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6 trends that will define product management in 2023

6 trends that will define product management in 2023

The product management trends we at Productboard expect to define the next year

You know what they say — you can’t predict the future. 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of unpredictability and volatility, both in the world at large and within the tech industry. Yet at the beginning of a new year, there’s always a desire to reflect on what’s happened in the recent past and make your best educated guess of what’s to come. 

We looked to insights from our 2022 Product Excellence Report — and from some of the smartest product people we know — to forecast the top trends we expect to define product management in 2023:

  1. Product managers focus on working smarter and more efficiently
  2. A fresh take on customer-centricity is needed 
  3. Overcoming lack of clarity around product vision and strategy will be a key focus
  4. Product teams prioritize hybrid collaboration
  5. Getting product management systems and processes in place is more crucial than ever
  6. The PM role remains critical despite economic uncertainty

Ready? Let’s dive in! 

Trend #1: Product managers focus on working smarter and more efficiently

We started seeing high-profile tech layoffs in the latter half of 2022, and in 2023, economists are still unsure about whether we’re heading into a recession. As a result, many business leaders have been shifting from a pure focus on growth at all costs to efficiency and profitability. Budgets are tighter and there’s more focus on revenue and ROI rather than experimentation and risk-taking. 

For product people, this translates to being asked to do more with less. Whether you’ve been impacted by layoffs or just have a tighter budget, you’re likely to have the same expectations, even though now you have fewer resources. 

In these circumstances, it’s more important than ever to create great products. This requires tighter communication and more cross-functional collaboration. This is not the time to work in silos! Prioritization also matters more than ever, and it’s critical to be honest with stakeholders about when and why you’ll be tackling specific projects. You’ll also need to stay focused and avoid getting distracted by requests that aren’t aligned with your top-level goals

Trend #2: A fresh take on customer-centricity is needed 

According to the 2022 Product Excellence Report, only 36% of respondents are confident that products and features they release are consistently well-received by customers. In 2023, we expect to see a lot of product teams focusing on improving that number. 

There are a few tactics that can help with this. Co-founder of Product Collective Mike Belsito suggests aiming to be the best for at least one group of customers. How can you ensure your product is mission critical for at least one of your critical customer segments?

Productboard Group Product Manager Sophie Lalonde recommends returning to your ideal customer profiles (ICP). How clearly have you defined your ICPs? Sophie says you can think of this like a bullseye, with the people who get the most value in the center ring, and closely related but distinct groups in the rings around it.

Anytime you’re in doubt about who your customers are or what they want, this is a clear signal that it’s time to engage in more product discovery work. Go back to the feedback you’ve collected from various sources, identify key themes and trends, and link them to specific feature ideas or customers problems you’re trying to solve (the Productboard Insights board is a great place to do this, by the way). 

Trend #3: Overcoming lack of clarity around product vision and strategy will be a key focus 

Setting a clear product vision and strategy was the #1 product management challenge of 2022, a pain point felt by both individual contributors and product leaders alike. And as teams are stretched with fewer resources and operating in long periods of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to build alignment.

If you’re a product leader, setting and communicating a clear product strategy is your most important job. Make sure you regularly check in with product teams to ensure you’re on the same page and they’re using strategy to guide all prioritization decisions.

Productboard CEO Hubert Palan says it’s all too common for people to confuse strategy with plans. A plan is a list of the features you’re going to build, while strategy is a collection of the pain points and customer segments you’re going after, the ways you differentiate yourself from your competitors, the key bets you want to make, and how you’re thinking about allocating your investments in a portfolio.

During times of economic uncertainty, Hubert says leaders are forced to think longer term: “There’s a much lower probability that someone will fund you in the next six months if you don’t figure it out.” This is both a challenge and an opportunity: “It’s a forcing function for companies to be more disciplined with strategy,” says Hubert. 

Trend #4: Product teams prioritize hybrid collaboration

In the early years of the pandemic, most people shifted to an all-remote model out of necessity. And this was touted as a success, with many company leaders proclaiming that they were doing away with offices and going all in on remote work. However, Productboard CEO Hubert Palan isn’t convinced that remote work is the perfect solution, especially for work that requires creativity and collaboration.

Working together in person builds up critical “trust capital,” which is needed in order for people to feel comfortable asking questions, interrupting, or offering constructive criticism. Working remotely comes with a time penalty of people hesitating to ask their questions or share their thoughts, and this can ultimately hurt a company’s ability to innovate or gain an edge over competitors. 

Rather than relying completely on remote work, Hubert imagines a future where product teams come together when it’s strategically critical to do so. There will be a time and a place for remote work, but it’s not the ideal way of working for everyone at all times — especially not product team.

Trend #5: Getting product management systems and processes in place is more crucial than ever

The 2022 Product Excellence Report reveals that confidence is currently quite low in product management systems and processes. Only 12% of 1400+ respondents are satisfied with how they capture product insights — which makes it hard to truly listen to your customers and what they need. When it comes to roadmapping, just 32% of teams believe their roadmaps will deliver desired business outcomes, and only 31% can easily share their roadmaps with cross-functional partners. 

With increased focus on efficiency and making the most of out limited budgets in 2023, getting these systems and processes in place should be a top priority. You want your teams and stakeholders aligned around a shared plan. And you need to get new products and features right the first time to save valuable time and money.

Whether you’re an individual contributor or product leader, now is the time to systematize how you capture and act on product feedback and insights, define your product strategy and how you approach prioritization, and create rituals around how you communicate your plans across the organization so everyone is on the same page. 

A product management system like Productboard can help. See how Productboard can help your team weather long periods of uncertainty by operating more efficiently and with increased transparency.

Trend #6: The PM role remains critical despite economic uncertainty

Over the past few years, the tech labor market has been erratic. Hired’s 2022 State of Tech Salaries report sums it up well: “In the fall of 2021, we were climbing the mountain of post-pandemic recovery with teams scaling up to tackle ambitious hiring goals… Then, as inflation grew and a recession approached, hiring slowed or froze in many areas.” 

Product managers have not been exempt from recent waves of layoffs, but they still appear to be in demand. After all, building the right products and features for your customers is more important than ever, and product managers are needed to get to the bottom of customer needs and prioritize what comes next.

According to the Product School Future of Product Management report, 43% of companies are hiring more PMs and 26% of PMs are planning to leave their jobs within the next 12 months. And product management roles are still one of the highest-paying tech roles in the US, despite the economic uncertainty. 

Even when tech workers are impacted by layoffs, their likelihood of landing on their feet is high. In fact, economists estimated that 75% of tech workers who were laid off in October 2022 would end up finding a new job within three months. 

Bonus: A few areas of opportunity for 2023

If you’re wondering what these trends might mean for you and your product team, here are a few areas of opportunity we see for 2023.

Opportunity #1: Forge alliances outside the product team

If — like the majority of product teams — you’re trying to do more with less, you need to be more aligned, and not just within your own team. Alignment is critical across teams to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals. 

Sophie recommends working with a stakeholder in each department — especially customer success, sales, and marketing — so they can advocate for product needs when you’re not around to do so. And on the flipside, you can take their insights to ensure that you’re focusing on the same customer problems and working together to find the best solutions.

Opportunity #2: Focus on problems rather than solutions

Given the economic climate, there will be competitors that become hyper-focused on efficiency and turn into feature factories. If you instead use this as an opportunity to focus on specific customer profiles and their jobs to be done, you might come up with more creative solutions than just incremental changes. 

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