Update: We partnered with product leader Quadri Oshibotu to write the ultimate guide to product management. This guide's purpose is to demystify some aspects of product management and shed light on what product management is and isn't.
Here’s a bit of a loaded question: how was your 2021?
If you’re anything like, well, almost every human being on the planet, it was probably a bit of a rollercoaster.
One of the many consequences of last year was that basically every “2021 trends” article written back then was practically guaranteed to be wrong.
And, hands in the air, the world of product management was no exception.
But, with 2021 finally behind us, things are looking at least a teeny-tiny bit more stable.
Not only that, but the seismic shifts in the business landscape that 2021 precipitated mean that predicting the trends for 2022 should be a tad easier.
We’ve all spent 12 months adapting, and it feels like the “new normal” is settling in — at least for the next year or so.
With that in mind, we’ve knocked our heads together and compiled the ultimate list of 5 product management trends for this year.
(Just don’t be surprised if absolutely none of them come true. We’re only human, after all.)
Building a successful product is hard enough without feeling like your team is fumbling in the dark.
While 2020 made the road ahead seem a little murkier for all of us, the changes it’s brought to the product management landscape are precisely those that will inform how things might go in 2021.
As we’ve discussed, after a year like 2020, there are no guarantees. But here are the 5 trends we’ve identified which are most likely to have an impact as the year goes on.
To be clear, we’re taking the macro view here — zooming way out to view product management holistically.
So whether you’re developing a new B2B programmatic marketplace or an app for finding new golf shoes, there’s something here for you.
If 2020 taught product teams anything, it’s that you should expect the unexpected.
But between your agreed product strategy, your stakeholder/investor expectations, and your time and money budget...there’s often not a lot of wiggle room.
What do you do?
Well, forget what you thought you knew about planning and roadmaps. 2020 taught product teams that, no matter what’s sitting in your product roadmap, it could all have to change overnight.
And that’s where the backup, short-term, plan comes in.
There’s nothing worse than being a big, proverbial oil tanker that takes weeks or months to change direction. Product teams need to build agility into their visions for the future, or risk being totally knocked off course when the unexpected hits.
Maintain your primary roadmap with a look-ahead of whatever you’d usually use: one year, 18 months, and so on. But alongside this roadmap, you should deploy various shorter-term roadmaps as well.
In this way, should anything go wrong (2020-style), you can always fall back on a back-up plan without losing too much ground.
If there’s one thing that stands out about 2020 more than anything else, it’s the huge shift to digital.
Whether it’s everyone and their grandma embracing video calls (through necessity, but still), or simply the rapid advancements in eCommerce, there’s no doubt that digital transformation was one of the cornerstones of the year.
So how will this paradigm shift impact the product management space as we move through 2021?
Well, the biggest impact your team is likely to see will be from sheer competition. There are quite simply more digital products hitting the digital shelves than ever before.
With that in mind, you have to ask yourself — and your team — a simple question: how are you going to compete?
As part of your planning process for the year, and for your product roadmap design, it’s a good idea to start thinking more about innovation and diversification from the competition. Anything you can do to give your product some competitive advantage will unquestionably pay off once you’re all launched and it’s dog eat dog.
The dash towards digital has also changed the user testing landscape as well.
The fact that face-to-face testing simply wasn’t available for much of 2020 meant that doing it remotely became a requirement. If you’re worried that your product will struggle to stand out, leverage remote user testing tools to discover your unique proposition — then double down on it.
Talking of remote user testing brings us quite elegantly on to our next point, which is all about speed.
The limitations of not being able to hold user feedback sessions in person may at first seem overly restrictive. But, as we all learned in 2020, being adaptable can really pay off when it comes to business strategy.
So rather than simply guessing what your users want (and, inevitably, losing touch with them), it’s a better idea to instead focus on digital avenues as a rapid means of user testing.
When you don’t have all the trappings of in-person testing to worry about — travel, catering, facilities, and so on — you might find that user testing becomes a much more streamlined process.
In fact, the insights you glean from a remote (and rapid) user feedback session maybe even more useful than those from an equivalent in-person session.
