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PMs, do we need to look for another job?


This year has been quite interesting for PMs. Tech layoffs continued and the job market was, is, tough. Moreover, some prominent companies questioned whether PMs are needed at all. Is that the end for product managers and we all should look for another job?

Let's all relax, the immediate answer is no. However, it would be naive on our side to just ignore these outliers that could turn into a trend.

As with so many things this year, it all started with Elon Musk. When he took over Twitter he made many controversial decisions, one of which was concerning PMs. First, he fired half of the company, then half of the half that was left. No one was spared, not PMs, nor engineers, not even data scientists (the hottest profile out there that everyone wants to hire). We don't know the details and some might argue that maybe these people were working on products that are not essential for the future of the company. While this could be the case for some, at least in one particular example a senior product leader at Twitter lost her job despite working on the "most important product". 

Well, some other people might say, maybe employees who were let go just weren't performing. It's impossible to know for sure, but in the case of the aforementioned product leader - she literally spent days and nights working on her product. So here's the first learning for PMs this year - just working hard is not enough.

Later in the year, another prominent tech company dropped a PM bombshell. Airbnb turned all their PMs into product marketers and program managers. The official reason that appeared in the press was rather unconvincing - to speed up decision-making and align the company around strategic goals. Perhaps the intentions of Airbnb's leadership were honest, yet what resulted is their CEO making all product decisions and being involved in all major projects the company does. We will see if this approach ends up working, Airbnb is currently under enormous pressure from competitors and legislators so they might fail for any reason not related to organisational structure and the axing of PMs. 

Nonetheless, if history tells us something - the best ideas and solutions usually are the result of informed debate, creative disagreement, a multitude of opinions, and constructive conflict. So here's another lesson for PMs - you're not the CEO of your product, your CEO is. And they can fire you as they please if they want your job.

That all might sound bleak and discouraging for PMs, especially fresh ones. Seasoned professionals know this is nothing new. We started back in the day when you had to justify your existence constantly. Not only to executives who misused PMs as project managers, personal assistants, tech explainers, chart drawers... we had to prove our worth, again and again, to have a seat at the table. And doing this taught us at least one key skill that would help us in any situation - adaptability.

Yes, we're not new to those existential challenges. We know how to navigate the ever-changing organisational landscape to find pockets where we can bring value. And we should keep doing it no matter our titles or the latest corporate trends.

And another thing we could be doing, we should be doing, is to keep learning. We should have a plan B, C, D, E... and not only for our products but for our careers alike. We should take any opportunity to try other jobs, industries, organisational cultures, lifestyles... betting on a chance we might actually like them and they could be a viable alternative to the next time someone decides PMs are not needed.

So here's the last learning for this year - product managers might not be needed, but you are! You are problem solvers and storytellers, marketers and project managers, you understand tech and you understand business. You will be fine. Happy New Year!

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