Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Thor Ernstsson will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 11-13 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.
The process of developing digital products will drastically evolve over the next 10 years. So much will be different that we’ll look back on this as a primitive, nearly unrecognizable period in its evolution. We’re basically in the MS-DOS phase, still messing around with floppy disks when we’ll soon be using iPhones.
That’s not to say that we haven’t already come a long way. Thanks to educational resources and communities like This is Product Management, Product School, Industry, Mind The Product, and Product Management Insider, many companies have invested in continuous discovery and customer-centric initiatives. Most organizations understand that product development needs to shift from a waterfall factory-esque process to an agile software-enabled one.
So what will building digital products like in 2028?
We’re in the data business, so we typically eat wild assumptions for breakfast. I know I’m breaking numerous rules by making predictions about the distant future. But given our vast experience working with 500+ product teams to run 15,000+ experiments, here are five things about product management that I’m confident will happen by 2028:
1. Manual efforts today will be seen as archaic, like building your own CRM
Aside from some extreme cases, the only reason an organization today should custom build a CRM is if they’re a CRM vendor. While standardization tends to cut off access to certain use cases, the benefits more than compensate for it: unified best practices, cheaper and faster implementation, and widespread proficiency.
The same will be true when it comes to building digital products. Right now, processes vary extraordinarily from one company to the next, depending on the chosen flavor of Lean-Agilefall™. But as best practices and systems of record continue to emerge, product teams will no longer see the value in customizing workflows and grinding out manual tasks. Experimentation, roadmapping, decision making, and key performance indicators will standardize around a few key frameworks and tools.
2. As the cost of engineering drops even further, an onslaught of niche products will emerge
If you think Product Hunt is a passing fad, you’re in for quite a shock. For a long time, Silicon Valley has reigned supreme as a technology mecca where engineers and developers have called the shots. We’re now seeing a shift in this model as the cost of engineering digital products effectively approaches zero. The question is no longer if it can be built (it can), but who will build it first. Every problem will be addressable no matter how niche the opportunity.
As a result, incumbents will face disruption from even more competitors and to an even greater extent than they currently do. However, they’ll similarly benefit from cheap development costs and the aforementioned best-in-class product management tools and processes. Combining those with existing data sets and customers, incumbents will be able to gain the first-mover advantage as they pursue niche opportunities.
3. Product management will be so collaborative that it won’t be a standalone role
Somewhat counterintuitively, I predict that product management as a role will continue to formalize before being entirely democratized. The business world is already experiencing a massive shift toward democratized decision making — away from the C-suite into the hands of people who are closest to the problem and users. Machine learning, recommendation algorithms, and “AI” are certain to bolster this trend, as they empower decision makers by surfacing relevant information at the right time.
Product management is all about making data-informed decisions to deliver value to customers. Much of that involves equipping those actually doing the design, engineering, and marketing with the tools and data to do their jobs effectively. Aside from certain product leadership roles dedicated to broad strategic planning, product management processes will be integrated into other roles and functions across the organization. In fact, we’re already beginning to see this with some of our most forward-thinking clients. They have mandates for everyone on the team, from the director to the analyst, to run experiments and put data behind product and business decisions.
4. Virtual reality will make every experience testable, not just digital products
There is a proliferation of design tools that enable product teams to create almost any experience in mere hours. Nearly every digital product today can be tested as an interactive prototype and validated before a single line of code is written.
By 2028, the same will be true of physical experiences. The costs of designing for VR headsets is plummeting, which means that companies will be able to simulate ‘walking into a hotel room’ or ‘picking a bag of chips off a shelf in a grocery store’ before shovel hits dirt. This will open a whole new world of possibilities. Sports, retail, and hospitality innovators will have the ability to iterate and experiment in much the same way digital product managers can today.
5. Putting customers first will no longer be a competitive advantage
For the past two decades, being customer-first has been a competitive advantage which has enabled Netflix to oust Blockbuster, smartphones to antiquate Kodak, and Uber to replace taxis. But in the future, being customer-first will no longer be a competitive advantage. It will be table stakes for competition.
No consumer or business user will have any patience whatsoever for a frustrating product or service, especially when they can quickly turn to a competitor. Trends like cable-cutting won’t even make the news in the future because it’ll be so obvious that users always opt for frictionless experiences, sometimes even without realizing they’re making a switch.
By 2028, every business will be customer-first. To gain a competitive advantage, brands will have to go above and beyond even today’s progressive ideas. Of course, I can’t tell what that will look like, but I suspect optimizing entire organizations around rapid iteration cycles will be how it gets done.