The Future of Product Management
January 4, 2018

The Future of Product Management

by Brian de Haaff

I care about product managers. A lot. This should not be a surprise. If you have been reading this blog for some time, then you know that I once was one. Product managers are special because they sit at the epicenter of everything. They communicate ideas, set strategy, and lead cross-functional teams to create products that delight customers. But there is something else that may be a surprise.

Product managers today are doing more than building products. Many of you are fundamentally transforming your companies in the process.

Why? Well, the best product managers want to build more than a product. You want to achieve lasting greatness and that means doing meaningful work that makes life better — for your customers, for your team, and also for yourself.

So you strive for a different way for your organization. But it is not easy. Perhaps you are pushed up against a longstanding culture of poor communication. Or maybe ill-defined strategy has always been a weak point for the company.

Lasting purpose is not complicated. It simply means you want to make things better and better and better for the people who use your product and those you work with.

I wrote about this in Lovability, my bestselling book for product and company builders. In it, I shared what it takes to build lovable products. At the center of this is what I call the Complete Product Experience (CPE). Adopting a CPE mindset requires thinking more broadly about what you create and how you can optimize every aspect of the customer experience.

The concept of the CPE is not an entirely new idea. But it still has not been widely adopted. The product managers and companies who do embrace it are the ones who can deliver what customers really want in the long term. This is the future mindset for product managers and it is here today.

The following represents what I believe to be the new direction of product management — each one is also a key characteristic of forward-reaching product builders:

Customer experience first Customer experience has surpassed projects and capabilities in terms of what is most important to company and product builders. This requires knowing and listening to customers better than ever before and being more responsive to their needs.

True strategic roadmaps Every company needs a strategic roadmap — a clear vision of the future and where it is headed at a high level. I have said this before, but I believe the companies that will succeed in 2018 will be the ones that have a real roadmap and can connect strategy to work.

Strategy + execution = winning Every company wants to be able to clearly see the links between strategy (the roadmap) and execution (the day-to-day work) to make sure the business is investing in what matters. Few do this exceptionally well. Those who can do this will be well-poised to succeed.

Centralized feedback Strategic roadmaps that connect to execution are only useful if they represent what customers really want and are accessible and tightly integrated into the product development lifecycle. This is why companies need a centralized way to collect internal stakeholder and customer feedback — to ensure the best ideas get added to the roadmap.

More accountability All of the above requires more accountability. Someone in the organization needs to be responsible for the product’s overall success. This is another reason the discipline of product management is growing. Product managers are the ones who are trained to build a roadmap and help cross-functional teams execute against it.

Single source of truth More accountability demands more consistent reporting on the progress of the product — which means that a single system of record is needed for product planning. Then, to create a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement, companies need to use that system to analyze how the overall product development process is working.

The beginning of each year is the opportunity to celebrate a new start. It also can be transformative if there is courage to think differently about the future. 

In many companies, product managers are leading the way. I do not have a crystal ball to tell you what your future will hold. But our team at Aha! speaks with thousands of product managers every month. The patterns are there.

Building a better future takes work and understanding. The list above is just the beginning. And beyond the basic skills required to do your job, you need an undeniable and unending hunger — an intrinsic motivation to make things better. Sounds like a job for a product manager.

What do you think is the future of product management?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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