In this discussion at #mtpcon London 2022, the panel debates the likely next 10 years in product management. What will be the single biggest change?
Watch this video or read on for key highlights from the talk.
Marc Abraham, Senior Group Product Manager at Intercom, talks to panellists Lindsey Jayne, Chief Product Officer at the Financial Times, Matt LeMay, author of Product management in practice, and Keji Adedeji, Head of Product at Aptem.
What big changes will we see?
Marc starts by predicting the death of the roadmap as we know it
Lindsey says she hopes incentives in business will change enough that product managers will be able to start working on some of the world’s more systemic problems. “I hope that we build more products that tackle some of the stuff that feels hard and crunchy.”
Matt says we’ll keep inventing new useless conversations to have. “In product management, we have real conversations about learning from our customers and so on, and then we have the useless conversation about which of these three fiddly tools we should use, and talk about it for six months. We invent new useless conversations to have because it’s really hard to have those useful conversations.”
Keji thinks the important things in product management will stay the same – what are we focused on, who are we trying to serve, how do we add value – but more of us will do it in the right way.
What about machine learning? Will part of what product managers do be replaced by machine learning in the next 10 years?
Keji says that heavy lifting of some of the things we do might benefit from automation, there are already examples of this. But the human aspect of talking to each other, to our customers, understanding the need and the problem – machines aren’t going to take that away. As organisations better understand the value of product management and organise teams around value delivery then they will make teams more cross functional and multi-discplinary, she says.
New types of product role
What new product roles will we have in 10 years? Matt says that all the many conversations he has about role clarity when he’s consulting fall into the bucket of useless conversations. In his experience most questions about role clarity are in fact questions about goal clarity. “If you have no idea why your team exists then you don’t have much to talk about other than what you’re supposed to do,” he says.
Matt is against the increasing specialisation of product roles: “I don’t trust most organisations to handle more specialised product roles because they’re so bad at hiring and at acknowledging and promoting product management talent. They will use this to make things worse.”
We’re already seeing formalised product management courses, Keji comments. They may help to generate a funnel that brings people into the profession but it shouldn’t become the only way to get into product management, because the role is too wide and varied. Lindsay says: “If you want to come in and learn, that’s great. But if you come in thinking you’ve got a bit of paper that says you know how to do this, then you’re about to be schooled.”
Matt adds: “The best product managers can work relentlessly towards a specific goal of making themselves obsolete and remain indispensable, because there’s always more work to be done.”
Will people understand product better?
Keji says there will be more maturity, but companies will still be at different stages of maturity. Lindsay comments that as humans we often forget that everything is cyclical and product management isn’t immune to this.
Agile is an example of something that was intended as a challenge to corporate power structures but has been completely co-opted by corporate power structures, says Matt. The same thing will happen to whatever we come up with next. If organisations move to being more goal focused and organise teams around goals then the need for iterative cycles will decrease, says Keji.