While I was mingling around in a family wedding, I met my not-so-close relative I haven't seen for 15 years or so. I knew she lives in Boston, has 2 married children, few grandchildren and already retired. That's about it.
"How are you doing? so nice to see you" she said with a huge smile on her face. "What are you doing these days?" was the next immediate question. "I am a Product Manager in the Internet world" is my classic answer in these cases, but then I started wondering... Does she really understand what that means, or is she going to ask me to explain that?
The question of how to describe product management to people who are not from our professional-world, is interesting to me. In a way, it is like when I'm trying to explain to my kids the way things work in this world which they still don't know - try to simplify it for them.
Wikipedia says that Product Management is an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product at all stages of the product lifecycle. I am not sure it would've help my relative in this case...
Maybe something along the lines of "The Product Manager is like the CEO of the product, making important decision about it - from its design to its future plans". Good enough?
While I was in Unit 8200 (IDF's Elite Cyber Unit), one of my projects I was very proud of (and still am) was forming a consultation group for the process of requirement of high-school graduates for several cyber-related positions in the unit. This group of qualified and experienced individuals were part of the screening process, and during their service they performed hundreds of interviews for these young men and women. While doing that, we were always trying to find the perfect pitch, the perfect explanation for the positions these graduates were applying for. Basically we were trying to illustrate to them something that they don't know and cannot understand, in a language they do understand, usually with examples from their day to day life. We were using, for example, a chocolate factory and its workers, a newspaper system or even the high-school they go to.
So piggybacking on the chocolate-factory example, it seems like the Product Manager is responsible for the next chocolate candy the factory should produce. Isn't it? Well, looking at it from that angle, with that example, it makes me wonder... Is this a role that going to stay with us in the future, for years to come? Do we really need that guy to tell us the next chocolate to produce?
On one hand, nowadays we see empowerment of Product Management in the organization, with more responsibility to make the right decisions and even a breakdown of this profession into specific expertise areas, like a Technical Product Manager, UX oriented Product Manager, B2B vs. B2C Product Manager and so on.
On the other hand, who says this profession will be with us forever? We can name very important professions of their time, which back then (not so many years later) you could bet your life they are crucial to the world but now gone from this it completely. Switchboard Operators, Ship Coal Stokers, Street Lamps Lighters, Radio Actors and Milkmen. Is Product Manager going be part of that distinguished list some day? What if a sophisticated computer will be able to design the optimal UX, or decide the best features and spec, based on competition analysis or comparing similar products and use-cases in industry history?
It seems to me that for the average grandma today (my not-so-close relative for example), the Product Manager role would sound like a reasonable-respectable job, but for her grandchildren, couple of years later, it might seem a bit silly...
Indeed there is a lot of data analysis the Product Manager should do. Create comparison tables with expected competition, collect numbers from past implementations, perform market analysis and more. A computer might do that better than a person, and indeed in last years we are bombarded with studies showing us that many jobs are at risk to be replaced by robots, software bots or automation of some sort. An Oxford University study predicted that 47% of all US jobs are under that threat.
But what about that "Secret Sauce"? the "hunch" or "Intuition" the Product Manager brings to the table? is it real or everything is in the numbers? for sure, it is something that (yet) no computer can replace.
So maybe the Product Manager role is about that? Maybe it is (or will be) more about the emotional aspect of the products? Maybe it is about trying to create that magical "thing" inside a Product that connects users, people, us, to that Product and not to others?
With the same studies talking about Jobs disappearance, there are similar ones mentioning new jobs created, predicting 65% of today's grade-school students might be employed in jobs that don't even exist yet. So maybe someday the Product Manager will actually be a "Product Psychic" or "Customer Psychologist"?
How would you define 'Product Manger' today and what do you expect will become of it in the future?