Product Predictions 2024
Recently I was invited by Productboard to give a talk on the topic of what 2024 might have in store for the product community. If you prefer to watch a video (60 min), you can find the recording here. But in this article I thought I’d share my thoughts in narrative form.
In general I’m not much for predictions, mainly because I have a long record of thinking things will happen sooner than they actually do, a form of optimism bias. At this point, whenever I consider the future, I push myself to frame things as what I hope will happen, versus what I worry will actually happen.
I picked the ten most common topics that people ask me about:
1. Product Managers
As most people that read this already know, I spend a great deal of time trying to advocate for strong, competent product managers, responsible for value and viability, working closely with product design and engineering on empowered product teams. I fully realize that this type of product manager has long been the minority once you get outside of the Silicon Valley bubble. But I try everything I can think of to help more companies move to this model.
So obviously what I hope will happen is that more companies will choose to work like the best. I have a new book coming out in March describing this way of working to try to help companies transform to the product operating model.
But what I worry will happen is something I’ve been warning about for several years, and we all saw an example recently at Airbnb. This is when the leaders get frustrated with the weak results of product managers that are more accurately project managers, and they decide to go in a different direction, such as trying to play the necessary role themselves.
2. Product Owners
This topic is just so frustrating at this point. The rise of product owners has done more damage to the craft of product than anything else I can think of in the past 40 years.
The root of the issue is that we have literally thousands of well-intentioned but process-focused “agile coaches” that have never done product at a product company, thinking they can train product owners. They adopt some buzzwords, teach people a specific delivery process like Scrum, give people a certificate, and send them out to serve as “the product owner of a product team.” Funny how they don’t pretend they can train engineers how to code, or designers how to design, yet they are fine pretending they can train product owners how to ensure they are delivering value and viability.
So I am very much hoping that we can just acknowledge this was a very big mistake, and move past this sad chapter.
Unfortunately, what’s driven this situation in the first place is process people taking over Agile, and that shows no sign of slowing down, so my worry is that this will get worse before it gets better.
3. Product Teams
I fully expect that there will always be feature teams and empowered product teams. Any time you find a command and control leader, you’re very likely to find feature teams there to support them. So this is very much about trying to convince more leaders of the value of empowerment.
My hope is that more leaders experience the power and potential of empowered teams focused on outcomes, and embrace them.
But my worry is that more leaders will get frustrated over ill-equipped product owners, and feature team product managers that are really project managers, and go in the opposite direction.
4. Product Leaders
The key to strong product managers and strong product teams really is strong product leaders. And that’s why they are the focus of most of my work. My hope is that if we had more strong product leaders, then more CEO’s would embrace this model.
My worry is that more CEO’s will think they can just do this themselves.
5. Product Ops
Product Ops is a tricky one that could go either way this year. My hope is that people and companies will embrace this definition of Product Ops from Melissa Perri: “Product Ops is the art of removing obstacles from evidence-based decision making.” I love this quote, and while this is not new (product teams have had user research and data analyst teams supporting qualitative and quantitative decision making for more than 20 years), putting them together under a common “product ops” leader can raise the visibility of this important capability. If this is how people implement product ops, I think this will be a positive step forward.
My worry is that there are others that are interested in product ops for a very different purpose, often referred to as “process and governance.” Be wary of this.
Speaking of qualitative and quantitative decision making, due to the continued extraordinary growth of the global addressable market, the quantitative side has been getting unprecedented attention with tools and resources, and that is all good.
What’s not good is that too many product teams get so focused on the data, they stop spending time actually talking to their users and customers, which really is essential if we are to understand why the data is what it is, which is so often the key to achieving the outcomes we need.
So my hope is that more teams will rediscover the value of actually talking to users and customers, but my worry is that we’ll continue to see more teams become one dimensional, and actually make slower progress towards outcomes because they are essentially trying to fight with one hand tied behind their back.
If you’ve read this far you already know my views on going overboard with process. My hope is that people will realize that it’s the principles that matter, not the process. But my worry is that so many process people are in positions of influence that this will only continue to get worse.
8. Product Coaches
One of the ongoing challenges for companies that want to learn to work like the best is that in many cases their leaders have never seen product done well. How are they supposed to lead their companies to a new way of working that they don’t know themselves?
One approach is to bring in new product leaders that have been there and done that. But the more scalable approach is often to use product coaches to coach both the product leaders and the product teams.
So my hope is that we will see many more strong product coaches helping product leaders to coach and develop their people, and to develop the necessary strategic context (especially product vision, team topology, product strategy, and team objectives).
But my worry is that just as happened with Agile coaches, we’ll have an influx of product coaches that do not have the necessary hands-on experience at a strong product company, and the results won’t be good, and we know where that leads.
9. Product Model
The product operating model (or just “product model” for short), is the term we’ve adopted to describe the principles underlying how strong product companies work.
My hope is that our industry can come to some sort of understanding and consensus on what defines strong product companies, and that is about the principles, and not about process or frameworks or tools.
But my worry is that the process people will try to define the product model as a particular process.
10. Generative AI
This topic is no surprise, but how this actually plays out is anyone’s guess. There are several dimensions to this topic, and it’s important to look at each.
But when it comes to the impact on product managers, I have real hope that the combination of product manager’s informed product sense and judgment, with new and very powerful tools to challenge and augment our thinking, will result in making better product decisions faster.
But I also know that many people will go to great lengths to resist thinking, and so my worry is that this will open the door to blindly accepting the recommendations of tools, and the result will drive more teams to the mediocre middle.
So bottom line, when it comes to product, there’s a lot of uncertainty heading into 2024, but also a lot of potential good.