Fear sells and attracts your attention, time, and money. So it’s not surprising that generative artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked conversations about various professions becoming obsolete, including product management.
Product management skills vs. activities
AI presents many opportunities in product management. (Some options are arguably better than others, which is also not the purpose of this article.)
- Do you want to know what to build next? Ask AI.
- Do you want to write a PRD or feature specification document? Ask AI.
- Do you want a roadmap created? Ask AI.
- Do you want to gather requirements? Ask AI.
- Do you want to do competitive research? Ask AI.
- Do you want to create user personas? Ask AI.
- Do you want to organize customer feedback? Ask AI.
- Do you want to optimize your product management process? Ask AI.
I’ve seen posts and articles touting the magic of AI to do these things for product managers and the opposite point of view that AI shouldn’t or can’t do these activities.
Let’s get specific for a minute. This list is an example of product management activities. Activities are different from skills.
- Activities refer to specific actions or tasks that someone engages in to accomplish an objective. They include practical and observable things like planning, organizing, analyzing, and implementing.
- Skills are an individual’s abilities, knowledge, and proficiencies in a particular area acquired through education, training, and experience. Skills include things like communication, problem-solving, leadership, and analytical thinking.
It takes skill to do activities well. Skill development is more nuanced than activity completion. It’s the same reason that reading a how-to article doesn’t yield the same results as being highly skilled. We’ve papered the internet with product management how-to articles. Generative AI uses these articles, but it’s not the same as developing skills.
Will AI replace product managers?
Product managers who focus on product management activities with minimal skill may find that AI will replace some or many tasks. However, successful product management work is not done through a series of activities. Instead, product management is impactful when expert-level skills are applied. As a complex and nuanced field, product management requires tremendous skills and abilities. Those skills include: communicating effectively, continuously learning, focusing on the big picture, leading with influence, prioritizing methodically, and understanding customers.
Combining these skills to accomplish tasks in a specific situation will lead to a tremendous impact. Conversely, activities without expert-level skills behind them are a gamble at best. If product managers are worried about AI taking over their jobs, they should learn to use AI while further developing the skills of a successful product manager.
AI will automate some of the tasks in product management when product managers apply expert-level skills. For example, AI can help product managers quickly gather and analyze data, which will be incredibly valuable when product managers ask the right questions and make good decisions with that information. AI can also generate early concepts to give product managers something to react to, which will help product managers when they provide AI with proper details.
Will we need fewer product managers?
When AI can automate some product management tasks reliably, will we need fewer product managers? It’s a possibility. Product managers focused on the tasks AI can automate will need to level up in their careers.
During the Industrial Age, machines automated many tasks that were done by hand. People wondered what they would do with all of their free time. I’m incredibly thankful for the advances of the Industrial Age, especially the ability to drop a load of laundry in a machine rather than agitating and scrubbing it myself. Just like in the Industrial Age, people are creative and intelligent. We’ll use the foundation supported by machines and AI and do more. We’ll get more innovative and focus on our work’s creative and strategic aspects.
Product management is going to be around for a while. AI is adding a layer of abstraction to the product management work. Great product managers will use AI to free up their time to develop their skills further, allowing them to get even more outstanding results from using AI in their work and products.
In conclusion, generative AI will be a valuable tool for product managers, but it is not a replacement for human skills. Product managers must communicate effectively, continuously learn, focus on the big picture, lead with influence, prioritize methodically, and understand customers. However, generative AI can help them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.