I had the privilege of moderating the panel, Next Generation Product Management: Adapting To The Future, last week at a Boston Product Management Association event. We had four great panelists; Karl Wirth, the CEO of Apptegic, Andy Singleton the CEO of Assembla, Andrew Hally VP of Marketing at Bullhorn, and Matt Kaplan, VP of Products at LogMeIn. All of the panelists are executives at SaaS software companies or provide solutions to software product development teams.
The skills and expertise required by product managers is changing and there were four themes that really came out in the discussion.
First, product managers will need to have a strong background in user experience and user interface design. The design of modern SaaS applications and business models rely on strong customer engagement throughout the customer life-cycle. Many things that were previously outside the application are now incorporated into it. Product managers will not have to be user interface design engineers but need to have been immersed in user interface and user experience and made the kinds of decisions and tradeoffs that are necessary.
Second, product managers will need to have a stronger understanding of data, in many cases a lot of data, or to use the current buzzword “big data”. Some of the data comes from the data that the customer puts in the system, some of the data is from transactions, and some is analytical data collected to understand how the customer is interacting with the system. Statistical tools will need to be used to analyze this data and although a product manager will not need to be a statistician they will need to understand how to analyze data and make decisions based on the data. It will be important to understand when the analysis can be done simply or when more sophisticated tools and expertise is needed.
Third, in general there will be a trend toward more integration and sharing of responsibilities between marketing and product management. Product managers will need to have more marketing skills. One panelist talked about the importance of a “marketing moment” and the importance of being able to identify and capitalize on these moments. These are the points in time when something new is available in the application or something has happened in the market which provide an opportunity to communicate with customers and prospects. Timing to capitalize on the opportunities is important since they are in many respects “moments”. Agile development and continuous development will both contribute toward an environment where occasion product releases are a thing of the past and change will be much more continuous. This drives the requirement to think in marketing moments.
Fourth, the ability to focus on the most important thing, the ability to prioritize, to identify the minimum required features was a big focus by all of the panelists. The consensus was that one of the biggest product management mistakes that they had seen was feature overload and not identifying the things that were the most important features. A key skill to identifying the key features is of course the ability to listen.
The good news is that one of the best ways to acquire some of these new skills are to actually dive in and do them. The experience does not have to necessarily be in a company environment but small side projects can be very beneficial in providing the experience. The consensus was that domain knowledge and specific technical skills will become less important with more focus on the above areas. Technology strategy decisions will continue to important but probably not any more important than today.
It was a great panel and a great opportunity to hear the insights from this group of software product executives.