Rise of the Modern-Day Product Manager

by Philip Alexander

“We want to know what every product in the world is. We want to know who every person in the world is. And we want to have the ability to connect them together in a transaction.” —Walmart’s CEO of global e-commerce

Technology is driving innovation and new product development in companies around the world. In turn, the demand for product management professionals who have a strong technical grounding is on the rise.

The evidence of this is apparent: The number of engineers/developers per product manager has increased by two in the past year alone, according to the results of the 2019 Pragmatic Institute Product Management and Product Marketing Survey. The survey also found that those professionals who consider themselves to be very technical are reaping the financial benefits of their knowledge, earning an average 11 percent more than their peers who don’t consider themselves technical at all.

Clearly, companies are on the hunt for product managers who have a strong technical background and are comfortable communicating with development and engineering teams efficiently and effectively — and they’re willing to pay for them. Yet, knowledge of the technical aspects of back-end development isn’t particularly new for product professionals. What is new, though, is the increasing need to understand the implications of big data.

Early adopters of big-data analytics have proven the benefits of leveraging information. Companies with the most advanced analytics capabilities outperform their competitors by wide margins and are twice as likely to be in the top quartile of financial performance within their industries, according to survey results from management consulting firm Bain & Company. They’re also five times as likely to make decisions faster than market peers and three times as likely to execute decisions as intended.

Currently, 80 percent of all customer data is completely unused. But, for companies that do it right, data is a way for product professionals to learn who customers are, what they want, and what motivates them to either stick around or go to a competitor. Insights-driven companies are using this constant feedback to build better products — and it’s giving them a competitive edge.

Take Target as an example. For many years, the retailer launched its swimwear collection in late spring and early summer. Then the company took a closer look the data and realized it was missing a key piece of insight: College kids plan and get ready for spring break in late winter and early spring. To position itself as a leader for this market segment, Target started selling its swimwear collection online in February — just in time for spring break.

This represents just one example of companies that are leveraging users’ behavioral data as a direct line of communication to inform business decisions. And, ultimately, these decisions are resulting in better products, better customer experiences and — perhaps most important — better revenue.

Philip Alexander is CEO of Pragmatic Institute, the world’s leading authority on product management, product marketing and data science. The company’s courses are based on a proven framework for creating market and data-driven products. Alexander has spent more than two decades on the front lines of senior-level international marketing, witnessing firsthand how some of the world’s leading companies managed their brands.

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