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The evolving role of product managers

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In the not-so-distant past, the role of a Product Manager was shrouded in ambiguity within corporate structures. Many people wondered, “What does a product manager do?” However, in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, Product Managers have emerged as essential cogs in the machinery of modern businesses. Their journey from obscurity to prominence is truly remarkable, characterized by transformed identities and newfound powers in the boardrooms of innovation.

The Shifting Landscape of a Product Manager’s Role Over Time:

A mere decade ago, product managers were considered as the ‘Jack-of-All-Trades’, dabbling a bit in marketing, overseeing some development, or keeping an eye on sales. Fast-forward to today’s digital-first economy and the role of a product manager has undergone a tectonic shift. They now play a pivotal role in businesses and are the masterminds of product strategy, the voice of the customer, and the visionaries who shape not just products, but markets and business models themselves.

From Custodians to Pathfinders: The Evolutionary Leap

Product Managers have evolved from being mere custodians of development protocols to becoming pathfinders, charting new frontiers in the digital landscape. This shift has been driven by the realization that exceptional products are the cornerstone of commercial success in an era where product strategy dictates market leadership. In fact, a recent Gartner report revealed that in more than 50% of businesses, growth strategies are propelled by the strategic influence of product management.

The Present: A Paradigm of Influence

In conversations with industry leaders, there’s a common thread — a recognition that product management today is not just about overseeing a lifecycle. “Their perspectives have redefined our business strategies. They are expected to influence direction at the highest levels, often without direct authority.” shares a CTO from a burgeoning tech firm.

In an age where agility trumps size and speed outpaces tradition, the role of the product manager has shifted towards one of influence and impact. They’re now the connective tissue between what users need, what technology can achieve, and what businesses must become.

What’s Lacking: A Cry for Vision and Versatility

Despite their rise, there persists a consensus among industry titans that something is amiss. “We’re churning out tactical warriors when we need strategic visionaries. We’ve seen product leaders like Satya Nadella (Chairman & CEO, Microsoft) and Sundar Pichai (CEO, Alphabet Inc.) rise to become CEOs, which underscores the need for a broader vision” opines a seasoned CEO of a fast-growing Technology Firm. The sentiment reflects a gap — a need for product managers who can see beyond the next quarter, can integrate insights from global markets, regulatory environments, and technological disruptions into a cohesive, forward-thinking product vision.

Numbers Tell a Tale

The numbers also tell a story of this evolving role. LinkedIn data reflects a significant surge of 30% in product management roles over the past two years, indicating a market that is responding to this new need. However, a disconcerting trend highlighted by Harvard Business Review reveals that nearly half of product launches fail to meet customer needs, underscoring the demand for a deeper understanding of markets and user psychology.

The Future: A Convergence of Disciplines

In our discussions with another forward-thinking Chief Product Officer (CPO), an intriguing perspective emerged: ‘Leaders like Sundar Pichai didn’t just understand products; they understood the narrative of technology in society.’ This reflects what the future role of a product manager is envisioned to be.

The product managers of tomorrow will be those who can combine business acumen, technology expertise, data science insights, design thinking, and strategic foresight into a singular, compelling product narrative to drive innovation and market success. They will be the polymaths of the corporate world — equally at ease discussing the nuances of AI as they are with the subtleties of user experience or the implications of global economics on product positioning. So, what will a product manager do in the future? They will become the architects of transformative narratives that propel businesses to success.

Cultivating the Next Generation

So, how do we cultivate the next generation to become skilled product managers? As we navigate this future, institutions and businesses alike must pivot—transforming their curriculums and cultures to foster the growth of these new-age product maestros. With this vision, HSB is pioneering a full-time, industry-aligned MBA program specializing in Product Management. This innovative program blends business, technology, design, and strategic management to produce not just product managers but product visionaries. HSB’s curriculum is not merely an academic route but a crucible for shaping visionaries, much like how Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai honed their insight into user-centric strategies and expansive market visions.

Closing Reflection

From operational overseers to strategic leaders, product managers are redefining their roles, setting a precedent for business leadership. They are not only adapting to change but are now at the helm, steering the corporate ship through uncharted waters.

As the renaissance of product management continues, understanding what does a product manager do and meeting the product manager requirements are vital. The onus falls on businesses and educational institutions like HSB to shape these roles into ones that not only adapt to changing commerce trends but also steer its powerful currents. 

The question that remains is: Are you ready to take the reins and embrace this new era of product leadership? If you are, HSB’s MBA program with a specialization in Product Management is your gateway to a future defined by innovative leadership. Step into this realm where today’s product managers prepare to become tomorrow’s corporate luminaries.