(Artificial Intelligence) AI and product management is a white-hot topic that runs the gamut, from the countless benefits to product managers all the way to replacing product managers, and everything in between.
As with any new technology, there’s a maturation curve. To that end, there’s the question of what how AI can help product managers right now versus the future. Of course it’s always fun to think, dream and speculate about what AI and product management might or might not look like when it’s all grown up but for now, let’s start with reality.
What is AI (Artificial Intelligence)?
Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, more specifically, cognitive skills like problem solving and decision-making. In layperson terms, artificial intelligence is the ability for machines to think and act like humans.
Is Machine Learning the Same as Artificial Intelligence?
Think of them as cousins. They’re closely related but not exactly the same. Machine learning is about teaching a machine to identify patterns and perform specific tasks based on those patterns. It doesn’t go as far as simulating human cognitive functions. Here’s a great article that explains the differences and similarities between machine learning and artificial intelligence.
For Now, AI is a Product Management Intern
Look at the spectrum of responsibilities product managers have, from the mundane tasks to those that require complicated thought processes, difficult decisions, and everything in between. After spending a full day with product professionals that are currently using AI in their applications, the consensus was that AI needs a lot more training before it can take on more complex responsibilities.
What that means for product managers today is this. Think about the mundane tasks that require little or no thought process for you to complete today and you have a candidate list of things you can “outsource” to your AI intern. Creating release notes is a good example.
As AI matures and gets smarter, the possibilities grow. When you think of all the decisions product managers make on a daily basis, AI can certainly lighten the load or at least make those decisions easier by answering questions no one ever thought to ask or answering questions with plenty of logic to make them completely defensible. But it’s not there today. Not even close!
Shorter-Term Possibilities With AI in Product Management
In the not too distant future, AI will be more suited to the operational side of product management.
Imagine this. AI will keep your roadmap current, create a prioritized product backlog and sprint plans based on how customers are using your products, what they like and don’t like, enhancement requests, quality issues and the productivity of your engineering teams just to mention a few obvious candidates.
How about this one? As enhancement requests come in, their value/viability is determined, dispositioned into a go/no-go bucket accordingly with communication back to the requester on why it will or won’t be considered, complete with a timeframe on delivery for those in the go bucket. AI would be making decisions based on the factors above while considering all other relevant factors like the current backlog, sprint plans and economies of scale for development teams.
Keep dreaming! This could be fun.
Longer-Term Possibilities With AI in Product Management
In the longer-term AI will be more suited to the strategic side of product management, specifically portfolio management.
What could AI can do with the likes of NPS/customer satisfaction scores, market dynamics, forecasted growth rates, competitive landscape, sales win rates, white space, wallet share, core competencies, etc.
AI can easily serve up a portfolio strategy that tells you your most lucrative market segments in the short and longer-term, current products you should be promoting to existing and prospective customers, new products you’re most likely to succeed with, customer accounts you should focus on for revenue and retention, etc.
Will AI Eventually Replace Product Managers?
Oh, yeah! Just like the internet was going to eliminate the middleman. How’d that turn out? Even funnier, (circa mid/late 90s) when some people thought the CD tray in their computer would serve up a hot pizza if they ordered online?
AI will never replace product managers but it’s going to make a great co-pilot to steer your product charter. Will it change how we do product management? For sure. Could it change the mix of product managers and product owners? Sure. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess on how AI will shape the role 5–10 years from now.
AI will be able to handle some of the most stressful decisions product managers are tasked with, but where it will hit the wall is not having all of the peripheral the information product managers use to make decisions that aren’t necessarily product specific.
Think about your company’s strategic goals, objectives, financial targets, etc. and their impact on product decisions. Throw in market factors, customer sentiment, the influence of specific customers on product decisions, technical and design considerations, and the hundred other “what if” scenarios that come into play with many product decisions.
With AI as your co-pilot, these things will get easier, but like most other technologies, as they mature over time, we’ll use them for things we never thought of. But that’s still a few years off.
Don’t Let AI Take You Off Your Game
Artificial intelligence is a cool new technology with sky’s-the-limit potential. As product professionals, it’s easy to get romanced by new technologies and start using them just to say you’re using them. In the early stages of mobile, remember how many companies built utterly useless mobile apps just to say they had one? Don’t let AI lure you into the same trap.
Technology is still the HOW part of the equation for product managers. Product management at it’s core still boils down to understanding what our customers need to accomplish, why it’s valuable to their business and the obstacles standing in their way.
When cool new technologies come along, it’s easy to lose sight of those core principles and they can take you off your game. Stay focused on how you can help your target customers get high-value outcomes by using AI to eliminate obstacles in ways they never thought of.
Look at the evolution of technology from the VCR to the DVR to streaming video. The outcome consumers were after never changed from the 1970s to today. We want to watch what we want, when we want, and where. Each iteration of the technology eliminated additional obstacles standing in the way of that outcome. The WHAT and WHY part never changed. The HOW did!
Make sure you always have clarity on the WHO, WHAT & WHY and your implementation of technology for the HOW part will always be on the mark.
If you want to up-level your human intelligence skills in product management, contact us about a personalized hands-on workshop for your team or enroll in our 101 Basic Product Management Course On-Demand. It’ll help you stay a step ahead of, or at a minimum, keep pace with the machines, at least for now!
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