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How Will the Product Manager Role Change in 2018?

Agnes Sokol // February 5, 2018

As product experience becomes more important in many software companies, the product manager role is undergoing a fairly dramatic shift. The function of product teams is growing and product leadership is constantly learning and evolving. Success is no longer measured by velocity and roadmap delivery; it’s more about how well your product performs, how much value it drives and the love and loyalty your users have for the product.

We’re moving from the traditional “how many things did you ship?” quantitative question to a much broader “how much value did your product provide?” qualitative conversation. Product teams that can measure, track and show value delivered are the ones that have the most success. Ultimately, their businesses have higher revenues too.

In recent weeks, Pendo teamed up with our friends at Pragmatic Marketing to explore how the role of the product manager will evolve in 2018.

Before a record-setting (for Pendo) webinar audience, Pendo Chief Evangelist Eric Boduch and Kirsten Butzow, product coach at Pragmatic Marketing shared insights from their  decades of experience in the trenches of product management. The hour-long discussion boiled down to several key observations.  

  1. There’s a difference between a product owner and product manager.

For organizations using the Agile development framework, the concept of a distinct product owner has been built into the development process. As Agile was adopted more widely across organizations, it became common for companies to ask the product manager to also act as product owner.

This requirement tends to be unrealistic today, as it stretches product managers far too thin by asking them to lead the strategic direction of the product, while simultaneously acting as a daily subject matter expert for engineering. As a result, product leaders are spending more time on release management and hardly any time gathering the necessary market data to drive the future of their products.

The good news is that we are finally getting real with this challenge. Companies are realizing that to truly embrace agile, they must start resourcing all of the required roles correctly. This means having a product manager AND a product owner.

  1. Product managers must build for the multi-channel experience.

The consumerization of enterprise software means people use software across a variety of devices and they want access at any given time or location and the same user experience regardless of the device. It’s no longer acceptable to deliver products on a single platform with a single interface. Product managers must be adaptable to build products that respond to changing market needs very quickly, regardless of screen or device.

Eric reminded the audience that mobile users have very low tolerance for bad experiences. In fact, the average app loses nearly 80% of users within three days of installation. Great software products must deliver an exceptional experience at every user touchpoint or they will be replaced. With so many cloud-based offerings, it’s much easier for customers to make that change.

  1.  Design thinking is a powerful strategy for product managers.

By utilizing design thinking practices, product teams can learn what their customers really want, and make decisions that aren’t based on guesswork or instinct. In most cases, simplicity is key—there is a reason some of the best user interfaces tend to have the least amount of buttons.

Product teams often employ design thinking as a creative problem solving method, using elements from a designer’s toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions. This happens through five core stages: empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing.

The evolution of product roles ultimately  pushes product teams closer to their users, so they can build products based on real needs and habits.

To learn more about the evolution of the PM role in 2018, watch the full webinar video here.


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