Why Product Managers are Here to Stay

Why product managers are Here to Stay

There has been a recent buzz within the product management community, with several bold assertions about the future direction of the product management role and even questioning the necessity of product managers themselves.

Ryan Singer, author of ‘Shape up: Stop Running in Circles and ship work that matters’, claimed that engineers might take over the product management role, minimising the value added by product managers.

Only a week later, Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, shared his intention to eliminate the product manager role. However, he later rectified this statement and clarified that the product management role would merely undergo a transition towards product marketing.

Are they just stirring the pot, or should we be worried? Let’s find out!

dualoop ryan singer kevin gao brian chesky, product managers replaced by engineers

Will engineers take over the role of product managers?

According to Ryan Singer, engineers are learning how to do product management. At the same time, product managers are not learning how to build software. Therefore, product management can be done by engineers, eliminating the need for dedicated product managers.

Before we collectively jump to conclusions, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves about what product managers do:

  • Product managers research and analyse the market, customers, and users
  • Product managers monitor product and business performance
  • Product managers create strategies and translate these strategies into prioritised plans
  • Product managers coordinate discovery and execution and bring focus and clarity on what’s next
  • Product managers create a unified vision forward amidst an often divided organisation

This requires a significant commitment requiring dedicated focus to manage, facilitate and execute these activities end-to-end.

So, what would be the outcome if product managers are taken out of the equation and the gap is filled by the engineering team? Well, the engineers would have less time to engineer.

They would spend less time on their mission: designing and building innovative technical solutions for complex problems. They would need to shift their attention between creating and shipping solutions and all the research and work that goes into finding, aligning on, and defining the right problems to solve.

People can do anything, but people can’t do everything.

Will product management transform into product marketing?

Another interesting movement is Airbnb’s choice to merge product management and product marketing. But this is not a novel concept. As a product marketing manager, you are responsible for communicating why a product is meaningful to customers and users. The best person to do this can be the one who helps drive its creation - the product manager. Apple also adopts this approach.

It’s important to understand how vastly different the product management role can be across different organisations. While SaaS seems to reign supreme in today’s era, we must not overlook all other existing products, services and business models that bring value to consumers.

Each company operates and delivers value within its own context. Industry, maturity, scale, type of products and/or services, and target audience all influence the approach taken. For some organisations, it might make sense for product managers to have in-depth technical expertise; others rely on product managers with established marketing skills. There is no right or wrong.


So should we fear for our jobs? Or is product management, as we know it today, going to disappear?

Good product managers will keep on delivering value towards building great products. But there is no single blueprint for success, and we will always be in a state of flux.

Like anything in life, accepting change, embracing how the role evolves and adapting to the specific context of our organisations are key. As long as we do this, we all will be fine.

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