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6 trends that will shape product management in 2020

6 trends that will shape product management in 2020

As we detailed in a recent blog post, digital product management is one of the hottest and fastest-growing roles in business right now. In just two years, the number of product management roles in the US has grown by an astounding 32%, outpacing the increase in demand for overall roles by 5x. 

We’ve coined this rise to prominence the “Golden Age of Product Management.” 

Going into 2020, we wanted to know: Where exactly do PMs sit in the modern organization? Which PM skill-sets are the most in-demand? What tangential developments will impact this ever-evolving function?

Join us as we take a close look at the trends that will shape product management in 2020:

  • PMs are now strategic leaders within an organization
  • The demand for senior-level PMs outpaces the demand for junior-level PMs
  • Organizations start to seek Chief Product Officers
  • Product-led growth and growth product managers are all the rage
  • Teams begin to understand the importance of transparency in product management
  • PMs are no longer left behind when it comes to tools and resources

PMs are now strategic leaders within an organization

In the past, product managers were often confused for user experience designers, senior technology leads, or even project managers. At best, teams acknowledged PMs as product owners in the Agile sense, and as such their main deliverable was the product backlog. The real impact of product management was often misunderstood, and PMs did not have the software of resources to carry out their best work.

In 2020, this is no longer true. PMs play an increasingly significant role that will not only impact a company’s product, but overall strategy and growth.

In traditional organizations, PMs are needed to create digital product experiences that seamlessly align with existing products and services — a major challenge brought on by the age of digital transformation. 

In the B2B world, we are seeing a “consumerization of IT,” meaning that people want the technology they use for work to look like the elegant, well-designed tools they use personally (like the iPhone and other B2C products). Thus, PMs are crucial for creating delightful B2B products that appeal to both buyers and end-users.

Finally, the convenience of modern technology has increased customer expectations. Customers want your product to solve their problems now. And if you can’t do it, someone else will. 

Customers expect better user experience
Customers expect better user experience and more personalized service (Source: IBM Institute for Business Value)

It’s clear that PMs will oversee a lot more than just the product backlog in 2020. They now largely own the product strategy and vision, and play an active role in the future of organizations. More than ever, PMs need better data-driven processes and systems to support this mission-critical work. Their rising decision-making responsibilities also means that it’s on them to act as leaders within their organizations and rally everyone around their plan.

The demand for senior-level PMs outpaces the demand for junior-level PMs

As mentioned above, the number of product management roles has grown by an astounding 32% between 2017 and 2019. More specifically, companies are looking for candidates with a wealth of product management experience to lead the function.

In the last two years, there has been a 26% growth in mid-level product management roles and a 51% growth in senior-level product management roles. Entry-level roles only experienced a small bump of 10%.

Source: Product Management Hiring Trends in the US — 2019

Looking at these numbers, it makes sense that tech-focused communities like Product School, Product Manager HQ, and General Assembly are beginning to offer product management programs to equip job-seekers with the skills they need to fill open PM roles. 

Even colleges and universities are getting on board. In 2018, Carnegie Mellon University’s top-ranked Tepper School of Business and School of Computer Science introduced a Master of Science in Product Management, the first program of its kind. NYU Stern School of Business offers a specialization in product management. University of Wisconsin offers an MBA with a specialization in brand and product management. The list goes on. 

For PMs looking to improve in their own time, there are numerous PM-focused global communities. Mind the Product, for example, hosts PM conferences all over the world and currently boasts an active community of 150,000+. Many others — like Product School, Product Manager HQ, and Product Collective, to name a few — are gaining traction as well. 

Interestingly, public Slack channels have become some of the most active PM communities on the internet. They are fantastic for PMs to network, share knowledge, and grow.

Read: 15 Slack communities to follow if you are a product manager

It seems that in the case of product management careers, where there is demand, there is supply. 

Organizations start to seek Chief Product Officers

With PMs acting as strategic leaders within an organization, it should be no surprise that companies now seek executives responsible for the strategy and execution of all product-related activities. Enter the Chief Product Officer (CPO). Establishing a product vision, product innovation, product development, product design, and building a product organization all fall under their umbrella of responsibility.

