Digitalization of Product Management in Switzerland

07 Nov, 2016
Xebia Background Header Wave

Digitalization is everywhere. Traditional industries are being disrupted and a new world awaits: One where we no longer go to the bank to pay our invoices or go to the shop to buy our groceries. One where, if we want to buy a train ticket we turn to our phone (how ironic that we still use the word phone for a device we do almost everything with BUT actually phone somebody). Every other service and product which used to be a real life event has now its digital Doppelgänger.

But where does product management come in?
In the age of digitalization, this role and profession is becoming more and more prominent.

From a cursory analysis of titles on professional networks, we find there are over 30’000 product managers in Switzerland. To some it may seem strange that the majority of them work in companies that do not create tangible products, but rather what we nowadays call digital products. So what is it that a product manager does? Does every business need one? And what does Product Management look like in Switzerland?

The role as a professional designation is rather new, although people have been performing similar activities under different guises in the past. The “inception” of product management is considered by most the 1931 memo in which Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble expressed his need for “brand men”. McElroy described “Brand Men” as having complete responsibility for a brand – from overseeing sales to managing the product, advertising and promotion activities. He explained that this could be done successfully through field testing and client interaction.

The next big step for product management was taken by Steve Jobs, recognized by many practitioners as the ultimate product manager. Although his way of doing things was often controversial, Jobs still managed to build some of the greatest products of all time. He embodied all the qualities of the “brand man” McElroy put in place in P&G, but took it one step further, becoming the “CEO” of the product, a definition we often find today for a product manager.

The many faces of Product Management
Product management can be defined as “an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle. Similarly, Product Lifecycle Management integrates people, data, processes and business systems.” (Wikipedia)

According to the latest survey conducted by Product Management Festival (PMF) in Switzerland, there are three major industries in which product managers are working: IT, Finance and Medtech. Given the diverse nature of the fields of work, it stands to reason that the roles themselves could also vary significantly.

Interestingly, though the products are physical or digital, and markets in which they are working are different, our survey revealed that there are some responsibilities common to all product managers. These are: Product Requirements Management 68%, Product Strategy 67%, Roadmapping and Release Management 57%, Stakeholder Management 45% and Customer Feedback 40%. And to a very high extent most of these are now happening in the digital space: requirements are written and share online, we manage stakeholder often by communicating remote via email, slack, yammer or other tools. We gather customer feedback with apps like appsee who scan and map the user behavior, or by online feedback forms. The job of a product manager as many others is now happening in the digital space.

Additional information on statistics of the product management market, tools can be found in the full report, which will be released November 18 on the PMF website.

What is the future of Product Management?
Digitalization, of course.

The truth is that it is way less risky to build digital products than physical ones.
Imagine your product has a defect and you produce it and start shipping it. What happens then? Well, think about Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – quite an explosive situation! I don’t even want to start to imagine how many sleepless nights the product managers behind it have had.

Being a digital product manager is less risky but still a very challenging role. You have to imagine and produce products which have never been on the market, find problems humans are faced with and build up innovative solutions, often which have never existed before. To make the customers want the intangible product is about communicating value, and compared to the physical marked where the customers go directly to a shop it is harder to get people to the places where they will encounter your product.

Does every organization need product managers?
Product-led organizations such as Google and Apple are at the top of their industries: clearly they are doing something right. Having a person with a cross-functional view across all departments, with the best interest of the product in mind is certainly a key success factor in these companies. Adding a product manager to your org chart will not put your business in the same league as Google and Apple, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Truth is that it is way less riskier to build digital products than physical ones.
Imagine if you have a defect in your product and you produce it like that and start ship it? What happens then? Let’s take the latest example of Samsung a mobile phone company who’s products recently have been catching gire. Imagine how many sleeplessness nights the product managers behing it had.

It is also obvious that the area and profession of product management is still in its early days, so it is very much history in the making. That is why we founded Product Management Festival, as a place for people to meet, exchange and grow the profession. This November marks the 4th edition of the conference, where we bring speakers from Netflix, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and many other companies to Zurich. Join us to shape the future of product management! Save 20% off your 2-day ticket with the code “Discount-SwissQ”.


Get in touch with us to learn more about the subject and related solutions