Monday, October 18, 2004

Will Product Managers get Offshored?

Intriguing (and scary)question. One that needs to be examined a little further. Here's some facts:
  • Most of the offshored/outsourced jobs are for call centers(inbound and outbound-telemarketing etc), back office workers(claims processing, underwriting etc) and HR related(payroll processing etc) .
  • With the exception of these above jobs, most of the customer facing occupations are not being offshored - sales, business development, account management etc
  • Companies have not yet learnt to leverage lower cost nations for strategic advantages, only for cost savings
  • Strategic guidance and direction is still being closely held in the US, with the execution activity being delegated to offshoring destinations
  • The mass job layoffs in Hi-Tech seem to be all those kinds of jobs that directly overlap with execution related or otherwise known as "non-strategic jobs".
Let's switch to India for a minute. Talking to my cousin who works there for a major software company, he mentioned some key challenges for workers there:
  • Emphasis on working US hours leads them to work graveyard shifts, causing a complete imbalance in their social life
  • Irrespective of the location of the work being done, collaboration is key between local locations/employees and remote workers. The knowledge that local employee may soon been let go causes a severe strain in building smooth business relationships, and delay in the work being performed; sabotage and process delays are very common.
  • Smarter employees in offshore nations often complain of lack of quality work being sent, and lament the lack of creative/design work - this leads to tremendous turnover and lack of job satisfaction.
So on first thoughts, if we define product managers as "representatives of the voice of the customer"- there is still a great chance that this will remain as an exclusive US-only activity. The reality of the situation is that most US centric companies have a poor understanding of product needs from a global perspective(short of multi-language transaltions and running on Unicode databases).
Customers in various geographies have unique and distinct needs that are very different from the US, and true representation is possible only when product managers are recruited from local regions, and are encouraged to enlist the participation of local customer groups in the evlauation of a product before launch. Unfortunately, this means a couple of things: The perspective of the company has to change from "offshoring product management" to "global product management" and empowering regional product managers to take business decisions that are not overridden by the US based HQ.
The shift has started from the bottom end of the labor pyramid and is slowly making its way to the top.
Bottom line: There is a plausibility that product management jobs will get globalized, albeit not in traditional sense of the "offshoring" word.