The best part? Even when the pandemic crisis passes and some form of normality returns, the lessons you’ll learn about user testing and how best to conduct these sessions will remain. And you can use them to improve real-world resting too.
That’s a win-win for everyone.
Remember when everyone was shackled to their desks in a single office with very little room for flexible working?
Yeah, we do too.
It wasn’t very productive, was it?
One of the very best things to come out of 2020 was a global realization that, hey, maybe we don’t all need to be in the office, 9 to 5, every day. Maybe we can do our work in the way that suits us best, and maybe that will create results that are more effective and delivered more quickly.
But there’s another upshot here, too. And that’s what this shift to remote culture means for talent management.
There was probably a time when you had quite a limited pool of talent to choose from. If your business required product teams to be in-office the majority of the time, it’s likely that the candidates you were attracting weren’t as diverse — in all senses of the word — as they could have been.
In 2021, that’s all set to change.
Product management teams now have the freedom to look way outside of their usual bubble, bringing a new-found diversity which may have been impossible before. This means a talent search can transcend geographical borders, lifestyles, skill-sets, age ranges, and more.
Why does that matter? Because it unlocks a whole new world of creativity that can be channeled, quite directly, into the products that you develop. Opening up your product management team to remote members means that you’re quite literally opening up your business to a world of creative possibility.
Plus, with diversity also known to boost both innovation and financial performance, there’s a lot to be gained.
The only challenge lies in building workflows and processes that work for everyone, even across time zones. And that can be a little tricky.
Luckily, 2020 gave most teams a lot of practice in this area. And you can also get up to speed with our guide, ‘So You Have to Work Remotely: Here’s How to Make Team Decisions Remotely.
The pandemic was certainly the defining factor of 2020. But it wasn’t the only global event that’s shaped how 2021 will roll out.
The events of the last 18 months have shone a strong spotlight on inequality, injustice, and the various degrees of access and support different people receive.
Customers have been quick to call out brands that remain inaccessible or non-inclusive. Beer is to become less male, the word “normal” is being dropped from soap packaging and digital products have an important role to play in promoting accessibility across all sectors.
In fact, the EU has passed a law that states all public sector apps should be ‘EU Website Accessibility Directive’ compliant by June 2021. No doubt this will have a knock-on effect for private businesses, too.
There’s simply no question about it anymore: we are all digital citizens now, and that means that the digital products we create should be welcoming to all people.
If this isn’t an area that your product management team has yet looked into, 2021 is the very best time to start. And, thanks to the events of last year, there are now more resources than ever available to do exactly that.
Trends can sometimes feel a little too abstract or future-facing to feel real. So before we wrap things up, let’s reevaluate these product management trends through a slightly different lens.
Here are the key takeaways for your product management team as you move through 2021:
You’re more resilient than you think. If you made it through 2020 as a team and you’re all still ticking, you’re probably stronger than ever. Just think about what you can achieve next!
Nothing is set in stone. Try not to get too attached to anyone way of doing things. While the traditional methods of product management will always be reliable fallbacks, 2020 has given us many lessons which might move the needle on where we go next.
Don’t be afraid of doing things differently. 2020 quite literally forced many product teams to work in ways they would never have dreamed before the pandemic. But guess what? Many of them discovered that these new, more agile, and distributed approaches to product management actually resulted in better products in the end.
Let people be your inspiration. It’s our job to build products that work for people. As society and the zeitgeist changes, so too should your feature sets and functionalities. Hiring a more diverse team of workers, especially those in younger generations, will help keep you relevant.
So, in conclusion, while the product management trends we’ve covered here may or may not come to pass, what’s certain is that your team will continue to plan, build, and ship.
Of course, don’t forget that airfocus is here to help you stay on top of your roadmap every step of the way.
Our powerful suite of roadmapping tools is built from the ground up, by fellow product people, to make the life of a product management team easier, more streamlined, and more effective.
The bottom line? Stay reactive, stay agile, stay open to change, and 2021 will be your year.
Go get it.