ProductFTW #8: Is it Wrong to Use AI to Assist with Product Management?

We’ll explore how product management will evolve with AI, if it will replace product managers, and if relying on AI to perform job functions is ethically questionable.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing about what a product manager is, what your first few months should look like, and how to build skills like communication and confidence. In this post, we're shifting gears and sharing some insights and reflections about AI from a sit-down interview I did with Zach. Before diving in, let me provide some context to bring you up to speed:

Back in 2022, Zach and I were co-leading a remote product team. On Fridays, we made it a point to gather the team for a social hour. More often than not, these gatherings turned into spirited debate sessions—after all, who doesn't enjoy defending their views passionately amongst peers? At the time, one of our team members (shoutout to Dan!) had a keen interest in ChatGPT. As we all began exploring its capabilities, we found ourselves engrossed in discussions about its potential impact on our careers, as well as the moral and ethical considerations its use entails.

Fast forward to the present, and it seems nearly everyone I know incorporates some form of AI into their daily professional life. Remarkable how much can change in two years, isn't it?

We, the team behind ProductFTW, are enthusiastic proponents of AI. Zach, in particular, was so captivated by its potential that he transitioned from a career in fintech to joining an AI startup, Perigon. Perigon predated ChatGPT, initially focusing on distilling news content to its essence and reporting the facts without superfluous detail. As AI gained traction, Perigon recognized an opportunity to leverage its existing infrastructure for more efficient data analysis.

I thought it would be enlightening to sit down with Zach and discuss his perspectives on product management and AI. We’ll explore how product management will evolve with AI, if it will replace product managers, and if relying on AI to perform job functions is ethically questionable.

Let’s dive in.

Meet Ellen and Zach!

Ellen: How have your thoughts on product management and AI evolved since moving from Fintech into AI?

Zach: I’m still amazed at what it can do, and I understand the limitations. When ChatGPT first came out, it blew everyone’s mind. But when you tried to use it practically, like to draft an email, it was terrible. This is still true today. The more you work with the tools, the more you realize the limitations, but it is evolving every day. Ultimately, AI won't replace the human creativity and strategic oversight required in product management. Instead, it enhances our capabilities, making us more efficient and allowing us to achieve more with less. It's an exciting time to be in product management, as AI opens up new horizons for innovation and efficiency.

Ellen: When using AI tools as a product manager, what should you look out for/what are the blind spots?

Zach: For product managers utilizing AI tools, vigilance is necessary. Trust, but verify:

  • AI's outputs should not be taken at face value; always double-check.
  • Consider the level of detail provided.
  • Assess the factual basis of the information.
  • Validate every piece of data.
  • Reflect on potential oversights or unaddressed aspects.

Ellen: How has AI changed how you develop and adjust your product strategy?

Zach: It acts as an additional intelligent voice, offering instant feedback that helps identify gaps, missing elements, and considerations I might have overlooked. This is especially valuable in smaller companies where the product management role can sometimes feel isolated. It's easy to become trapped in an echo chamber without diverse input, but AI helps break through that by providing a broad range of insights and perspectives. Essentially, it's like having a highly efficient, data-driven partner in the strategic planning process, enabling a more dynamic and responsive approach to product development.

Ellen: How do you see AI impacting the product development lifecycle?

Zach: AI is set to significantly accelerate the entire product development lifecycle. From the initial analysis phase, where we feed in data to understand trends and patterns, to the decision-making process about which concepts to pursue. AI can drastically reduce the time it takes to analyze vast amounts of data, providing insights that would have previously taken weeks or months to uncover.

AI's role in automating routine tasks cannot be understated. It can handle aspects of design, testing, and even some elements of coding, which speeds up the development process. This doesn't just shorten timelines; it also allows product managers and their teams to focus on more strategic and creative tasks, pushing innovation further.

In the context of product strategy, AI enables a more agile approach. We can quickly pivot based on real-time feedback and data analysis, ensuring that the product remains aligned with user needs and market demands. This dynamic capability to adjust and refine our strategies is a game-changer, making product development more responsive and efficient.

Ellen: Will AI automate product managers out of their roles?

Zach: The short answer is no, AI won't automate product managers out of their roles. However, it will redefine what those roles entail and how we approach our work. In the future, we might see fewer product managers, but their roles will be more impactful. They will manage broader areas and oversee more complex projects, thanks to AI's assistance in analyzing data, generating insights, and automating routine tasks.

Consider large companies like Facebook, which employ hundreds of product managers for individual features. With AI's help, a single product manager could oversee what a whole product team oversees today, as AI can take on the role of a product analyst and handle tasks that are currently time-consuming for humans.

Product management is about understanding market needs, envisioning products that meet those needs, and guiding teams to bring those visions to life. These core aspects require human intuition, creativity, empathy, and strategic thinking—qualities that AI cannot replicate as of yet. AI can provide tools and insights, but it cannot replace the human touch that is essential for successful product management.

Furthermore, the evolution of AI will likely see product managers becoming more skilled in working alongside AI, using it to enhance their capabilities rather than being replaced by it. Product management has always adapted to technological advancements, and AI is just the latest frontier.

Ellen: How will the career path for a product manager look in the future?

Zach: We discussed earlier how there might be fewer product managers, but those who remain will be more impactful, managing broader areas and more complex projects. This implies that the career path will likely emphasize depth of experience and expertise in specific industries or technologies. Product managers will become more specialized, but at the same time, they'll need to maintain the flexibility to adapt to new tools and methodologies.

Additionally, the entry points into a product management career might shift. Currently, many product managers come from diverse backgrounds, including engineering, design, marketing, and even customer support. In the future, we might see a stronger emphasis on direct experience with AI and data-driven decision-making as prerequisites. However, hands-on experience and the ability to demonstrate strategic thinking and leadership will remain key.

Ellen: Do you think it is wrong to use AI to produce product management artifacts such as requirements documents?

Zach: Absolutely not. It is no different from using any other tool that enhances productivity and efficiency. It's akin to asking whether it's wrong to use a computer to type up documents instead of a typewriter. The essence of progress in any field, including product management, is to leverage the best tools available to achieve your goals more effectively.

AI tools are designed to assist in streamlining complex tasks, processing large data sets to provide insights, and even drafting initial versions of documents that can save a significant amount of time. This enables product managers to focus on higher-level strategic planning and decision-making rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks.

Ellen: Where is the line between getting credit as a PM and giving credit to AI?

Zach: The real value that product managers bring to the table is not in the routine tasks that AI can automate but in their ability to synthesize information, make strategic decisions, lead teams, and drive the product vision forward. This involves interpreting AI-generated insights in the context of the market, making judgment calls based on incomplete information, and navigating the complex interpersonal dynamics of product development teams—areas where AI currently cannot replicate human capabilities.

Zach and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip down memory lane, reminiscent of our Friday social hours. We're eager to hear your perspectives on these topics. Whether you agree, disagree, or have additional insights, we welcome your thoughts.

This entire post was edited by ChatGPT.

Subscribe to ProductFTW

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
[email protected]