Product Management is suddenly hip. How could that happen?

Product managers are the new stars of the tech scene. Evidence of this trend was showcased recently at TNW Europe in Amsterdam. Despite lacking some of the ‘big business’ glamour, product management is where the action is today.

From the huge stage in Gashouder, Product people like Julie Zhuo, VP Product Design of Facebook, or Aparna Chennapragada, Director of Product at Google, gave insights into the product thinking of these net giants. The focus is always — the human.

The vocabulary has changed. We no longer call the audience users or consumers, but people — or human beings. This change of perspective also explains why the attention is now not solely on developers or entrepreneurs.

Sure, we are still talking about technology, and developers are still in great demand. As are entrepreneurs who create new things out of nothing. But even in the most recent generation of entrepreneurs, it’s the product people who stand out more clearly than they did a year or two ago.

AI + UI + I

It is they who ultimately create value out of technology and code, of design and user experience (UX) with a clear focus on humans. Aparna Chennapragada describes the secret sauce with the formula AI + UI + I. Artificial intelligence plus user interface plus human. The product management of Facebook, from where Julie Zhuo can draw on more than a decade of experience, uses three simple questions:

  • What people problem are we trying to solve?
  • How do we know this is a real problem?
  • How will we know if we’ve solved this problem?

Focus is the key to success. Without it, it’s easy to get bogged down, and product development sinks into the mire. Focus, therefore, is a high art.

Des Traynor, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Intercom, looked at the tectonic shifts in today’s world of products. Will our creations still be relevant in the age of bots, AI, augmented reality and virtual reality? How can product management deal with it?

Certainly not like Steve Ballmer, who famously derided the first iPhone. Traynor quoted Ghandi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” And Steven Sinofsky:

“No technology is really the centre of a system, but rather a constellation of bodies under the influence of each other.”

Product makers will always go where the people are. And that is currently first and foremost messaging. This is why bots, currently, are so hot — because they may be located exactly at the intersection between messaging and AI, thus joining two hot topics together.

This tectonic shift can have far-reaching consequences. “The product is now part of the conversation.” Traynor overlooked conversational commerce and selected a vivid comparison when he referred to messaging as “the command line for normal people”.

Every product maker must ask themselves whether they really want to expect people to learn a new interface. Or whether it would be better to use an existing, universal paradigm, as — in the post-app world — messaging is now.

Human-Centred Design

How much Human-Centred Design (once popularised by IDEO) has now seeped into the general consciousness of the digital industry was demonstrated by the fact that a veteran like Jeff Jarvis now speaks of it. He advocates considering people as individuals and members of communities — and not on their demographic criteria.

Only the shift of emphasis towards the product has not yet been fully grasped by journalism professor Jarvis. He continues to believe the product is static — and not a dynamic element that makes a successful digital concept. Products are never really finished, but continually evolve, driven by product managers who are no longer just small cogs in the corporate wheel. They are key players of the internet in the year 2016.

German version here.


Originally published at nextconf.eu on June 6, 2016.

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