Future of (Product) Managers in an AI-led world: Here is how to thrive

The field of product management is rapidly changing, and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way products are developed, marketed, and sold.

With AI becoming more mainstream and capable to automate a lot of mundane tasks, Product Management role is up for a real disruption and many product managers will face the heat in the coming days.

road under Milky Way Galaxy
Photo by Brent Cox on Unsplash

Market trends in 2023 and beyond

There are 2 mega trends at play in the world today:

  1. Economic downturn
  2. Rise of generative AI (and automations)

Combine the two trends, layoffs and cost cuttings are bound to happen (obviously speaking).

Recession-proof skills in any company

When it comes to any company, two skills that are recession proof are:

  1. Either you can create (i.e engineering)
  2. Or you can sell (sales)

Everything else is a support function and is a candidate for culling (including senior management role, which has been a big layoff candidate across the board).

Of course, the above 2 roles are also being let go of, but that’s because companies have hired too many engineers/sales teams (look at Twitter).

The product management role needs to be reimagined, as it has lately become ‘the’ lucrative role everyone is going after.

The PM role has often been debated and unlike any other role in the tech industry, product management role has its own flavor depending on the company, team and industry.

Redefining Product Management Role

What about Product Management? I believe, there are 2 ways to look at it:

  1. Product management as a function, as a skill
  2. Product management as a role, a title

The two are a different beast. For e.g. Zerodha doesn’t have a PM role but has a PM function (performed by leadership team, listen to my podcast with Kailash, Zerodha CTO) 👇

The reality of most product management roles

A lot of product managers are in for that ‘managerial’ title, where they are neither coding nor selling or marketing — and are mostly doing program management role, i.e. interfacing with engg, product, marketing, sales etc.

Of course, this is much needed, but what are the real skills expected from a product manager?

What are the skills of a product manager?

Skill wise, I’d divide the Product Management role in 2 broad buckets.

  1. Core skills.
  2. Functional skills

Note that these aren’t mutually exclusive roles, but a healthy overlap is needed to really ensure that the product manager is the one person to ask/discuss anything related to the customer needs.

Core skills of a Product manager

Core skills of a Product manager

  • Customer development
  • Deeper pulse of the market
  • Analyzing Customer needs vs. wants (jobs to be done and beyond)
  • Quickly develop that instinct to understand/guestimate what customers would need
  • Learn to say NO to stakeholders (including the CEO) because ‘you’ know what’s right for the customers.
  • Represent customer in front of the team
  • Represent company in front of the customer

Functional skills of a Product manager

Functional skills of a Product manager

  • Write PRDs
  • Interface with engg /marketing/sales teams
  • Create brochure / product docs etc.
  • Falling in 💘 with Jira tickets.
  • And of course, writing viral Twitter threads 😎

What kind of a product manager are you?

Are you a functional product manager or the one who is deeply performing core skills?

Of course, there is going to be an overlap between the two — but if you don’t own customer interactions and you are not going out and talking, you are not performing the core skills, it’s going to be a tough time ahead.

What percentage of PMs are doing core skills vs. functional skills?

My guess (after interviewing a few PM candidates over the last 12 months) is that majority of product managers are doing functional skills.

How can I say this? Well, look at the sudden rise of ‘Crack Product management interview’ courses that help prepare candidates for interviews (and not for work).

AI in Product Management…spells Automation

What product management skills can be automated?

Pretty much most of the functional skills.

What are the skills that can’t be automated?

The core skills of a product manager, i.e. your relationship with the customer, the fact that you are ‘out there’ and you are that damn interface between customers and your team and team’s go-to-person for anything related to customer requirements and industry trends.

How to really thrive in 2023 and beyond?

Build on core skills.

Learn to ask a lot of questions.

Have an open mind when it comes to customer interactions.

Own the show.

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