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Product Management

7 Surprising Ways Product Management Will Change in the Next 5 Years

30 Jul 20196 mins read
Malte Scholz
7 Surprising Ways Product Management Will Change in the Next 5 Years
By Malte Scholz

The days of on-time delivery being a product manager’s biggest priority are long gone. Today, evolving responsibilities plus an exponential rate of digital innovation mean the job is changing at lightning speed. 

Slipping in and out of various mini-roles, bringing diverse teams together, and coordinating competing priorities are all in a week’s work for most PMs.

The good news? 

There are so many exciting developments on the horizon for product managers that will free up time and streamline communication. 

This means you’ll soon have the breathing space you need to develop even more exceptional products, powered by the new opportunities that the PM landscape of tomorrow will bring. 

Here are seven (perhaps a little surprising) ways that product management is expected to change in the next few years.


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1. Super-data will bring you closer to the user than ever before 

We don’t need to tell you that UX lies at the center of every successful product. And while it’s true that we’ve never been able to get as close to the user as we can now, a report by McKinsey suggests we’ll soon be able to get even closer.

Over the next 5 years, we will stride more concretely into what McKinsey has termed The Age of Analytics. The way that we are able to monitor user behavior is soon going to churn out levels of clarity and insight that in times past would’ve required days of tinkering. This will empower product teams to respond to user behavior faster than ever before - almost at the point of capture.

As McKinsey aptly puts it: “Data scientists will have unprecedented computing power at their disposal.” Making use of that potential won’t just be a marker of success. It’ll mean the difference between a team that can stay adaptable and one that’s doomed for failure. 

Product managers will need to learn how to navigate this data-driven landscape, and use it to their advantage to make better, more objective, product decisions to keep users onboard.

2. AI will streamline communication and optimize meetings

More than a few hours of a product manager’s typical week are currently lost to bridging communication gaps across different teams, let alone departments. And a serious chunk of meeting time is swallowed up by overlaps, getting everyone caught up, and negotiating priorities.

But imagine walking into a meeting where everyone is already on the same page and ready to contribute. That’s what smart communication can do: revolutionize processes and enable teams to stay in sync so that things don’t get lost in the mix.

One human product manager could never be everywhere always. But a sophisticated AI assistant can gather key information in the background, pair it with powerful roadmapping tools, and put it in front of the teams whose success it’ll impact the most.

Soon, product managers will walk into a scrum meeting with an AI-generated report outlining exactly what should be discussed as a team, based on algorithmic insights of who’s done what, where, and how. 

Product managers will soon be able to capitalize on this increased productivity to drive their products toward success quicker than ever before. 


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3. Increasingly powerful roadmapping tools will unify vision across teams

According to a 2019 survey, over half of product managers believe they spent an insufficient amount of time roadmapping. Yet being able to have and communicate a clear vision across teams, and getting internal stakeholders involved in that vision, is crucial to making real progress.

As the adoption of smarter roadmapping tools continues to rise, product teams will soon be able to put strategy at the heart of product decisions. This will make product development a more fluid and interactive process. 

Adoption of roadmapping tools will have — among others — one key benefit: stakeholder alignment. Sophisticated scoring algorithms will empower teams to make objective decisions about competing priorities and ambitions, thereby strengthening the power of the humble roadmap. 

This will start to break down toxic product silos, and we’ll enter into an era where everyone starts to move together through the product life cycle. 

4. Remote product teams will become the norm

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a pretty rapid shift towards the modern workforce. More and more teams have entirely remote setups, bringing about a new set of opportunities and challenges.

Product teams have not been lost in this shift towards remote ways of working. 

That being said, most product managers are likely to have concerns about a future where they are not physically located with their teams. 

And while it may be more challenging for a product manager to adapt to this future than other roles, it’s certainly possible. There are big players in the game - BaseCamp and Zapier, to mention just two - who are fully remote and thriving. 

In fact, a shift towards remote product management may resolve some of the inherent challenges of the brick and mortar status quo. As one remote product manager puts it: 

“Remote work makes it much easier to develop and instill a rhythm of collaboration and focused time for a team.”

The core challenge as we move into the next 5 years will therefore be to implement a robust set of collaborative tools that will make this transition a smooth one. Product managers of the future will need to be highly selective about which tools to incorporate into their stack and to onboard the whole team into how to use them well for effective teamwork. 

And if you’re feeling nervous about this shift, don’t. Let these inspiring words reassure you that it will be ok:

“I understand why people think that product management isn’t a role that can be done remotely. There’s a lot of team communication involved, and of course, that can be challenging over electronic channels. But with a slight shift in the lens you view product management through, those challenges fade away as the benefits of deliberate focused work and carefully considered collaboration come to fruition. I’ll say this: it’s totally worth it.”

Rian van der Merwe, product manager for Postmark 

5. There will be a more holistic integration with marketing and sales

Teams working in silos and lack of unified vision have been and unfortunately continue to be serious pain points for many product managers. But as competition increases due to an increasingly saturated technology landscape, it’ll be more important than ever to get the right message across on the marketing and sales ends.

Users are only going to become less patient. Can’t quite figure out if this app is what you’re looking for? Delete it and try the next one – there are tons of them doing the same thing anyway. 

So, bringing marketing and sales into the fold early on will be more critical than ever before. They’ll not only help you get the messaging right but also avoid unnecessary blind spots that other teams simply won’t have the time to consider.

6. The product manager’s role will become progressively strategic

Product managers are often seen as do-ers who roll up their sleeves and keep working on a problem until it’s fixed. And that’s an important skill. People who get stuff done will never go out of fashion, and engineers need a PM they respect and can get behind.

But the role can and should be so much more than that.

Rather than remaining insulated in a development cocoon, the product manager for the digital age will stride into a much more strategic role, especially as roadmapping tools will root feature prioritization in strategic themes, which will form the basis of more objective decision making. 

It will be the product manager’s role to figure out if a feature supports the strategic goals of the product. If it doesn’t, well, onto the next.

Product development is only likely to get more and more complex, and as time goes on, it will require a specially rounded PM to connect the dots.

This reflects an important realignment of best practices, with strategy continuing to rise toward the top and raising the stakes for what it means to hold product development expertise.

7. The rise of the CEO product manager

It follows that someone who’s been able to bring together such seemingly incongruent personalities as engineering, marketing, and legal probably knows a thing or two about strong and effective leadership. 

And already, product managers are being seen as possessing a golden triad of skills that, when fully engaged, can bring out the best in cross-functional teams.

Over the next 5 years, this is only set to crystallize. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is just one of several former product managers to have been appointed to the top job in recent years, and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.


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And yet...

We’ve really only seen the tip of the iceberg regarding the change that’s on the horizon for product managers in the coming years. The list here is likely just the beginning of the change we’re bound to see.

One thing for sure: product management in 5 years is likely to be even more challenging than it is today. 

But, you know what? If any role could cope with that change: it’s this one.

Malte Scholz

Malte Scholz

CEO & CPO @ airfocus
Malte Scholz is CEO, CPO, and co-founder of airfocus, the world's most flexible product management platform. His journey started as a product manager seeking a better tool, and now airfocus is trusted by more than 800 global companies, helping them build the right products and deliver greater value....more
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