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6 trends that will shape product management in 2022

6 trends that will shape product management in 2022

This piece is a collaboration between Stephen Walker II, Senior Product Director at Productboard, and Scott Baldwin, Community Lead & Product Evangelist at Productboard. 

2021 was another year of change and unpredictability. As the impact of the global pandemic drags on, we are now acquainted with not knowing what could happen next. In the world of work, home offices and calendar notifications for the next Zoom meeting have become the norm. 

Yet, it’s also an exciting time for product organizations. Many greeted big challenges head-on and managed to adapt and evolve their offerings to meet the needs of customers. More opportunities lie ahead in 2022.

While attempting to foresee the future is always difficult — especially now — we believe the following six trends will be significant for product management in 2022:

  1. Talent scarcity will hamper growth
  2. The entire organization will seek greater visibility into product
  3. An information tsunami may overwhelm unprepared teams
  4. More products will meet people where they work
  5. Resiliency remains critical in uncertain times
  6. Processes will become more flexible

Let’s dig deeper into each of these six trends that will shape product management in 2022.

1. Talent scarcity will hamper growth

In the first quarter of 2021, US e-commerce sales grew by 39% compared to the same period of the previous year. As we predicted last year, this was the result of traditionally physical sectors like retail, banking, healthcare, and education initiating (or accelerating) digital business plans in response to the pandemic. 

When combined with record-breaking levels of startup funding, it’s clear that digital product growth is leading to a huge demand for product leaders, managers, designers, and developers. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough talent with the skills and experience to go around, and businesses that lack resources will struggle to scale.

To keep their vision on track, product organizations can look for candidates from outside the product world who have a good track record of problem-solving. Leaders will need to spend more time coaching these new hires, but the team will benefit from the fresh backgrounds and perspectives they bring.

The good news is that this kind of diversity has been shown to enhance innovation and productivity. A more diverse workforce also impacts talent acquisition and retention as it’s an important evaluation factor for 76% of workers. Developing the skills of existing team members is another way of filling skills gaps, while offering competitive compensation will naturally attract and retain the best talent.

2. The entire organization will seek greater visibility into product

Digital transformation at previously analog businesses will lead to an increased interest across the organization in what product is doing. Everyone — from sales and marketing to customer support and manufacturing — is more likely to be invested in the product’s success and have opinions on strategy and roadmaps. This trend should be embraced by product leaders, as it will put their vision at the center of their company’s overall strategy. 

Product leaders will need to become better storytellers to effectively explain their goals, logic, processes, and technologies to this cohort of product initiates. It will also be helpful if the wider business has access to relevant product management tools so they can self-serve information like the latest roadmaps and customer feedback. This will save time spent providing updates and give everyone in the wider business greater visibility.

3. An information tsunami may overwhelm unprepared teams

Product organizations are generating more feedback than ever before. The best product management tools connect to technologies used by cross-functional teams so that product teams can access feedback directly from sources like Intercom, Salesforce, Zendesk, Microsoft Teams, and Slack. In addition, products themselves generate mountains of quantitative data about how people use them. Global businesses pull in feedback from local app stores and social networks to understand the needs of customers in specific regions.

But with fewer resources due to talent scarcity, product organizations risk being overwhelmed by this ever-increasing surge of data. To avoid missing out on actionable insights that can drive growth, many teams will lean more on automation tools that analyze large volumes of feedback for valuable patterns. This will allow product leaders to focus resources on creating solutions that address the most pressing customer needs.

4. More products will meet people where they work

The writing assistance service Grammarly has 30m users as well as 30,000 teams accounts. Yet these users rarely access the Grammarly website or use its desktop or mobile apps. Instead, the service is typically employed via extensions and plugins, whether it’s the 10m people who have downloaded Grammarly’s Chrome extension, the millions more who have a Fire, Safari, or MS Word add-on, or the business users with plugins for Gmail, Salesforce, Zendesk, Slack, and more.

Grammarly is a perfect example of the rise of microtools whose success relies on universality and the ability to connect seamlessly with other widely used tools. This trend is set to increase as we move into the era of web3, the push to a more open-source and interconnected internet where interoperability of tools and services will be key to customer adoption. Product organizations will need to ensure that they are ready to integrate a range of useful plugins and connect to other tools so they can continue meeting customers where they work.

5. Resiliency remains critical in uncertain times

After the chaos of the past two years, we all hope that 2022 represents a return to pre-pandemic normality. Yet with inflation on the rise, a boiling equity market, and a new Covid variant that could hamper recovery, the next year is likely to remain as unpredictable as ever. This extends to how organizations judge product performance, as the outlier metrics generated in 2020-21 make it difficult to predict what success in 2022 should look like. The businesses that did well out of everyone working from home and ordering more takeout will surely experience a natural decline if normality resumes, though some customers may stick with their new habits.  

In the face of this unpredictability, product leaders that focus on trying to chase last year’s metrics or push for a return to pre-pandemic numbers may find their targets are simply unachievable in the current climate. Instead, organizations should develop sustainable product visions and strategies that will help them ride out uncertain times and come out stronger, and ensure they communicate it clearly (a whopping 60% of teams say they lack a clear vision of where their product is headed). The resiliency this vision brings can also help your organization be better at knowing where to focus its attention and efforts, according to resilience researcher Dr. Lucy Hone

6. Processes will become more flexible

In a recent blog post, product guru Marty Cagan highlighted how processes can often be “dangerous” for product development. He argued that too many product leader roles are now going to people who are primarily driven by processes rather than those interested in finding the best way to create a great product. Cagan’s concern is when a process becomes a dogma – the only way to do things – and references Jeff Bezos’s warning against processes taking priority over the needs of the customer.

Last year, we predicted the rise of the Product Operations role and how it can help teams enhance how they work. But rather than lead to more rigid and fixed processes, 2022 will see more product organizations rethink their approach, further embrace the flexibility imposed by remote working, and empower everyone to contribute ideas and make decisions. The most successful teams will be those with a healthy mix of makers, managers, and operations, who treat their process as a model to adapt and not a blueprint to adopt.

For all the unknowns facing product organizations in 2022, it’s clear that effective product management will be critical to success for most businesses. Those who can face the challenges with a clear vision, coaching mindset, collaborative approach, strong leadership, and smart supporting tools will be well placed to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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