The business world has seen the future, and that future is product led. It’s no surprise, then, that product managers are increasingly taking on responsibilities and initiatives outside their traditional purview, including leading digital transformation initiatives for their companies. 

“More and more, product managers are becoming the driving force for how organizations think about the future of their business overall,” Tatyana Mamut (senior vice president of new products, Pendo) recently noted at this year’s Pendomonium festival. She spoke about where product management is headed in a conversation with Eric Iwashita (senior product manager, Pendo), and Shiv Patel (growth product manager, Productboard). 

Let your product do the talking 

The idea of a business being “product led” is so popular now that it’s effectively become a buzzword. But what does it actually mean? For Patel, product-led companies are the ones that make their product an integral part of sales and marketing. Gone are the days, he explained, where clients sign contracts based on merely seeing a product through someone else’s screen. 

“Ten years or so ago [businesses] started doing proofs of concept: Try this thing out for 90 days; if you like it, continue and extend your contract; but if not, walk away. A couple of years ago, we also started doing free trials: Rather than just looking at a product on my screen, go try this product out for 14 days or 30 days,” he said. “Now we have freemium plays and things like that.”

For Iwashita, being product led means having a winning product experience. “The best product in the market is the one that’s going to go viral and attract the talent, it’s the one that’s going to drive the most revenue or acquire the most customers,” he said. In today’s hypercompetitive environment, the highest quality products are the only ones with a chance of standing out.

The skills most valuable to aspiring PMs

As product managers (PMs) assume a more central role in business strategy, different skills have come into demand for the role. Iwashita noted the importance of “soft” skills, particularly around leadership. “To be the agents of change that businesses are expecting product managers to be, you have to be comfortable taking bold action, standing up for what’s right,” he said. 

For Patel, it’s obsession with one’s product domain—something that lets a PM better understand customer wants and needs. “When I mentor new PMs,” he explained, “I tell them the companies that you should work for are the companies whose products and services you use—or their competitors. If you order 50 Ubers a day, go work for Uber or Lyft because you’re going to empathize with your customer.”

Mamut stressed the importance of good judgment for up-and-coming PMs, particularly around customer wants and needs and how they may change in the future. “Our job is to figure out: What is the world going to want 6 months from now, 12 months from now, 18 months from now, when our vision is actually able to be built?” she noted. “Customer needs are not just their needs, they’re actually based on habits, beliefs, behaviors, and mental models.” Understanding where those beliefs are—and how they may evolve in the future—is essential for a PM to be successful. 

PMs as change leaders

Ultimately, the best PMs bring a special skillset that puts them in a unique position to lead change within their business. If you’re a strong PM, Iwashita explained, “you’re a really skilled problem solver able to synthesize a lot of different inputs.” For him, “the ability to synthesize all that data and to communicate your plan in a very clear way is unique to a product manager.”

He concluded by noting the unique position PMs now find themselves in: “Product people are the only ones whose job it is to reconcile the business needs with the user needs.” Sitting at that intersection between the user and the business makes the PM vital in their organization’s success.

To learn more about the future of product management, check out the entire conversation from Pendomonium, Pendo’s annual product festival, below: 

https://pendo-1.wistia.com/medias/4l8337puar?embedType=iframe&videoWidth=720

About the Author

Nat Brown is a content marketing manager at Pendo, where he focuses on digital adoption and employee experience. A former journalist, he enjoys reading and spending time with his family.