Automating Product Management

In the fourth part of our series speaking with Nils Davis, we take a peek into a mind very much focused on the future of product management, from its challenges to the exciting events shaping the many years to come.

Who says where product people have to begin their careers? Passion and the desire to improve and create products can come from anywhere… such as a tech writer. Nils Davis’ journey is one of a tech writer crossing over to the product side, and doing so superbly.

In the fourth part of our series speaking with Nils Davis, we take a peek into a mind very much focused on the future of product management, from its challenges to the exciting events shaping the many years to come.

Looking forward…

> What trends do you see in product management? positive trends? any negative trends?
The rate of failure of new products coming into the market suggests that the new product development process – from ideation to portfolio planning to requirement management to development – needs to get better. The first three phases I list are not automated in most companies, and I think we’ll see much more automation of the new product process in the next few years. Of course, that’s where my products sit, so this will be good for me. But product managers in particular have been “making do” with MS Word and Excel, which have a whole lot of problems in terms of being effective enterprise management tools – no central repository, no ability to create explicit relationships between elements (requirements to customers, for example), no planning-specific analytics. So there’s a massive opportunity to get much more powerful management and analytic capabilities into the hands of product managers and product planners, and that should go a long way to improving the success of product launches in the future.

> How do you see product management evolving over the next 5 years?
Recently CNN Money did a slideshow of the top paid professions that showed product managers have slid to the top of the high-tech pay-scale over sales. Obviously, that’s good for our pocketbooks, but more importantly, it shows that innovation and product superiority have been recognized by the C-levels as the next (and perhaps last) area of competitive advantage – there’s an increasing realization that superior products – not just superior sales – are key to revenue growth.

So overall, the business focus is going to be on ways to get better products to market faster – meaning that product management, and product managers, will see
increasing prioritization on products, better funding, and improved C-level support. To get better products, PMs are going to need to be linked into the market better, whether through social media-like online tools to collaborate directly with customers in new ways, voice of the customer capabilities, or just getting out to the customer more, and they’re going to need better tools to help them make sense of all the market information they’re getting.

As a result, there are some particular areas of change we’ll see:

  • Product management as a role will have to get more professional, and product managers will be better and better trained on product management per se. I think you’ll see a proliferation of “Product Manager Boot Camp” type courses offered by business schools, for example.
  • Automation, as I mentioned above. Today, you couldn’t hire a software developer if you didn’t have a lot of tool support for him or her – an IDE, a source code control system, a build system, a defect tracking system. In the future, product managers will demand the same level of support – there will either have to be the capability already in house, or the PM will have to be given the opportunity to implement one.
  • Incorporation of new technologies and approaches into the product process. As I mentioned above, game mechanics and social networking are new technologies that have the potential to drive a lot of change in how the product teams interact and collaborate with each other, and with the market itself. And as new technologies for collaboration arise, the product management function will become a leader in use of those technologies – they’ll need to in order to meet the priorities of the business.

In a few years, collaborative online communities, sophisticated analytics tools and more involvement from the CEO may all be the norm. Comparatively, we’ll look back at today, where half of new products fail, our most sophisticated technology tools are Microsoft Office programs, and company leadership is hands-off about the products that drive revenue and today’s standard will feel archaic.


Over the next few weeks, I will share more of my interview with other fascinating product people!

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Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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