Digital products are changing the lives of consumers around the world. The digitization of significant industries has opened up a new world of digital products that users experience through various devices, including their computers, tablets, and smartphones. Many consumers don’t realize that there is a skilled workforce of trained professionals dedicated to bringing those products to life and making sure they’re providing optimal user experience.
According to Pranjal Bora at Digital Authority Partners, the term product management refers to a cross-functional discipline focused on crafting a big-picture vision of how an end-user experiences a digital product. A digital product has few distinct characteristics. They include functionality, design, monetization, and content.
A product manager oversees these different aspects of a digital product to ensure that its end-user experience aligns with company goals. It’s a product manager’s job to guide the work through its lifecycle. A good product manager steers a digital product through its inception and development, to its testing, to its go-to-market strategy, to its eventual widespread adoption, and beyond.
Even after a digital product is widely adopted, product management remains an ongoing task, as the product is continually changed and improved.
In a time where a global pandemic has disrupted most significant industries, product managers are also facing new challenges due to the spread of COVID-19. Let’s explore the five main challenges faced by product managers in 2020 and how they can best meet them.
- Changing Market Dynamics
COVID-19 has significantly shifted the market dynamics for digital products in many different industries. Some of the most prominent examples are the social distancing policies introduced by many governments to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Digital products that incorporated the gathering of people into a shared space are being forced to pivot their strategy and, in many cases, place a stronger emphasis on virtual meetings.
This shift can fall squarely upon product managers’ shoulders, often tasked with creating and leading a product strategy. For digital products that offer features that contradict best practices and regulations implemented to prevent the pandemic’s spread, a radical strategic change is often needed. For this reason, many tech companies are modifying their products to make them specifically useful for consumers that are in quarantine or are social distancing.
The economic impacts of the pandemic also can’t be ignored by informed product managers. With a global recession that has affected individuals worldwide, some product managers need to reevaluate their target market for the product. It’s possible that a demographic that would once have been receptive to a product can now no longer afford it or are otherwise dissuaded from using it.
Conversely, shifting market dynamics could offer product managers new opportunities to devise features that cater to consumers’ “new normal.” Indeed, many products related to virtual meetings and remote work have received increased interest from users and investors alike due to the pandemic’s impact.
- Keeping Up With New Technologies
By its nature, product management is a cross-functional role, so product managers must continuously learn about different fields ranging from law to marketing, to software engineering, to financial planning. These domains are continually changing and in flux, but perhaps none more so than technology and software.
Software dependencies, and technology as a whole, change exceptionally quickly, and keeping up-to-date with programming best practices and software development tools is tricky even for dedicated software engineers. Nonetheless, product managers need to stay current with modern tools and software dependencies to set realistic goals for the development team to achieve.
This article from the New York Times explores how one Etsy product manager taught himself how to program in Python in his spare time to help expand his skills. This is not to say that a product manager should spend time debugging code or programming algorithms. Instead, they should stay in the loop about the big-picture technological landscape and the tools the development team has at their disposal to meet product objectives.
- Adapting to a Changing Financial Reality
Many businesses have experienced adverse economic effects due to the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has also significantly impacted investors’ confidence in making new investments into companies. Instead, many investors choose to stand on the standings to see how the global economic situation progresses. This represents a challenge for many tech companies that are often reliant upon receiving investments throughout their funding cycles.
Investors’ reticence to make investments could mean reduced budgets for many tech companies. It could also propel the trend towards product-focused management, as explained by the BBC.
Therefore, many product managers will need to learn to achieve more with less. Significantly shifting the product to adapt to the new normal of social distancing and remote work isn’t comfortable with low budgets. It will be product managers’ responsibility to manage that transition in a financially feasible and cost-efficient way.
As this article by the Washington Post explains, the pandemic means that we are faced with an ironic reality in which buyers don’t have money, and sellers don’t have a product.
- Understanding Customers’ Needs
A vital part of a product manager’s role is understanding what the customer wants and how best to deliver that desired experience. Many companies conduct extensive market research and testing to inform their decision-making.
The reality is that what many customers want has irrevocably changed due to the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic’s spread has meant that many consumers’ values and needs have shifted, especially when considering the virus’s downstream social and economic effects. Some product managers can even consider keeping up with a reliable lifestyle publication to stay tapped into their target market’s daily realities.
This means that product managers will need to reevaluate customers’ values and preferences and how they’ve changed. Renewed market research could be required to inform the direction of the product.
- Adjusting to Remote Work
Aside from reckoning with how the effects of remote work have impacted customers, product managers must also adapt to this new normal themselves.
Many tech companies allow or encourage employees to work from home, which can significantly impact how teams and departments communicate. This is a challenge that affects project managers, particularly since they often have to communicate across departmental lines.
Product managers will need all of the tools at their disposal to communicate effectively with different departments while working remotely.