The Age of Product Management

About a 2 months ago a client from a large financial institution said to me with excitement “It’s the Age of Product Management” as we discussed the plans to support his Product Management team to be more effective in their roles.

This comment got me thinking about the evolution of Product Management over the last 10 years.

1. You are Not Alone

Brainmates ran our first Product Talk in 2007.

At that time, there were no meetups, no Product Camps, and no Product Management conferences. At that first talk only 7 people turned up but we were elated. It’s certainly changed since then.

Last month, in September 2014, I traveled first to London to attend Mind the Product and then returned for the second time to the global Product Management Festival in Zurich.

At “Mind the Product” there were 1000 Product Professionals in attendance from all over the world and The Product Management Festival in its 2nd year had close to 300 people participating in the festivities.

The calibre of the people attending was amazing and they were all gathered together with a common passion.

Dave Wascha, Chief Product Officer at Moo.com said

I’m a Product Manager and you are my tribe. This tribe keeps growing and it’s amazing to see.”

While these events are global, back in Australia we have seen this profession find it’s tribe with a proliferation of local Product Meet-ups (Product Anonymous, Productsophy, Product Mavens, Product Talks), Product Camps and other professional community gatherings.

So guess what! We’ve now got our very own Product Management tribe in Australia.

As we mingle with our tribe, we’ve observed that there is a *burning* desire for Product Managers to get better at their craft.

2. The Making of Better Product Managers

With the number of products (and services) in the global economy exploding there is an increasing demand for professional Product Management. For every new product that goes to market someone in a business needs to conceptualise, work closely with the Design and Development teams and launch products. That someone is the Product Manager.

Product Management is no longer the ‘Accidental Profession’. The role has moved up the organisational food chain and companies are recognising the value that a good Product Manager can deliver to the bottom line. Individuals are making a conscious decision to become a Product Manager. Companies are putting in more effort to find and to hire the best Product Managers for their teams.

As a business whose primary market is Product Managers, we’ve seen the desire from Product Managers to be simply better at their jobs. The evidence is an increase in the types of Product Management training courses available, a jump in the number of seats sold and the increasing attendance and engagement at the Product Meet-ups and events.

The publishing of the Product Management Body of Knowledge and other major references like the 2nd edition of the Product Managers Desk Reference by Steven Haines has also meant that the role of Product Management is more clearly defined. Whilst the publishing of a few reference books may seem trivial it’s a milestone for our profession. These are guides that instruct our companies about what we should be doing as Product Managers.

And beyond these formal publications the Product Management educators, thought leaders and bloggers have come in droves. Technology has brought us this information on a silver platter. They’ve been delivered the technology platforms from which to share their knowledge. The number of Product Management articles today is staggering.

To get you started check out:

  • Alltop – lists a hand picked selection of sites blogging about Product Management.
  • Medium – a new publishing platform with a ton of cool Product Management topics such as “Product Management Analogies

Its safe to argue that these days, products are beautiful…. They not only look great but more importantly they solve real customer problems better that than the previous solutions. Take Uber, GHD, Google Maps, Nespresso, Etsy, Moves, Grammarly as examples. There’s now a website and an app dedicated to the hunt for new products every day. Check out Product Hunt.

These products and many more inspire us to become better Product Managers.

3. The Adoption of Broader Practices That Focus On People

Other disciplines have much to teach Product Management.

We have adapted methods and techniques from Engineering, Industrial Design and Architecture to collect more accurate data, conduct better analysis and obtain sharper insights.

Lately though, our attention has been pointed in the direction of disciplines that look to master humans. We’ve employed techniques from Economics, the Sciences, Anthropology and Psychology.

Psychology helps us understand “human behaviour and mental process from the neural level to the cultural level“.

Nir Eyal says that psychology helps us by unveiling the secrets of human behaviour. Once uncovered, it’s much easier to design and develop habit forming products that our audience become hooked on.

Kathy Sierra similarly applies neuropsychology to user experience design and product development. She talks of reducing cognitive leaks in the entire product engagement process so users don’t become disenfranchised and abandon the product.

Leading on from Psychology is Economics, more specifically behavioural economics. Behavioural economics posits that “all human behaviour, is shaped by irrational and unconscious influences, such as bias, social pressure and cognitive inertia.” Traditional economics on the other hand says that “humans make rational choices, balancing costs against benefits”. In reality humans make decisions based on a variety of deep seated prejudices. As Product Managers we’ve steered purchasing behaviour towards certain products through pricing and promotion (the use of the word free, the offer of 3 not 2 pricing options).

Apart from Economics and Psychology we’ve also adopted from Science.

Science for example has given us the scientific method. As Product Managers we use the concepts of the scientific method to observe our market, form a hypothesis and conduct an experiment that tests the hypothesis. “A hypothesis is simply a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study.”

Whilst we may not apply the scientific method rigorously or perhaps always accurately we’ve developed this approach in our business processes. The initial observations of the customer and the creation of testable hypothesis in our practice indicate that we are learning from other disciplines. As Product Managers, we are always searching for ways to reduce the risk of failure and marry the market with the product. Using the essence of the scientific method means that we can collect evidence to either validate or invalidate our product idea before investing resources in its development.

4. The Introduction and Use of New Tools

There have always been tools to help Product Managers do their job. Pen and paper helped us capture information. Excel helped us make lists, calculate ROI, convert data visually. You get the picture.

Over the last 2 years though, there’s been a steady introduction of software tools specifically targeted at Product Managers. These software tools aid in the capture and assessment of new ideas, the development of new products and the management of existing products.

Here are some that we’ve found.

Whilst the tools help us manage our workload more effectively, the outcomes a Product Manager delivers shouldn’t change. Delivering customer and business ‘value’ speaks to the very heart of what a Product Managers does. ‘How’ a Product Manager reaches those outcomes will continue to evolve as new tools and techniques emerge.

<p?The observations above shows that, as a profession, we’ve come a long way in the last 10 years. Our minds, our practices and our tools are maturing nicely.

It truly is the age of Product Management and I am excited to be a part of it.