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5 trends for product managers in 2020

We sat down with Naomi Schofield from product consultancy Tigerspike, and Stewart Boon, founder of AuctionFox, to chat about new and emerging PM trends.

Trends in product management (PM) are tricky. The field is so vast. It’s like looking for trends in  ‘Business’ or ‘The Internet’. But it’s important for product managers to keep up with best practise if they’re going to maintain a market edge, regardless of their specific industry. Five years ago, the role of product manager was somewhat vague, and many organisations hadn’t yet empowered PMs or integrated them into the overall business model. There was a lot of ignorance around what product managers actually do (even amongst some product managers…) but in 2020, the landscape looks a lot different.

We sat down with Naomi Schofield from product consultancy Tigerspike, and Stewart Boon, founder of AuctionFox, to chat about PM trends we’re starting to see in 2020.

Innovation and experimentation

Experimentation through iteration and customer feedback loops has always been part of the product manager’s role (some would say is the product manager’s role), but in 2020 we’re seeing a lot more companies give product managers the time, space and money to really innovate. As the market has grown, PM ‘best practise’ has been refined, so that data-driven research has become part of product manager’s daily workflow (not something that happens twice a year in a company-wide hackathon). Still, it’s taking a while for larger companies to find the right mix. “One of the big trends in big enterprises is Innovation Hubs for product managers,” Naomi says. “They want innovation and experimentation, but they can’t fit it into their standard structure, so they build a team off to the side with a very specific remit. This is good, but it has its downfalls too. Ideally we’d be able to bring innovation into the normal everyday workflow.”

Proper business integration

Naomi says the days of Marketing vs IT are long gone. Businesses are starting to really see the value in dedicated product managers who can unify different teams. “The old model was that IT sat over here and marketing sat over there and the marketing team told IT what to build, rather than building products around customer segments or experiences,” Naomi says. That means product managers increasingly need a varied skill-set, and we’re starting to see more PMs (at least those without an engineering background) invest in a little HTML, CSS or JavaScript training. Stewart says it all comes back to business growth. “It’s taking what was historically a split between product and marketing and turning it into a "growth" function, creating growth product manager roles that have the responsibility to understand and remove inhibitors to growth.”

Strategy strategy strategy

Recent Alpha surveys show that product managers are moving from siloed tactical projects into more overarching strategic roles, closely aligned with business goals. Naomi says this is a big shift in product management over the last few years: defining business priorities around customer needs. “The trend is moving towards owning that customer experience from end to end, which goes way beyond just the product department. Because one of the traps you can fall into is saying, ‘Oh, I only own this component.’ But we want to move away from that and start defining roles by customer needs. This is the so-called ‘customer centric enterprise model.’

Universal product tools

This might be the year we see the rise of universal product management tools that can be used across all teams (rather than the devs on Jira and the marketing guys on Hygger, for instance). It looks like we’ll also see a lot of different frameworks implemented this year as product managers try new techniques; expect to hear more about prioritization matrices, the Hook Framework, Awareness Ladders and Viral Loops. Stewart says PMs will also need to be on the lookout for new, more disruptive tech “Having a good working understanding of the capabilities of AI and how to harness it to improve experiences for customers will continue to grow in importance.”

Modular product offerings

Most companies are moving (or have already moved) to a cloud-based model for software delivery. It’s quicker and more efficient, and customer expectations have moved way beyond products that need to be downloaded, installed and then patched weekly on multiple machines. The next step, perhaps, is to move toward a more modular product offering. Salesforce have already been doing this with their CRM tool: offer the same product at multiple price points and specifications to suit everyone from start-ups to enterprise. It’s really just an evolution of product management’s most fundamental principle: create value for your customers.

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This article was originally published on 5 April 2019