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Future of work - product manager of the future

We look to the future as we have dreams and aspirations to live a fulfilling and rewarding life. Part of the process of getting to that future point is to accomplish many great things along the way in our careers. Our education, degrees and diplomas do not prepare us to continuously over come challenges and level up at work. The qualifications get us to that first job interview and we are then on our own to forge forward and painting out our blank canvas with where we want to be. Very few people go beyond just dreaming, they do not think about how to get there methodically, what steps they need to take, what hurdles will come across their way and how they may need to sometimes side track or pivot to take even longer route to get to that destination. Early in the product managers career there is some shyness and low confidence in talking about ones career ambitions.

"The world is your oyster - everyone has the opportunity to achieve great success in their life"

As a product manager you should know that the career progression playbook has changed. in 2016 I was asked to lead a cutting edge piece of work, I knew why I was picked to build that product but I wanted to work on something else, and i asked the product head to assign it to someone else. The response was unexpected - "there are people who are comfortable doing what they do and cannot be thrown into the deep end to figure things out. They cannot deal with uncertainty so late in their careers and are not willing to invest time to pick up new skills, and will most certainly look for another role."

At that time I was already well past my 30's and thought "you must be kidding me", we are all in the prime of our lives and with the digital evolution kicking on in full steam... what am I hearing? ... that my co-workers do not want to learn new skills and supercharge their careers! .... they are trading career growth for job stability?

As the years went by most of my co-workers continued to do what they were doing, but their jobs became harder and harder, why? because Digital Transformation pushes the boundaries and touches every process in the company, its just a matter time. Eventually everyone needs to up skill themselves with new knowledge and new tools to do their jobs. A mindset refresh and the need to stay relevant when there is no choice forces us to adapt and survive.

The pandemic has taught us that the ways of working have changed and accelerated into a new norm where remote working is here to stay. Companies are looking at the impact of remote working, employee safety and inter-personnel engagement very closely. The cost and revenues of the business are being assessed and its out there in the open that reduced office space is indeed on the cards as cost rationalization takes on the focus.

Product managers have an overwhelming time ahead of them, PMs oversee critical activities ensuring that products continue to be sold and new products where desired continue to be developed. On top of that they need to be supporting their customers who are also going through an unprecedented change.

As product managers continue to work remotely and engage their teams and clients from home they are coming to grips with the fact that many clients are also in the same situation of having to work from home, and this means less physical face-time with clients, no in person meeting or coffee catchups - every engagement has moved online. This new normal is accelerating the future of work and shaping a new outlook for product managers on what the future of work could look like. The Future of work prior to the pandemic was geared toward which jobs could be automated through artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. The OECD has now defined the future of work as :

The future of work is now. Digitalisation and globalisation have sparked radical shifts in how we live and work. The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has accelerated these beyond anything we could have imagined.
These changes raise essential questions about the precarity of our jobs, the support available if we're unable to work or retire, the skills we need for current and future jobs, the quality of those jobs, and what voice we have in shaping these outcomes

The crystal ball

In the years ahead the role of a product manager will evolve significantly into something more special-forces like where the PM will need to have a mesh of varied skillsets covering both business and technology. A move away from the tradition where product managers were more business focused and did not get too involved on the technology aspects. There are many factors which are pointing to this new world of product management. We will also see a convergence of roles and more reliance on product managers to be skilled up to take a more consultative led approach to managing and developing new products.

  1. Fewer roles and increased accountability - The product owner role could merge into the product managers role. This is one of the first steps of removing the blurred lines across business, technology and execution. When a product manager takes on the role of the product owner the person has moved one step closer to thinking like an engineer and looking at execution holistically. Requirements would now have more thought and details behind them. It is very much possible that in the future it will be a given that the product manager and product owner must be one person. The product manager would play a proactive role in project management by also playing the role of the scrum master to drive the delivery of the product.

  2. Rise of the proposition manager - the product manager role transitions into a product proposition role which is focused on meshing up different products and capabilities and remove silos which exist today. New propositions from existing products can be stitched together to solve different customer problems, while reducing duplication and improving utilisation across the the product base.

  3. More thinking around the business architecture - a shift from pillars to platforms is likely to increase and flourish more as silos are broken down and ecosystem plays continue to prosper across companies and industries. The individual products fade into the background while the platforms begin to thrive and process through different types of transactions supporting many use cases. Understanding business architecture begins to emerge and its expected that product managers will get familiarized with this to drive efficiencies. Business need to optimise technology spend and get more involved in the technology selection process.

  4. Stay lean as possible - Have a lean product development practice by being able to run the product discovery activities with minimal resources. Other examples of activities which the product manager might have to take up include managing product portfolio, doing low fidelity ux design, facilitate client workshops. The frequency of developing new products and tweaking existing ones will continue to increase, to help in the ideation process PMs should be able to work through prototyping tools to capture user feedback rapidly and replay them back to confirm.

  5. Drive partner accountability - As ecosystems and the partnership model becomes the norm, product managers will have to proactively engage and build trust with partners and create win-win outcomes. The ability to influence the partners roadmap roadmap and reach exclusivity agreements will be key for your propositions to standout. There will be a need for new commercial models which will have to be results driven to ensure that everyone has skin in the game.

  6. Remote communication - Product managers will need to be comfortable to get in from of clients and run workshops remotely to co-create solutions. While this may sound simple enough to do, its not so in practice. Its challenging to grasp the details during remote sessions, the PM needs to sharpen their communication toolkit and find ways to accurately capture the essence of the conversation and replay it back. PM should be able to strip out the noise and other distractions and be able to logically prioiritise what needs to happen next.

  7. Proactive market management - With rapid acceleration of digital led business models, the product manager has to be thinking a few steps ahead. Gone are the days of the reactive manager, those who don't become forward looking are going to be left behind. The PM needs to be able to anticipate what customers will want by looking at emerging trends and behaviours. The first mover advantage of yesteryear is no longer a barrier to entry. Products and propositions can be replicated very quickly and can even be made better.

  8. Customer service matters more then ever - assuming every firm out there has access to technology and people the only differentiator between products comes down to how products are presented, packaged, priced and serviced. Never underestimate the importance

  9. Data driven insights, decision making and risk management -investment decisions, product roadmap and backlog grooming will be more data driven than ever. Businesses will have access to analytics tools at their finger tips so decisions can be backed with quality data. Interpretation of data and translating into strategy and actions will be a skill in itself. This is where the proposition managers will play an important role working together with the product manager.

  10. The wildcard - A world of free lance product managers could very well become a reality. I could see that product management becomes a profession like project management where product managers just come in to build and then transition the product to someone else. This may only be plausible for senior product managers who have specific domain knowledge where they come in to a company with an execution focus while proposition managers become the gatekeepers and strategists.

As we march towards the new year you should take some time out to think about how your role as a product manager has evolved over the past twelve months. Which new responsibilities have you taken up, are expectations of your role changing in your company?

Start planning your career progression, talk about your aspirations and get feedback. Engage management to see what their vision for the company is for the next few years and assess what skills you need to pick up and what shortcoming you can improve on. Career up skilling is a journey and with a growth mindset you will get comfortable with dealing with change. As professionals we must be committed to our own growth and chart out the way forward to stay relevant amid the changes around us.

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