Product Management 2019: Year In Review

Jim Semick
Co-founder, Board Member at ProductPlan


What a year. There are so many changes happening in product management as I write this, and the evolution only seems to be accelerating.

Our ProductPlan community of writers and speakers (and you) have led the charge behind these trends. With your support, we dove into the most result-driven strategies, popular frameworks, and groundbreaking leaders who changed the product management landscape.

And in 2020 we will more than double what we’ve done to keep up with all the changes.

As the year comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on some product management trends I’ve observed and reveal a few exciting things we’ll be writing about next year in the product management space. I’m excited to watch it all unfold.

Well-Defined Success Metrics are Key to Product Success

In 2019, most product managers are using metrics to make decisions. Sure, product managers need numbers to report up the chain to track progress around goals. And now product managers are communicating the strategy using data-driven roadmaps. Companies define the metrics that matter. Then they use them to determine whether or not a feature makes the cut. In our upcoming 2020 Product Management report, 34% of product managers said that their primary product success metric was business-oriented metrics.

The availability of data and machine learning is partially driving this movement. But what’s driving this approach is realizing that gut instincts alone don’t get you winning products.

We bring too many biases to the table. We make snap decisions based on our personal feelings and experiences instead of letting the data inform our choices.

Data allows us to calculate product and business metrics continually. Hypotheses can now be proven or disproven in days versus months. There’s no excuse to rely on a hunch when you’ve got metrics for everything under the sun.

This abundance of data also allows organizations to adopt OKRs to enlighten stakeholders. Each product enhancement and initiative has measurable, predefined objectives, and the key results can be tracked accordingly.Read Feature-less Roadmaps: Unlock Your Product's Strategic Potential➜

Employing Blended Frameworks

Intuition-based judgment calls are still part of the planning process, but priorities are more often being informed with prioritization models. Ideas and projects can be scored and stacked against each other, merging quantitative and qualitative thinking.

We see increased usage of frameworks like MoSCoW, DACI, and RICE, but product teams also realize that one framework must not rule them all.

In our upcoming 2020 Product Management Report, we found that they’re relying on a handful of options depending on the scale and scope of the exercise and which stakeholders are included.  There are so many choices, and product managers can experiment until they find frameworks that resonate within their organization.

Returning the Power Back to the Customer

Worrying about customers is nothing new for product managers. Meeting their needs, anticipating their desires, and increasing customer value is what the job is all about. But customer-centricity is being embraced now more than ever.

Customers are no longer “trapped” with vendors they don’t want to stick with because moving data between systems is easier. So companies are working harder than ever to build customer loyalty.

There are also more choices than ever. Cloud computing and technological advances make it cheaper and faster to bring a viable product to the market. Companies simply need to be more competitive and offer more value over time.

This means established firms must double-down on creating and maintaining a superior customer experience.

They’re realizing that customer experience goes beyond the product and customer support. Every interaction along the customer journey influences how a customer feels about the product and the company. So organizations are making customer-centricity a core value.

This is all culminating in organization-wide customer-centricity. It’s no longer relegating it to specific departments. It permeates every decision, making the entire company more sensitive to the impacts and benefits of their actions. They now strive for customer delight, not just satisfaction.

To ensure they put the customers first, companies are also investing more time and resources into gathering customer insights. They’re valuing the actual voice of the customer (not just what internal stakeholders “think” the customer wants).

The Growth and Specialization of Product Roles

Product management was once the domain of generalists. You needed to be good at everything, given their broad portfolio of responsibilities. But as the profession matures and establishes its importance, more discrete roles are emerging.

The primary factor is that companies now have product management teams versus only product managers assigned to specific products. C-level roles for product managers are more common than they were five years ago.

With larger groups, some product leaders are creating more specialized roles.

Technical product managers are common within larger organizations as one of the original subcategories of product management. But the rise of product ops has created a new class of product managers dedicated to this area of the business. There’s still plenty of debate regarding just how technical a product manager must be.

And while product marketing managers have been around for ages (often confusing people thanks to their title), there are now even product managers assigned explicitly to growth.

We’re Roadmapping Differently

With agile, the prioritization and roadmapping process may have changed, but the roadmap is still necessary in an agile world.

For product managers, this is more frequently meaning they shift away from date-driven roadmaps, especially those roadmaps that project a “known” future state several months out. These roadmaps are instantly out of date the moment they’re distributed.

We’re now seeing more roadmaps that are feature-less. Instead of spelling out exactly which functionality comes out when product managers are communicating their product visions and priorities. They’re relying on themes that aggregate features into a higher level, and we’re also seeing more product organizations using north star metrics to guide the way.
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Meeting the Needs of a New Landscape

At ProductPlan, we’re in a great place to observe the evolution of product management. We track the trends shaping our profession.

We know the problems and challenges facing product managers are changing. Product managers embrace lifetime learning, so we’re producing valuable, informative content that isn’t just repackaged sales pitches. In 2019, we launched our Product Management Glossary, where we defined nearly 200 essential product frameworks, roles, and terms. We also created nine books and guides.

In case you missed them, we were proud to release:

2019 Product Planning Report

Career Guide for Product Managers

The Product Manager’s Complete Guide to Prioritization

How Agile Product Managers can Build Better Products

The Customer Interview Toolbox

From Product Manager to Product Leader

The Essential Feature Kickoff Checklist

The Power of Pricing Experiments

The Anatomy of a Product Launch

We also launched our email courses:

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth is

As product people ourselves, we must walk the talk. All these things that we talk about in our content (best practices, company building, experimentation, building products that customers truly love, simplicity first) and promote as concepts in the product management community, we are actively working to incorporate ourselves.

We want to make the first-time user experience rewarding. We’re improving onboarding, so new customers get value from our products quickly. We’re also formalizing and improving this process, to ensure that every ProductPlan user is positioned for success.

And as we build out our team and add more specialized roles to the organization, we’re importing even more expertise in building roadmaps. These folks are flush with best practices for communicating vision, setting goals, and aligning stakeholders… all the things we know you’re doing daily.

Setting a Course for 2020

Our roadmap for the coming year is focused on continuing to deliver great content and education while expanding the capabilities of our roadmapping software, so it’s even more valuable to you.

You’ll see even more activity around prioritization frameworks, growth product management, and customer-centricity. We know these are areas of great importance to our community.

We hope you’ll continue that journey with us as you create your own roadmaps for 2020 and beyond. And if you have any feedback you’d like to share, we’re always listening.

So on behalf of the entire ProductPlan team, thank you again for a fantastic 2019. We can’t wait to see where you help take us in 2020.

Want to get ahead of the curve for 2020? Register for Our Roadmapping Email Course