The Evolution of Product Management
We recently sat down with Andreessen Horowitz General Partner, Anish Acharya, to discuss how product management has evolved over time and within companies. It’s a great listen for all product managers interested in staying current within their roles as PMs.
Product management is a field that is ever-changing. Christina Lucey chatted with her mentor and former manager about the evolution of product management. They also covered how the role evolves within a company over time.
The whole episode of Product Talk is fascinating, but you can also check out the highlights below:
On the role of product in early-stage companies
According to Acharya, the role of product changes as a company evolves.
“Early is exciting because it’s when there is the most potential and the products can go, and really the business can go, in so many different directions. I think the product is the most interesting sort of interface between all of the intentionality and all the sort of designs of the creator of that product, of the PM, and the market, their customers.
So the product really represents, especially at this early stage, this manifestation of ambition and intention. It’s something that you can over-index at the early stage. At later stages, that it becomes more of a financial conversation. So just it’s an exciting time and the product is the best representative of what’s going on and what to be excited about for companies at that stage.”
On what has changed in product over the last 10 years
This change is what Acharya sees as creating the best products from his perspective as a GP at a16z.
“There was a world maybe ten years ago when product was really, I don’t know if clean is the right word, but it was a narrow domain where it was really the business of product people and engineering people. Everything now, most of the best products are created by joining the perspectives of people in many different functions.”
On the evolution of product within a company and industry
The evolution of product within a company changes as a company grows. We’ve seen the role of product evolve within industry as well.
“I think that the way that you actually have leverage changes over time. It happens both within a company and in the industry more broadly. So, I think a great example is if you look at how a company is built, like what is a company superpower over time, maybe at the beginning, when your pre-product-market fit, it’s just speed of learning. Whether that’s our lovable YC founders eating ramen noodles, coding till three in the morning, or a very different style of team either way, the faster you go, the faster you learn, the faster you get to product-market fit.
So your superpower is speed, then post product-market fit, you start to look at how you get scale. How do you take the thing that’s working for a small number of people and working really well, and actually get it to all of the people? Then there’s a phase around, how do you start to unlock the adjacencies around that product? So, at each of those different phases, you go from speed to scaling to product design and product strategy to perhaps going all the way back to the initial state and saying, ‘hey, now when we need to build our second successful product, we need to go back to being fast and creative.’ So, I think companies change in how they actually can exert leverage and I think industry has also changed in a very similar way.”
On the evolution of the product manager
Product manager is a role that is constantly changing.
“I think if you look at what’s happened in the last 10 years, the last 20 years, in fact, more of the things that product managers traditionally used to do or getting done by their teams. One of the roles of the product manager was to actually handle all the designs and get them from design to engineering. Now design and engineering are collaborating more directly. That’s a cultural change. But there are tools like Figma, which are enabling that. There’s also things like product managers collecting requirements and feedback from customers. While increasingly we have a customer advisory board or we have a Slack channel with a bunch of key customers.
What you’re starting to see is that a lot of work that can be automated will be automated. And that’s a good thing because where product managers really add value is in these sorts of highly ambiguous situations. So within an organization, I think that’s where PMs earn their paycheck. Sometimes ambiguity is customer-oriented. Like they’re asking for x, but we think they need y. Sometimes the ambiguity is organizational. So like, how do we actually get something done that may be unpopular or uncomfortable for the organization, etc, etc.”