Brightline CEO and Founder, Naomi Allen, talked at great length about Modern Product Executives and the evolution of product leaders. You should watch the entire video from her Speaker Series event in San Jose. 

The highlights of her presentation are detailed below.

What a product manager used to be in the 90s.

The position has greatly evolved over her career, but upon her entry to it, Allen saw something different than it is now.

“It was essentially, I hate to say this, but to be kind of an order taker. There were these huge waterfall cycles that would take a year to develop. There wasn’t a ton of room for creativity. The blessing for me was that I learned a bunch of really basic product skills. How to run a design story, and how to think about development cycles. But it was basically an order taking product role. I think of this era as the product executive as builder era.”

Product Managers in the 2000s

As tools and technology evolved, so too did the responsibilities of the product executive in the aughts. 

“In the 2000s, we moved to the cloud and we moved to agile, where the product executives all of a sudden had very different roles. There was a much more nimble build cycle. There was a much greater realization that the market was increasingly getting filled with competitors. 

The best way to get really effective products built was to pitch your products that are closer to the customer. So, they can hear a lot more about what the customer had to say. There was a much greater sort of sense of selling ahead of the market and problem identification. So, product leaders had to become really good at constructive listening. In most organizations, they’re kind of a hybrid of product development and product marketing.”

The challenges and opportunities of the Modern Product Executive

The bar has been raised for the Modern Product Executive.

“I think that the modern product executive actually has a new set of challenges and a new set of opportunities. And that’s actually to level up and play across the organization, including influencing sales, influencing marketing, influencing operations, definitely influencing engineering. It’s going to require a really different altitude of product executives and a really different way of thinking.”

On how to become a Modern Product Executive

It’s one thing to understand what the role has become, it’s another to know how to get there.

“Modern Product Executives really need to stop thinking about a linear career path and start thinking about alternatives to get off the path. Experiment early and often in your career.” 

The skills required to be current.

There are many skills required for being a great product manager, but perhaps most important is to keep up with the times and understand the current needs for the role.

“If there’s one thing that I think modern product executives need to be able to do, it’s really putting yourself in the shoes of the other executives and the team that you’re working with. I think the area that has been the most valuable for me as a leader, has been putting myself in the shoes of a sales team. It really takes a fine balance between the head of sales and the head of product. To calibrate how much is your organization, sales leading new opportunities into the product pipeline versus product presenting opportunities that you coach and train sales on how to deliver. That’s a really fine calibration.”
About the Video:

About the host
Neha Taleja Prezi, Director of Product

Neha is the Senior Director of Product at Macmillan Learning leading a set of start-up products under the institutional group aimed to address challenges in higher education such as affordability of educational materials, retention and student success. She has been bu.ilding, growing and scaling products in the ed-tech space for the past decade with her experience ranging from course-ware solutions, student facing applications, to analytics and insights tools for decision makers. She loves to travel and lives in South San Francisco to stay close to the airport

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