As of November 2019, there were 1,048 open positions for Chief Product Officer on LinkedIn, 641 of which were posted within the last month alone. We expect this number to continue its climb in 2020.

Chief Product Officer job description LinkedIn

Learn more about the CPO role, the skillsets they need, and how they fit into the modern organization.

Product-led growth (PLG) and growth product managers are all the rage

Product-led growth is a go-to-market strategy that relies on product usage as the primary driver of acquisition, conversion, and expansion. The model is exploding in popularity because when executed well, a product can infiltrate the market and grow on its own — no extra work required. 

Tech titans like Dropbox, Slack, and SurveyMonkey all leverage a product-led growth strategy to drive exponential growth, and others look to replicate their success. To do so, the search is on for growth product managers.  

See how 5 tech titans are leveraging a product-led growth model.

Growth product managers share a lot in common with traditional product managers, but instead of owning the product, the growth PM works to improve a specific set of metrics or goals. Some common PLG metrics include trial-to-paid conversion rate, activation rate, churn, retention, and engagement score. 

Experimentation is core to the growth PM job description, and they often use methods like A/B testing to continuously optimize their metric of focus. Some growth PMs own part of the product like onboarding, the sign-up experience, websites, monetization strategy, and email flows. 

Learn more about product-led growth and the metrics of success in a PLG model.

When we last looked in December 2019, a search on LinkedIn for “growth product manager” yielded 450 results, with the majority of job offers submitted in the last month. We predict that more and more tech companies will seek growth product managers as the PLG trend continues to gain momentum. 

Teams begin to understand the importance of transparency in product management

“Creating the opportunity for [transparency] to happen involves building a central repository for ideas, suggestions, requirements, and the comments associated with them — a single source of truth that everyone in the process can see. It involves providing stakeholders, both within and outside the organization, access to as much of that information as possible and the ability to collaborate on that information across every lifecycle phase of the company’s product line.” 280Group

In high-functioning organizations, everyone is invested in a common product vision and works to support the product in one way or another. To be effective, they need to know what products and features are coming up, what was launched, what is in consideration, and how everything relates to the organization’s overarching goals. It is the responsibility of product organizations to make this information accessible.

Product teams who foster this kind of transparency often use a tool or method specifically designed to openly share the product management process — what the 280Group calls a “source of truth.” This opens up the business context and user insights behind each product-related decision. 

When transparency is embraced by product teams, it prevents knowledge silos that can hinder communication with customers, prospects, and other stakeholders. It helps cross-functional departments understand the rationale behind tough trade-offs on what gets built next, even if they don’t personally agree with the decision. 

In short, transparency unites everyone behind a common goal, which, let’s admit, is simply good for business.

PMs are no longer left behind when it comes to tools and resources

Marketers have Marketo. Sales have Salesforce. Support have Zendesk. Engineers have Jira. Until recently, PMs have been left behind. 

Fortunately, this is no longer true. As of December 2019, a search on G2 Crowd for product management tools displays 93 results. It’s clear that software vendors are beginning to understand the importance of the product management function.

For product leaders in charge of selecting the right tool in 2020, it’s essential to consider the specific needs of the PM team and the organization as a whole. Instead of relying on project management tools, task-list apps, or spreadsheets, PMs need a tool that can help them gather deep user insights, establish a clear product strategy, and rally everyone around a common product vision.

Enter productboard, the all-in-one product management system for modern, empowered product organizations. Designed on the Product Excellence methodology, it is used by modern, customer-driven organizations like Zendesk, UiPath, Avast, and Envoy, to align everyone on the right features to build next. 

My interpretation of product management tools is that they are catalysts for conversations and help product teams develop a shared language. Essentially, these tools help create a coherent story about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. John Cutler

With the right tools and systems in place, any organization can get the right products to market faster, exceed customer expectations, and make something truly excellent. And isn’t that what good product management is all about?

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Did we miss anything? What product management trends are you most excited about in 2020? Let us know in the comments below!

productboard is a product management system that enables teams to get the right products to market faster. Built on top of the Product Excellence framework, productboard serves as the dedicated system of record for product managers and aligns everyone on the right features to build next. Access a free trial of productboard today.


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