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What's happening to "Product Managers"?
We went through this already once, AI does it again
The same will happen with Product Managers / Growth roles as what we see with "Web Designers". Remember those?
When Google launched in 1999 to replace Altavista / Yahoo our jobs got shaken up hard. And “only” because of how we changed the way we navigate the web.
I instantly switched from being an API developer to thinking I want to build Websites. "HTML" - that's easy enough. Certainly beats juggling API architecture.
Back then we did everything in one. We designed Websites:
Ugly Animated Buttons and "Under Construction banners"
Research, analytics (Mainly Google Analytics)
But we had no real idea looking back on how to do any of it really well.
Since then progressively new subdisciplines have evolved from the job, for instance:
Designers and their subdisciplines (UI, Interaction, etc.)
Frontend / Backend Engineers
It's happening to Product Managers as well and some of it... is not good, some is good. What I do witness is that it's already difficult for some PMs to cross over to other specializations if they want. "Once a growth PM always a growth PM"
Product Owners (Ouff, sorry PO's, you have it rough to go anywhere)
Product Marketing Managers
Platform Product Managers
Growth / Technical / API / Enterprise / Hardware / AI etc.
The problem I see is that when you try to break into product management you should already think in which direction you want to go because you will be getting progressively better offers in that area of specialization. In general, I'd say that startups are better to break into because you will see more overall.
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The impossible frustration of having to choose before you “know”
But it does feel a bit like when I was much younger and had to decide what to do with the rest of my life before having worked in any particular job.
“What do you want to do with your life? Pilot? Engineer? Taxi Driver”
I felt like I should be an engineer. In hindsight a terrible idea, I have all hallmarks of being a bad engineer and almost got locked into it if another co-worker didn’t take a chance on me and pivoted me out of it ultimately setting me on the path of becoming a product manager.
Then we have afterward the leadership canyon, which changes again completely what skills you need. Suddenly what you did as a senior PM doesn’t work. What got you there doesn’t work anymore. You have to be hands-off and lead people. It’s a lot to take in.
It's an exciting time, but there's so much chaos until the titles will have settled as they did back then. And we demand from our young product managers much more than we used to back then, it speaks for the complexity of the field but also has its downsides.
Impostor syndrome is rampant in a lot of PMs and just adds more stress to an already inherently stressful job.
Learning what never goes out of fashion
So what can you do? You can learn things that never go out of fashion to stay flexible because it’s about to become really wild. Courses from 1-2 years ago are already out of date.
A year ago I claimed that you need to know SQL as a PM for instance and now I switched my stance on it simply because of how strong language models have become. It definitely reduced the reliance on SQL for PMs.
However, it seems clear to me that 2 skills will increase more and more in importance for PMs due to how AI changes our day-to-day job. We shift from just shipping things to identifying the correct things.
How to build business cases for features and products becomes incredibly important. And it’s a skill that a lot of PMs never learned. How to do proper risk assessments is a muscle that needs to be trained.
Another one that is close to this is acing product strategy. You need to stay ahead constantly with your customer knowledge and moving up that layer is very difficult for many PMs. I do predict that you need to have chops in it all the way down to the most operative PMs.
The reason for that is simple, more and more companies move to be product-led (from sales-led). Product-led businesses rely on highly collaborative cross-functional teams. That means you get more authority over your product as long as you get the dreaded retention topic under control.
No matter how retention is about efficiency. That can either be through experience or by being really good at strategy and recognizing opportunities before others do.
You suddenly will have more and more time for that because the time-consuming day-to-day activities like writing PRDs and doing mindless JIRA backlog activities get reduced to a minimum.
Try to get a grip on them, both skills won’t go out of fashion any time soon.
If you want a more hand’s learning experience on how I teach these two skills check out my Maven cohort: