In the past few years, the adoption of AI technology has increased by over 60%. Now, the vast majority of companies have either already incorporated AI into their business and products or plan to integrate it in the near future. Unsurprisingly, in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report from 2018, Data analysts and AI learning specialists ranked in the top 10 most important emerging roles in 2022.
As we’ve previously discussed, AI has extensive potential to benefit humanity, and the AI product manager has become a key position in many companies to allow them to harness AI’s capabilities effectively.
As businesses begin implementing AI in their products, the role of a product manager has evolved to require specialized knowledge of AI and Machine Learning technology. AI can also be used by product managers to automate a variety of processes and increase productivity.
In this article we will look at the following:
- What is AI product management?
- The Roles of an AI Product Manager
- Automation in Product Management
- The Demand for AI Product Managers
- How to Become an AI Product Manager
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What is AI Product Management?
AI product management involves the design, organization, and release of products and services that implement artificial intelligence and machine learning to address customers’ needs. Traditionally, a product manager's primary roles include research, strategy, and communication:
- Research: a Product manager must collect sufficient data to understand the company’s market, the user’s needs, and the company’s competition.
- Strategy: Product managers need to organize robust strategies to transform an idea into a successful product. They must outline goals and objectives, a product overview, and a timeline of development and release.
- Communication: Product managers maintain the responsibility of communicating their product strategies to shareholders, as well as coordinating the development of the product among various teams. They must also address user feedback to improve products after release.
AI product management involves the same tasks as traditional product management but also requires a specialized understanding of AI technologies and how to incorporate them into a product or service. Roles and skills specific to AI product managers (AI PMs) include:
- Data Literacy: AI PMs must have a thorough understanding of how AI can use data to solve problems or provide services. AI PMs must also have sufficient knowledge of statistics and data models to be able to know what data to use, how to best use it, and how to explain their decisions to development teams, stakeholders, and customers.
- AI Specialization: An AI PM must have a proficient understanding of a variety of AI and Machine Learning algorithms to know which ones to implement and how.
- Acceptance Criteria: AI product managers will need to understand how the accuracy of their AI implementations will enhance or limit their products. Before development, an AI PM lists pass/fail criteria for their product or service, and, during development, they regularly evaluate the product against the criteria to ensure it properly serves its purpose.
- Ethics: Because of AI’s notable power to make important decisions with both speed and accuracy, AI product managers maintain the responsibility of ethically implementing this powerful tool to benefit the company and its customers. One example of an ethical issue faced by AI PMs involves respecting a customer’s privacy while also collecting the necessary data to address their needs.
What does an AI product manager do?
To begin developing products, an AI product manager must work with a company's marketing team to understand their customer’s pain points—or specific problems faced by their clients—and how to use AI to offer solutions. Additionally, AI PMs must know what customer data they can collect and use to support their AI implementations. Without data, AI cannot function. Likewise, without an understanding of basic data science, AI PMs will struggle to understand how to use client data for an AI-based product or service.
After conducting market research and collecting the necessary customer data, the AI PM designs an AI-based solution to fit the customer’s needs. Product managers must remain client-focused; their product should directly address and resolve a customer’s pain points.
In this stage, AI PMs work with company executives, the marketing team, and the developers to finalize a product or service design that best benefits the company and the customers. This stage also requires specialized knowledge of AI algorithms and the various ways they can be used to design a feasible solution to the customer’s problems.
Strategy and Communication
After settling on a product design, the product manager needs to outline the product’s vision, objectives, and goals and share these with the development teams and company executives. Throughout the development process, PMs remain responsible for facilitating communication between everyone involved in the product.
The AI PM must also meet with stakeholders and business leaders to share how the product’s vision aligns with the company’s goals and values. Here too, knowledge of AI algorithms and functionality becomes incredibly important as AI PMs must understand what work developers need to do, comprehend their AI-related development issues, and explain how the technology works to business officials.
Also note that the product manager differs from the project manager. Product managers focus on specific products and their entire development, release, and update processes. Project managers focus on specific, temporary projects and work to allocate resources for their development and ensure their timely completion.
Automation in Product Management
In addition to developing AI-based products, AI product managers may rely on AI automation to improve the efficiency of the management process itself. Examples of how companies may one day use AI to automate product management tasks include:
- Automated User Feedback: AI algorithms could curate and deliver user requests for fixes and features to the appropriate departments.
- Optimized Meetings: AI could collect and list the important topics and issues to be discussed and handled before and during department meetings.
- Coordinating Marketing or Development Communication: A future AI algorithm may be able to organize all necessary information needed by marketing and development teams.
Are AI product managers in demand?
As AI becomes more advanced and the amount of useful customer data increases, companies have found more and more ways to address customers’ needs with AI-based solutions and increased their demand for AI product managers accordingly.
Research from the AI Product Institute found that the number of AI PM job openings on LinkedIn nearly doubled from 13,500 to over 26,250 in 2021 alone, as seen in the graphic below. Evidently, proficiency in AI algorithms and applications has become a highly-demanded skill in the last year and will continue to be in high demand as AI solutions improve.
How to become an AI product manager
To become an AI product manager, one must acquire various skills related to AI algorithms and solutions. These include:
- Essential Data Science Principles: Because AI leverages data to perform tasks, an AI product manager must know how to collect, analyze, and evaluate data to understand how an algorithm can leverage it to solve a problem. Necessary data science skills for an AI PM include data visualization, exploratory data analysis, and inferential statistics.
- Machine Learning Algorithms: Machine Learning describes an algorithm that allows a computer to learn from data how to perform a function without human intervention. An AI PM should understand important ML concepts such as regression, support vector machines, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning. This information will help when designing an AI/ML-based product and when discussing more specific requirements with the software development teams.
- Natural Language Processing: Depending on the customer’s needs, an AI PM may decide to develop a product involving speech recognition or language interpretation, such as a customer support chatbot for example. In these situations, a basic understanding of NLP algorithms may prove very valuable.
- Deep Learning: Deep learning involves imitating the human brain to perform more sophisticated AI operations. An AI PM should understand the primary deep learning concept of neural networks to know how these algorithms can use data to produce incredibly accurate results.
- AI applications: An AI PM should also know about current examples of how products and services implement AI to provide references and inspiration for how AI can be used to innovate new products.
Although the list of additional skills needed for an AI product manager may seem daunting for those without a computer science degree or programming experience, there are several courses online that teach all the required skills for a traditional product manager to understand how to develop AI-based products and services.
Stanford’s Continuing Studies program, for example, offers a variety of courses on AI and Machine Learning. Another company, UpGrad offers AI and ML courses, as well as a product management certification program.
After developing one’s AI skills and knowledge, one must prepare for an interview. Especially for positions involving technology and AI, interviewers may ask specific, technology questions to ensure one’s proficiency in the necessary skills. However, if you have properly prepared and mastered the necessary information, your chances of success in the interview will remain high.
The future of product management and AI
As AI and robotics begin to automate many positions, many people have become concerned about the security of their jobs in the face of increased automation. Even product managers have begun to wonder, will AI replace this vital role?
Because a product manager essentially serves as the CEO of their particular products and performs a wide variety of tasks from conducting research, organizing development, and communicating product designs and plans to company officials and developers, it is highly unlikely AI will completely replace product managers in the near future.
Although AI-based tools may assist product managers in more effectively and efficiently performing their jobs, the complexity of product management tasks currently exceeds the limits of AI ability. Thus, the organization replacebyrobot.info, which ranks jobs on their potential for automation, claims product management jobs have only a 0.4% chance of being automated.
As the capabilities and power of AI increase, so does the demand for AI-based products and services. To accommodate the needs of companies incorporating AI into their operations and products, product managers have begun expanding their expertise and skills to include data science fundamentals and AI-based product design.
With a comprehensive understanding of AI technology and its potential, AI product managers will help businesses develop, release, and improve the next generation of intelligent tools to help meet the needs of humanity.