By Mike Fishbein for Alpha — About our Guest Author

While the threats that have motivated large organizations to transform are existential in nature, the leaders who will help guide those organizations to success are right under their noses: product managers. The product management role itself is undergoing a tremendous evolution—a shift that bodes well for large organization.

We recently surveyed more than 250 product managers to uncover both how their teams are transforming and how their teams are transforming their organizations. This article covers three key insights on the role of modern product managers in 2019 and beyond.

1. Keeping the Business Top of Mind

When we conducted our first annual Product Management Insights survey four years ago, the most common field that product managers came from was software. This finding supported the ongoing and widely held assumption that most product managers are former engineers.

This year, for the first time since we did our first report, our data shows that product managers most commonly came from roles in business management. This background provides a broader understanding of the business, drivers of growth, and strategy, and it means more companies now have product managers that view their role more holistically, as opposed to simply from a tactical perspective.

2. Solving for “Why”

Our research puts this emphasis on business management into context. We’ve found that the job of a product manager has changed radically over the past few years. There’s a lot less writing SQL queries and code and more sourcing users for feedback, conducting user interviews and prototyping. Sixty-nine percent of product managers report being responsible for customer interviews, an increase of 10% since the 2017 report.

The role has become more strategic and central to the success of the business. The product manager of 2019 is pushing to be a catalyst for innovation. According to the report, they want to shift more time from dealing with internal politics, to activities that will move the business forward—such as conducting user interviews and running product experiments.

While they are not likely to totally break free from bureaucracy, managing time and responsibilities gets easier when tasks like sourcing users and running experiments are more automated and seamless. New tools help product teams get critical feedback faster and more cost-effectively, empowering them to do what they do best: build, innovate and iterate.

3. Championing Innovation Best Practices

Another important shift afoot is the evolution of the role from “project management” to true blue product management. Many product managers are still escaping the trap of being managers who get projects handed to them by the C-suite and are told to “build something” or “make it better.” A successful innovator proves themselves as a strategic leader focused on business objectives, to create and iterate on products and solutions that go to market. Forward thinking product managers use objective insights and data to validate or invalidate the assumptions that are handed to them.

Pursuing an already decided and roadmapped project takes a product manager’s focus off of an innovative product that they won’t be able to pursue. With direct access to objective user insights, a product manager can say to their boss, "Hey, I get why we came up with this. I think it's a really good idea but here's why it doesn't work. And not only that, there is something similar that would work a lot better. Here's how I already validated it in the market."

58% percent of product managers report spending time on analytics on a daily basis.
— 2019 Product Management Insights Report, Alpha

Product managers are becoming educators and evangelizers of innovation and experimentation. They are increasingly data-driven and logical in nature. Fifty-eight percent of product managers report spending time on analytics on a daily basis.

But even an agile, customer-centric organization can be an emotional—as opposed to logical—place. The product leader of 2019 needs to talk to stakeholders about a new way forward with agile development, and how companies like Amazon are cutting an experiment-driven path to innovation. 23% of product managers said they want to spend more time collaborating with internal stakeholders. This represents a significant increase from last year’s survey when only 9% said this.

Ultimately, everyone wants to work on high-impact products and solutions that meet the wants and needs of customers. If there’s alignment around this vision, then it’s easier to get everyone onboard, and educate them about how to build winning products.

From Obstacles to Organizational Transformation

Organizations in competitive categories face significant obstacles, and categories such as media, commerce, finance and retail face shakeouts and a consumer revolution. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a radical transformation in the product management department—one that will drive business to overcome these challenges. Product managers are now the tip of the spear for organizational transformation.

About our Guest Author: Mike Fishbein is Director of Demand Generation at Alpha where he co-authored the 2019 Product Management Insights Report and produces This is Product Management, a podcast that’s featured leaders from companies including Spotify, Salesforce, and General Electric.