In the past, product managers were primarily focused on execution. They were measured by their delivery, and whether or not it was on time. However, today, the role of the product manager is exceptionally different. They have essentially become the mini CEO of the product.
Product management in the modern workplace implies being a jack of all trades. They have an all-encompassing knowledge of the team and department — with this, they bring together cross-functional teams, encouraging alignment throughout the entire process.
The role of the product manager has become so different from its primary purpose — with similarities being drawn to tech-CEOs.
So, the question is; who is the product manager in a digital world? We’re here to look into this.
The mini CEO
We’d say, although there are slight variations from company to company, product managers are just mini CEOs.
This change in the product manager role has arguably been brought about by technology, as well as unique methodologies, and changing customer behavior.
For this reason, product managers now spend much less time overseeing or micromanaging, and more time externally dedicated to external events.
Though it’s apparent that the role has changed massively since the digital takeover — the importance hasn’t diminished at all.
The increasing importance of the product manager
It could be easy to dispel the myth that product managers are no longer needed. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
With the digital revolution, there comes innovation. For many companies, innovation is at the forefront of their goals. Undoubtedly, product managers are an integral part of innovation.
Product managers have a unique look inside the business world — with a clear view of how desirable and viable an idea is. Having this practical yet ambitious outlook proves to be a crucial part of the innovation process.
Knowing the customer
Product managers have an exceptional understanding of their customers. As every business knows; the customer is the most critical factor.
Product managers not only have a deep understanding of the market, but they also know how to convert people into paying customers.
In a digital world, changes are happening so fast to every market. Companies need to adapt to how they work to respond to various changes — as well as understand where the risks and opportunities are. Product managers are the best people for this.
As you know, product managers are responsible for running experiments. From these multiple experiments, they gain feedback and find a solution to any problems. This is essential for companies to adapt to a digital world.
Data dominates the job
Companies are now lucky enough to have an extensive array of internal and external data. This data is used to make every decision about a product.
With this being the case, the natural digression has been that product managers have adopted a broader role.
After all, they are the closest to the data. The data gives information on anything from engagement, conversion, and retention. In addition to this, product managers also have the power to have a significant influence on the data.
Jennifer Paczitski, a marketing manager at The Word Point told us that the fact that data is now a centerpiece of what product managers do — it pretty much shows how much more varied and broad the role has become in the recent years.
Products are now built differently
As products in the digital world have evolved, the product manager’s tasks have shifted. Again, they have adopted a much broader role — becoming a mini CEO more than anything.
Of course, they still plan the daily and weekly feature releases. They also plan the product road map for 6 to 24 months after. The difference is, they spend much less time writing requirements upfront.
In the digital world, product managers work closely with various teams. From this, they gather back feedback and repeat the process periodically.
The “execution pod” has changed
For those that don’t know, the “execution pod” helps with the development and speed of software development. In the past, it predominately just consisted of developers and testers.
Now teams also include operators, analyzers, designers and product marketers. They work closely together in these “execution pods,” this ultimately helps the delivery of the product.
How does this affect the product manager? It’ enables them to have a more cross-functional role. This change helps them to develop solutions more effectively.
Products are becoming more complex
While software-as-a-service products are obviously becoming simpler for customers, they are becoming more complex for product managers.
Product managers have the difficult task of overseeing multiple bundles, up-sell paths, pricing strategies, and pricing tiers.
Something else that has become more complex is the lifecycle. This is because of digital updates — customers now expect frequent improvements and new features.
Product managers now have to deal with an increasingly complex product, with much longer lifecycles. Though this might create a little more work, it does stimulate interest. It also has encouraged the product manager role to be broader, and more relevant, even as digital changes the world of work.
The different types of modern-day product managers
As we mentioned, the digital world has completely changed the role of the product manager. It’s become a much broader role, with various different interpretations. Below are the different types of product managers in the digital age.
The first version of the product manager is the technologist. They are profoundly technical and focus on technology solutions.
Their main product focus is on back-end platforms, or even complex B2B products.
One of the most appealing aspects of the technologist is that they will take a risk on innovative ideas. These might not necessarily be related to a metric, but they want to try new ideas.
The business leader
The Business-orientated product manager obviously has a business background. They specialize in maximizing specific business metrics — a very significant benefit for companies, which partly makes them product marketing managers as well.
Their product is generally B2C related, they have other opportunities for creative additions.
The Generalist is a mixture of the two — both with technical depth and business savvy. They focus on the user and how much satisfaction they have.
Their products are predominately B2C products or even front-end B2B products.
The Generalist focuses their time on driving end-user metrics.
Among all three versions, they all focus on the customer intensely. That’s the main reason for a product manager, and what keeps remaining such a necessary part of any company.
The product manager in the future
Over the years, we will continue to see the product manager role to evolve and develop. There will be an even greater focus on data, without any loss of empathy towards the user, while focusing on product marketing in the meanwhile.
Product managers will also have a greater focus on non-product decisions — continuing to evolve their influence and reach.
Changes are occurring really fast, and the question of what a product manager is in the digital age is a tricky one to answer. However, it is easy to see that the role has expanded over the years.
What type of product manager you are, individually, depends on your strengths and your company. Either way, they will remain an integral part of the team — and the heart of innovation in every company.
In the future, it’s fair to say that the role of the product manager will look completely different from what it is now. The beauty is; it will continue to evolve and never disappear.