The State of Digital Product Management in the US Midwest

This post was written by Lydia Henshaw and posted on Medium. Lydia presented this content as a keynote to kickoff ProductCamp Cincinnati 2018. She is Head of Product at Alchemy, a P&G company, and a supporter of all things product in Cincinnati. Alchemy was the presenting sponsor at the 2018 ProductCamp.

Opportunities for digital product managers and products in the region, & other thoughts.

I had the pleasure of speaking as a keynote to a packed room of eager product management professionals at last week’s ProductCamp in Cincinnati..

It’s a really good time to be a digital product manager in the Midwest.

Digital product managers are in high demand, for several reasons. Companies across the US, and especially in the Midwest face market pressures that are requiring more agility for their survival. Leaders are in search of new ways to unlock innovation, new ideas and faster paths to market. Companies are seeking agile solutions as a result. This is great for the product management profession because lean thinking and lean product teams are heralded as the solution to this need.

Environmental changes are driving a higher demand for product managers in small, medium and large organizations.

With demand comes investment in various solutions. This is manifesting itself in several forms — through training and hiring and building new teams.

With change, comes resistance. Cultural challenges emerge from this equation, which is not unexpected. This requires a mindset shift in management and up the entire chain, which has implications on the connected pieces of a company — from R&D to product supply, to finance, to consumer research, to commercial and across the board. The resistance to change can add to the headwinds that a product manager may face in bringing a new process and methodology to the organization (while also bringing an actual product to market).

So what does this mean for digital product teams in the Midwest?

Such teams are becoming highly integrated components across companies.

With change comes opportunity; product teams are at the center of the change in corporations today.

Digital product teams are highly visible across multiple functions, generally pervading across broad functions that are traditionally siloed in organizations. There is significant pressure on product teams to deliver — and sometimes this pressure comes from a misinformed or misunderstood perspective, thereby creating unachievable expectations.

I’ve experienced a deep admiration for these product teams as well. Stakeholders often genuinely apply the “expert” label to the teams. “you all are the experts!” and this label is applied with respect and intrigue. One challenge is, when an expert is misunderstood, the expectations are hard to manage. (see YouTube link above). But nonetheless, there is a respect for the role, which is very positive and can be an opportunity to build alliances.

Now, what does all of this mean for digital product managers in the Midwest?

It’s time to shine! And, mainly: deliver

These are the key responsibilities for a strong product manager, imho.

Product managers are the tip of the spear in the product development process and this region needs strong product managers in order to deliver meaningful solutions for consumers and customers.

Your core responsibilities are to the Consumer. Know the consumer. Feel the pain and the needs of your consumer. You should know the needs of your consumer better than anyone. Remember:

Insights don’t come from competition, they come from the consumer.

Know the business. You should know the business need and the market through a deep understanding of trends, the competition and the domain of your product.

Know your product. It is the key delivery mechanism for the solution — you must own the vision, the choices, the understanding of the how and the why.

Know the data. How does your data impacts decisions (how are consumers interacting with your product? What areas need to be improved? Where should there be less friction, are you delivering on what your consumers need?.

Be a strong voice for your product throughout your organization and with the people in your path of engagement. This means your steering committees (if you have them), your stakeholders, your product team. This includes realizing that people learn and listen differently. Some people learn by hearing, some by doing, some by seeing. This means your roadmaps should clearly and simply communicate expected activity over time; your reports should clearly communicate on how close you are to your key performance indicators or your success metrics; your conversations on tradeoffs should accurately consider the way in which your audience intakes information and processes it in order to make a decision.

Imperatives for product managers! Do these for strong products.

Good luck! Message me on LinkedIn with questions — happy to help.