Chris Butler, Lead Product Manager at Google, gave this presentation at the Product-Led Summit in San Francisco in 2023.

Hello, everybody, thank you very much for being here. I work for the core machine learning group inside of Google, and what we do is basically build everything; we help with applied solutions for different product areas like search, ads, maps, and any of those groups, down to the frameworks and services. That includes things like TensorFlow and TensorBoard, all that type of stuff.

We also end up owning a lot of the ways that people internally end up using accelerators like TPUs and GPUs. 

And then we also do chip co-design, which is how you lay out the TPUs of the future for future machine learning workloads.

One question I get asked a lot of the time is, “How should I use machine learning inside my product?”

Then there’s a second question I get from a lot of product managers, which is, “How do I train up to be an AI product manager?” And this talk is going to be a bit more about what the reality of this is, rather than what this perception is that's starting to be built inside of the industries today.

What does PM specialization look like?

Let's start with what specialization even means within the PM world. 

There are people who end up calling themselves platform PMs, growth PMs, and that type of thing. But I think there are four main ways that we end up talking about specialization. 

The first one is if we really require different skill sets. In product management, I believe that overall, we have to be good at managing uncertainty. We have to be able to be good decision facilitators, we have to be able to build a line, and we have to be able to communicate. Those are skills that we build over time. 

And I’d ask, for these specializations, do we require different skills in some way? 

The second thing is competencies. I see skills and competencies as overlapping, but sometimes they're more meta in some way. 

I also think that the different expectations about what you're supposed to do in your day-to-day job could mean that you're a specialization that's not just product management. 

And then finally, if you're in completely different organizations. We usually work in cross-functional teams, managing up to some type of GM. Are you on a different ladder or a different part of that organization as part of this? 

So, let's keep these things in mind as we start to talk about what it means to actually be an AI PM. 

Frank Tisellano works at Google as well, and he asked this really good question, which is:

‘If we're going to talk about the API PM, is there such thing as an MVC framework PM? An HTML PM? Or a NoSQL database PM?’

I tend to agree. I don't want to give away too much of my talk, but I think we get caught up a lot of the time as product managers in the technical world that we're helping, when the reality is that we’re supposed to be more about customers, we're supposed to be about outcomes, and about the impact that we end up making. And that’s almost rarely about the technology. 

I want to bring about a story from my background, which is more about this emergence of mobile. 

I worked at KAYAK as a hybrid BD and product person. I was brought in to help figure out the way that mobile would actually work for us, and this was at the time when desktop search for KAYAK was starting to be eclipsed by mobile. In fact, when I was there, about a month and a half after that, mobile became a majority share of usage within KAYAK. 

And within that world, we’d see a lot of interesting changes in behavior. People were doing more searches, not just on mobile in general, but per capita, they were doing more searches. 

As we started to dig into why that was happening, I got hired as a mobile PM and we were trying to do all this very mobile-specific stuff. But what we started to realize once we connected the dots across mobile and desktop, and not just mobile apps, but also web, was that people were doing much earlier searches about the way that they were thinking about travel with mobile than they were with desktop.

They weren’t buying more travel. Just because you want a mobile phone, it doesn't change the job to be done of a person wanting to get relaxation, to go to a business meeting, or fly to a wedding or something like that. 

So it didn't change any of that. What it did change though was their accessibility to information and the way that they used that information in an early stage to be able to make a decision. 

After a couple of years, there was no such thing as a mobile channel. In fact, what we started to realize was that it didn't matter which channel was part of it, and that's what omnichannel ended up being, by the way. 

It didn't matter whether it was mobile or desktop or whatever, it was an experience for a person. That's why we tend to find that the hierarchies within product management organizations tend to focus more on products that are about a particular customer, or if there are multiple customers, you'll find that you start to think about that experience like less of a persona, and more of a journey. 

So, for me, I started to think about this idea of specialization, especially around uncertainty.