What Will 2011 Hold For Product Management?

Welcome to 2011! The Brainmates team hopes that this year is productive, inspiring and exciting for you. We’ve spent the last few weeks discussing what we feel will be the biggest trends, changes, developments, opportunities and challenges for product managers in 2011.

Below we share our top five. Covering areas such as customer engagement, technology, competitive threats and the shifting nature of how business interacts with the wider community are areas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts on product managers.

We also reached out to our community to ask leading product management people what they thought will be the key changes in 2011. You can read their insightful responses below.

Top 5 changes and developments for product management in 2011

1. More customer collaboration

2010 may be remembered as a breakthrough year for social media and web 2.0. The rise of these paradigm shifting technologies began many years ago but has now reached mass-scale. Customers have taken more power and wield more influence than ever before. Social buying services such as Groupon have introduced new means for brands to attract customers. Smart product managers are recognising this and are taking the opportunity to invite customers into their product development and ongoing product management processes. We expect this to increase significantly in 2011. Check out our white paper on how product managers use social media.

2. Adoption of new technologies

There are numerous software services and tools out there for product managers covering everything from requirements gathering to wireframing, research to collaboration. We’ve compiled a useful list of these here. In our experience in dealing with product management people in multiple industries it is clear that these services are predominantly used within the software and tech industries. We expect that in 2011 there will be consolidation in these product management software services and increased adoption across a wider range of industries. This will require product managers to learn new skills, but should benefit them in improved productivity.

Additionally, adoption of new technologies like tablets, smart phones and intelligent devices will move from early adopters to mainstream audiences. This provides new ways for customers to interact with products, brands and services and will add more complexity to how product managers solve customer problems. Product Management has an opportunity to become more engaged in the content space to ensure that there is consistency and a complete story when content is delivered on multiple devices.

3. Increased competitive threats from international competitors

Working in Australia it’s interesting to see the distinction in economic performance around the world. While the US economy plods along, Australia has mostly weathered the economic storm. This leads to changing international landscapes and means that organisations cannot ‘take shelter’ in economic terms. More and more businesses are emerging that seek to solve the same customer problems that your business does. Different approaches and business practices mean a continually evolving environment and one that will be increasingly competitive and challenging for product managers.

Some businesses remain conservative in the shadow of recent economic woes and product managers may need to focus equally on developing new products while also optimising in-life products. Innovations will be in how product managers articulate their product in new ways to new markets, where their products may offer a solution.

4. The rise of Product Experience Management

We expect increased awareness of, and adoption of product management in a wider range of organisations. In certain industries, product managers are commonplace and play a strategic role. These product managers are likely to wield more influence over the end to end sales, delivery and support of products to ensure that customers receive exceptional service when engaging with your company’s products.

In other industries, product management is not as established, or, it operates under a different name with potentially different principles and frameworks. We think the existing product management community can help to further espouse the value that product managers bring and this will in turn help businesses and organisations operate more effectively.

5. The danger of information leaks

The end of 2010 saw a great deal of attention on cables leaked by Wikileaks and leading newspapers worldwide. While the majority of these focused on government and political activity, it is to be expected that in 2011 Wikileaks and its contemporaries will shift their focus to the business world. Any major scandal or PR disaster will likely herald changes to information security and processes. This will be particularly difficult as attempts to shut or limit visibility go against the openness that we see will occur with increased customer collaboration.

As product managers are integral to the development and in-life management of products and services, any information leak is likely to have ramifications for product management staff in that organisation.

Prominent product management people share their views

“It’s difficult to talk about challenges for PMs broadly as I think these vary widely between industries. The arrival in Australia of the National Broadband Network brings huge challenges for PMs in media & telecommunications; the rising dollar for products with local manufacturing competing with imports; the continuing increase in (GST-exempt) purchases through the internet lowering sales and putting the squeeze on margins for smaller durable products and non-food FMCG would be three examples that come to mind.”

Tony Mitchell, General Manager Product Strategy & Development, AUSTAR

“The first thing that comes to mind in the online area is being able to keep up with the developments in mobile handsets, tablets etc; the use of these devices means that your website is being accessed not just on a PC but on a number of different screen types & sizes. The challenge is determining when the right time to develop for them is based on your customer needs/wants.”

Fern Jones-Middleton, Product Director, Fairfax Digital

“Deepening customer relationships and shifting from product managers to customer managers will provide challenges and opportunities in 2011 for traditional product management.”

Mark Wood, Manager, Deposit Products, ING Direct

“Well established businesses will feel the consolidated effects of niche players eating into their revenues. The likes of Telstra, News and even retail stores like Myer will need to transform and evolve their businesses (e.g. take online more seriously by investing and cannibalising their bricks & mortar world) to survive. I think this year is where they’ll hit their point of no return.Product managers have the opportunity to be central to these transformations, taking a savvy approach of introducing new ways in developing products and being on top of technological trends.”

Denise Tung, Product & Platform Director, New Lexis at LexisNexis

What trends and changes do you think will shape product management in 2011?

As always we welcome your thoughts and comments. Please share what you think will be the most significant trends, changes and developments to influence and shape product management in 2011.