Product Management in 2020: New Year, New… Products? [+Webinar]

Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully, you’re rested and ready to tackle the opportunities and challenges you’ll be facing in 2020. In this article, we’re going to give you at least six ideas that we hope will help. Join our on-demand webinar, Product Success in 2020: Six Trends You Must Track, where we shared how to use these trends to best benefit your products this year.

But First, A Look Back

As we began preparing last month for this exciting topic, we first looked back to January 2019 to see how well our predictions turned out. Here are the topics we covered last year:

Product Management Skills

  • Sharpen Foundational Skills
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Jobs To Be Done
  • Internal Advocacy

What are the hot trends or issues in 2019?

  • Data Analytics
  • Subscription Services & Pricing Models
  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Digital Touchpoints

Admittedly we weren’t trying to predict the winner of the World Series, but we seemed to do pretty well! Products and companies better captured and analyzed data to understand customer needs more effectively. More products and services became available via subscription, like clothing, more streaming services like Disney+, and many other interesting products. More products took advantage of machine learning, including cars, digital assistants and a host of software products. And people were able to take advantage of various services across more digital touchpoints in 2019, particularly with more “smart” appliances such as washers, driers, and refrigerators.

We also covered important Product Management skills — both in terms of foundational and more advanced skills.

Looking Forward

Hello 2020.

So, what’s next? In assembling our list for 2020, we chose both extensions of topics from last year, as well as fresh trends and topics to consider:

  1. Meeting Customers Wherever They Are
  2. Digital Transformation
  3. Smart Spaces
  4. Customer Privacy & Digital Rights
  5. Improving Product Management Skills & Teams
  6. Longer-Term Trends to Track

#1: Be Where Your Customers Are

Since most of your customers today are using smartphones, wearables, or digital assistants in the home like Alexa, they expect to be able to interact with their various digital services and products from anywhere. What’s surprising is how few products do this well. In 2020 there is plenty of opportunity for Product Managers to differentiate their products from others by making these experiences seamless across devices and use occasions.

Jamming to Spotify

Spotify does this well. When you’re playing a song on Spotify in the house, you can control playback from your wearable. Head out to the car, and you can continue playing that same song, or advance to the next song on the same playlist. So simple, yet very powerful.

What if your product is not digital?

Say you make circular saws – you need to engage with your customers where they will want to shop for, learn about, and learn how to use your product. And with a digital connection, you may find valuable new ways to solve customer problems…

#2: Digital Transformation

Product Managers need to be thinking about how to actually transform their products and services to better take advantage of these digital touchpoints. Two brief examples should help highlight how powerful digital transformation can be.

Digital ease

Digital technologies can be used to make traditional services simpler and easier. When signing up for an investment account, today a bank requires you to print a form, fill it out, sign it, scan it, then email it back. Ugly. But a real digital experience should allow you to fill out a form online with a digital signature, or better yet, use a smartphone application that allows you to “sign” with your thumbprint.

For physical products, a Product Manager should be looking for ways to solve customer problems with digital solutions. DeWalt now offers power tools that can be located at a job site via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Taking this further, imagine a circular saw that could inform its user when it’s time to replace the blade to make sharper cuts and increase the life of the saw’s motor.

So, what could your product do better if you truly made it a digital citizen?

#3: Smart Spaces

In 2019, the “smart home” became a practical reality, with more than just thermostats and smart plugs available to consumers. Smart spaces are spaces that are people-centric but enabled by computing power. For Product Managers of services and physical products as well, there are two concepts to be thinking about here.

Add delighters

First, from a customer’s perspective, how can your product take advantage of a smart space to delight them, or better solve their problems? For example, can you project a football game or a complex schematic from a smartphone or tablet onto a nearby smart TV or computer screen with ease? This obvious benefit is really hard to do. Can you just “make it happen?”

Second, can you find a way to leverage the benefits of cloud computing (unlimited processing and storage) and the benefits of edge computing (immediate responsiveness) to give your users a great experience every time, no matter where they are?

#4: Your Customer’s Privacy

These concepts require more technology — and more trust. In 2020, Product Managers need to make their customers feel safe about sharing their personal information. There have been so many stories about privacy breaches that consumers are understandably anxious.

Be compliant

New laws and regulations are also requiring more “digital transparency” that Product Managers must pay attention to. For example, the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) requires companies to share with California consumers what data it has saved about them. This law went into effect on January 1st, but there is a 6-month grace period before enforcement actions will start. You can read more about CCPA here, but check with your legal team to understand how it may apply to your products.

#5: Always Be Improving

Product Managers need to always be improving their skills as new concepts and techniques emerge. Here are some new techniques to consider or revisit:

  • Product Operations (Product Ops) is a more recent innovation in how to make a Product Management team run more effectively and efficiently, providing repeatable processes and a standardized set of tools.
  • Product Experimentation is not new, but has become possible for many more products with the advent of tools that make the process faster, cheaper and more effective.
  • “Data-Driven” has been a buzzword for the last few years, but now that we can easily measure product usage, Product Managers need to become Insight-Driven, where they can uncover actionable customer insights that drive their product roadmap and marketing campaigns.
  • Some of the innovation and technology trends mentioned above will not be easy to undertake. So, understanding the principles of Change Management will help Product Managers better drive the changes needed in their product teams or companies to face the future.

#6: Longer-Term Trends to Track

As we reviewed trends to consider for this article, we found a few ideas that are going to take more than a year to yield practical benefits. Human Augmentation today can be seen with wireless headsets and wearables, but promises to someday restore vision or hearing, enable more effective prosthetics, and even provide super-human strength with exoskeletons. Autonomous Things, like the Roomba vacuum of today, will continue to advance to enable self-driving cars, drone package delivery or even toilet paper delivery. Blockchain is useful today for handling cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, but in the future should become useful when you need highly reliable transaction records that are secure and safely distributed.

Going Deeper

Want to learn more about these trends? Sign up for our next Product Management Leadership webinar, where we will dive deeper into each of these exciting topics.

Watch the webinar on-demand


Curious about the future? Aren’t we all!? In this first installment of our 2020 PM Leadership webinar series, we’ll peer into our crystal ball and consider the trends and technologies of 2020 that every Product Manager should be thinking about for their own products and services.

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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