or even negative value adds due to the following reasons:
- A successful PM should be incredibly detail-oriented, knowing every aspect and edge condition of their product. This trait is rare and often a significant source of friction between engineering and product teams.
- The best PMs possess an almost innate sense of which products and features will resonate with users. This skill, however, is incredibly scarce.
Many PMs view themselves more as project managers, focusing on tasks like updating Jira boards, coordinating with stakeholders, and scheduling meetings. These tasks, while important, should not consume the bulk of a PM's role.
The Middleman Dilemma
A critique often levied against PMs is that they function merely as facilitators between stakeholders—engineering teams, business executives, and customers—without substantially contributing to defining how the product should work. Essentially, they insert themselves into technical projects without adding significant value, leading to unnecessary communication layers and inefficiencies.
The Ideal Product Manager
In my personal experience as a PM, I found myself playing a multifaceted role—part tech, part business, part UX, part design. I was essentially the linchpin connecting the different aspects of our product and ensuring that we built what we and our customers wanted. My main value-add was my deep understanding of the industry, our niche within it, and my personal experience with both sides of the product from a use case perspective even before we built it.
Conclusion: The Future of Product Management
The landscape of product management is clearly evolving, with more people shifting into this role than ever before. But as the field becomes more popular, the question of quality over quantity becomes more pressing. Are we seeing a rise in truly effective PMs, or just a surge in the number of people holding the title? While the answer is still unclear, one thing is certain: as the tech industry continues to evolve, so will the role of the Product Manager.
In the future, it will be important for aspiring PMs to focus not just on the technical or administrative aspects of the role, but also on understanding the product, the industry, and the users they serve. Only by combining these skills can a PM truly add value and help shape the future of tech.
About the Author
As an experienced Product Manager, I've seen the tech industry from many perspectives and navigated its many changes. I strive to provide readers with the most accurate, up-to-date, and helpful information in the field. Stay tuned for more insights into the ever-evolving world of tech.