The Evolution of API Product Management

An API Product Manager plays a critical role to provide a customer focus, and a clear value proposition, and make difficult strategic decisions. In this blog, we’ll look at how the product manager role has evolved to succeed with APIs.

a year ago   •   7 min read

By Leigh Wallett

APIs have helped to accelerate innovation, integrate systems and create new sources of business value. The State Of The API Economy report found 56% of developers say that APIs help to create better digital products. They are also seen as products in their own right.

As APIs have evolved into products, it makes sense that API Product Management has evolved alongside them. There are now over 35k API Product Manager jobs being advertised on LinkedIn. Over 2 million people are in API Product Manager roles.

Evolution implies an origin story, change and growth that leads to something being well recognised. Both APIs and Product Management have evolved into an integral part of modern life. The intersection of APIs and Product Management came about in this evolution.

APIs and Product Managers come together in

  • large organisations where APIs are critical to digital strategy
  • specialist companies where the product relies on APIs
  • And API first company where the API is the source of revenue

An API Product Manager plays a critical role to provide a customer focus, a clear value proposition, and making difficult strategic decisions.

In this blog, we’ll look at how the product manager role has evolved to succeed with APIs.

The Evolution to APIs as Products

Behind every successful tech product is an API. From Uber to eBay, the online world is connected by APIs. This vast network of APIs can be viewed as part of the online infrastructure, but that misses a critical aspect of APIs.

APIs are reusable building blocks. These building blocks are products in their own right, and treating them as products unlocks a wealth of value.

The micro-scale of APIs makes them relatively easy to build. Added to this is the wealth of data available. It’s tempting to package up data into APIs as soon as an opportunity shows up. The trouble with this is that simple APIs quickly turn into a complex web.

It’s difficult to sell or scale these APIs where there isn’t a clear holistic strategy. This is why the API product Manager role is essential.

The Growth of the API Product Manager Role

API product managers are an integral role between developers and customers of an API. It is not essential to have technical knowledge of building APIs. It is essential to have a strategic understanding of the role the API plays.

One way to think of the strategic role is to think of APIs in terms of their use cases. This means understanding the context your APIs are used in and the outcome your customers expect. For example, technically speaking an API might connect data from a map to an application. The business case would be creating a transport experience like Uber did where you can share your location and request a ride.

This approach works whether you are working in a large organization or an API-first company where APIs are monetised as the source of revenue. Let’s take a look at why the API Product Manager role has grown so rapidly in both large enterprises and API-first companies.

The Evolution of API Product Managers in Enterprise Organisations

The trend for organisations to digitally transform has been steadily growing for over 20 years. COVID-19 changed that trend to exponential growth. 65% of organisations accelerated their transformations since 2020 according to this State Of The API Economy report by Apigee.

The pressure is on for these large organisations to remain relevant and efficient with technological advances. This has led to large organisations overtaking SMEs adoption of APIs. Partly this is due to having bigger budgets. Another factor is the important role APIs play in the adoption of AI, ML, and IoT.

The role of an API Product Manager has become critical to leverage the strategic benefits of APIs.

The Evolution of the API Economy and API Product Managers

In a traditional organisation it takes imagination to see an API as a product. There is no UI and no buttons or screens for regular interaction.

In an API First company where your revenue and value are generated from an API, it’s more obvious that the API is the product. GGV Capital has started an API first index. They are currently tracking 150 API first companies. The total funding raised by these 150 companies is 13.2BN USD. It is clear API first companies are just getting started. There will certainly be plenty of opportunities for API Product Managers.

Looking at the broader API Economy, MarketsandMarkets predict the API management market, which looks at everything needed to integrate and implement an API, will reach 5.1BN USD by 2023.

In this word API Product Management will clearly flourish as the strategic value of APIs will directly result in the success of the business.

Common Challenges API Product Managers Face

The Product Manager role has evolved from the world of Fast Moving Consumer Goods. The concept first came about in an 800 word memo circulated in 1931 by Neil H. McElroy at Proctor and Gamble. The focus was on branding and testing your product with consumers.

In 2001 the Agile Manifesto was written with a similar customer focus, but for software development. While agile frameworks like Scrum calls for a Product Owner, the role is very similar to a Product Manager.

When it comes to APIs, the essence of the Product Manager role is the same. The difference is the number and variety of customers you have. The beauty of an API is that it can be used by a huge range of customers.

This range of customers leads to a further challenge. As an API Product manager, it is critical to keep your APIs as simple as possible. With the low cost to create an API combined with the abundance of data available, it is difficult to keep your API strategy simple. It requires keeping customers happy and saying no at the same time. A key skill of an API Product Manager is to create a clear vision and value proposition of the API so you can discern what to focus on and what to say no to.

Luckily your customers can provide great support in defining your strategy. Work with developers both as primary customers to get their feedback and to help with the design of the API. The great part about having developers as customers is that they deeply understand your product. They are not customers who are uncertain or undecided. Use their feedback to improve your API and identify what to invest in.

It is essential to use an iterative approach in the design of your API. Once the API is in production changes can be extremely difficult to make. Changes to naming conventions or code can result in a huge cost to your clients. In the worst case, they may be breaking changes where they are not backward compatible with your original API.

Through iteration and feedback, you can take a long-term and strategic view of how your API will be used.

When you are ready to launch, it is important to have key measures in place. This will help you track the success of your API. A good start is to keep track of the performance, security and quality of your API.

The next consideration to make as an API Product Manager is how to scale your product. This may lead to managing a suite of APIs. It requires the same focus on customers and simplicity. The simpler you can keep your products, the easier they will be to scale. As you scale your APIs your role may evolve into a Platform Product Manager. This view can help you see how the APIs interact and how to stay true to your strategy.

API Product Manager's Secret Super Power

Being an API Product Manager requires so much more than knowledge of APIs. You need to connect the needs of all your stakeholders and customers. You need to deeply understand how an API is used and the value it provides. On top of that, you need to ensure your APIs are stable, secure, and high performing.

Step one of good API Product Management is communication. You need to bring together technical and non-technical knowledge so everyone has a common understanding. This is where a tool like Treblle is a secret superpower for API Product Managers. Developers can quickly see how an API is performing and where there are issues. Equally, you can gain business insights through customer usage and see opportunities for new API products.

With Treblle you can instantly identify if you have a secure, stable, and high performing API Product. You can also create a better team environment. Treblle can reduce meetings by 90%. It’s ideal for distributed teams working in different time zones. You no longer need to wait to give updates when your team is all awake. Treblle makes your API data transparent. It automatically keeps your documentation up to date and allows you to test changes as you iterate on your API.

While API product management and APIs have grown rapidly, their evolution is not going to slow down. With this pace of change, you need all the support you can get to keep up. Treblle allows you to work efficiently and effectively so you can focus on what matters. Build new sources of value, keep your customers happy and make your team's lives easier.

To find out more about Treblle set up a call with our team.

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