The Sudden Demise of Product Management
And other fake news
This is You Are The Product, a monthly newsletter for product people who want to become product leaders. Every month, I share my experience, material, and advice to help you move up the career ladder and have fun while at it.
Before I jump into a discussion about why all the posts on LinkedIn prophesying the death of product management as an independent function are fake news, a brief note on my absence.
I haven’t posted since April. In the past few months, I’ve experienced two large personal life events that though resolved in the best way possible, required time and effort away from anything that wasn’t family and work. We are only human, after all. And the demands of life sometimes mean disconnecting.
Scrolling through LinkedIn for the first time in weeks, it was quite the surprise to learn about the imminent demise of product management as a function.
The chatter on LinkedIn — with several poorly researched posts in it — claims that product managers are being slowly but steadily supplanted and replaced by teams of product engineers, as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with developments in tech and the advent of the AI age and LLMs without coding and other technical skills.
It seems to me we have this discussion cyclically, as I remember a time when Web Developers were meant to replace product managers. Or Program Managers (of which I was one). Or Subject-Matter Experts, the dreaded SMEs.
We are also always running in a circle on the discussion on how technical PMs really need to be. (Hint: They don’t, but it helps.)
Granted, this is a unique moment in tech history, and a renewed focus on technical understanding required to harness the full power of advances in AI technology does not seem at all out of place.
But I have absolutely no fear that “product engineers” are going to supplant “product managers.”
If there is one thing nobody wants right now, it’s to take on even more responsibility in the scope of a single role and position. We are all already doing that after rounds and rounds of layoffs and departures across all of tech, product managers and product engineers alike.
There is no doubt that product managers have to continue to upskill.
If anything, EVERYONE — not just PMs — should be learning about generative AI and LLMs, and perhaps it’s time to dust off those rusty Python skills, and get yourself a Jupyter notebook or something.
The Generative AI Learning Path on Google Cloud is a great way to get you started on that journey, even if you have no previous exposure to AI or coding. This is not a sponsored post, I’m doing this myself and would recommend it to everyone.
But dumping all of the responsibilities of the product management role into the lap of product engineers is not a new idea. It didn’t work before — remember, product managers emerged as a combined discipline of former marketing folks and software engineers, with a good sprinkle of business. We established a wholly new product development discipline to account for the gaps that existed previously.
Here are just some of the responsibilities of a product manager:
Own, develop, and evolve the vision and strategy for a product
Maintain a steady roadmap of product features and innovation in collaboration with Commercial, Marketing, Leadership & Management, Customers, Legal, and any other function relevant to the business
Define and prioritize a steady stream of product innovations in a living, ever-evolving product roadmap
Together with Design and Engineering, develop product solutions that are desirable by customers, solve real problems, generate value in the form of revenue and profit for the business, and are technically feasible within the scope of the product, the platform, its architecture, domains, and infrastructure
Co-develop concepts, designs, and high-level technical solutions, and comms detailing the product itself, its development, stakeholders involved, its dependencies, potential value, proof and validation of value, and value to customers, the business, and the market sector
Join user interviews and run customer research, and regularly speak with customers, their business users, and end users
Co-develop and test product prototypes by organizing user testing and alpha, beta, and early access programs
Run A/B and multivariate tests, often working side by side with BI and Data Science teams, and demonstrate success on product outcomes as expressed through metrics
Develop product metrics and co-design event tracking infrastructure to monitor product health
Write product briefs, strategy briefs and memos, collaborate on marketing collateral
Co-develop pricing for products you own
Write public roadmap posts announcing new features in collaboration with Product Marketing
Run product analysis, often in collaboration with Product Analysts, and develop benchmarks, track results, and share findings
Analyze complex data sets — now even with the help of AI tools — to gain new insights based on figures and determine the direction of the product based on its past and present performance
And that’s not even everything we have to do…
SIDENOTE ABOUT PRODUCT OPS
Some companies have ProductOps, those angels sent down from heaven, to help carry, ease, and automate away some of this burden.
I used to believe PMs didn’t need ProductOps. I saw it done poorly too many times before, but after having seen it done right, I’ve changed my tune. ProductOps is critical, but it requires competent folks to execute it right. Ideally, they should have been PMs themselves before.
But even with Product Ops, product managers have a lot of work on their hands.
I didn’t even mention all the support calls, technical troubleshooting, going above and beyond to help a customer solve an immediate problem.
And in case you’ve missed it — BUGS. 🐞
Yes, the engineers fix the bugs. But the product team prioritizes which bugs and other items to work on at any given point in time. That requires both the insight and skill of a product manager working with their team to resolve issues in a way that truly adds value.
Product management is a full-time job. One that is sorely needed.
Yes, some big companies out there have experimented with removing product management or shifting these responsibilities into roles like product marketing or even product engineering. But the truth is more complicated than a few outdated stories.
I quote it here verbatim with all the links, including one to a great article she wrote in response (with a video reaction, too!):
Just to correct a small piece: Airbnb has removed the siloed function (function as in department) but not the role. They are actually hiring PMs right now: https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/3674017616
Google as well (because you mention FAANG): https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/3660157575
And Apple (Role's name is PMM but in the description they call it PM): https://jobs.apple.com/de-ch/details/200494361/developer-product-marketing-manager?team=MKTG
And Netflix: https://jobs.netflix.com/jobs/274255075
Having said that, teams and org setups are evolving. And as I mention in my statement about Airbnb's changes (https://www.busra.co/post/my-opinion-about-airbnb-s-org-changes) it's good for them if they found a new way of working that works for them. It's going to be another interesting case to watch and see how it evolves. It's important that product management gets done somewhere in the company so that the right product is build that drives business and makes users & customers happy, but it's less important WHO does it. As long as nobody burns out it's cool :)
To avoid any confusion, all the great engineers I’ve had the privilege to work with — including the amazing folks I work with now — are more than capable of doing product work, moreso as a team, on top of their existing duties. And sometimes they do.
Because great teams help each other out when they can or the situation demands it. They are great PRODUCT engineers.
But they have to do all that on top of their existing, critically vital jobs. And all of the ones that I’ve worked with who like to do this work have themselves already become product managers.
Product engineers are critically important to product development.
But the list of responsibilities for a product engineer is just as long as it is for a product manager, with significant overlaps, but clearly distinct responsibilities and overall duties.
We are inviting burnout by trying to mush roles together that took us decades to separate. The advent of new technology means we all must develop new skills.
But when speaking about product managers, the idea that we must continuously upskill for the rest of our careers is hardly newsworthy. I see no sudden demise on the horizon, just a bunch of folks with a fantasy about saving a few bucks. If you ask me, this entire idea couldn’t stand on shakier legs than these.
And if it does anything, it will burn out a generation of brilliant engineers and marketing folks, as they’ll be too busy to evolve the role — which is what would be necessary for this to work. That may lead to a whole new discipline. But if you have to do everything a product engineer does and then everything a product manager does, you are bound to drop something along the way.
And all that would mean is that some of your responsibilities would have to go to someone else.
And then you can burn out together.
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