Ah December, that month where we reflect and look forward whilst overindulging on turkey and port! (Well, I do anyway). 2015 has been a massive year for product, and much like how agile project methodologies became the standard for delivering projects outside as well as inside the technology sector, digital product management has become the norm for managing the lifecycle of a product in any sector, and long may it continue!

In this blog I look at what big trends (and the odd challenge) most digital product teams will face in 2016. I really hope I look back on this blog in 12 months time whilst in the mist of a turkey food coma, tip my port glass and say: “Nailed it”.


The Rise of Audience Development

The mantra of the modern day product leader is “fail fast and learn from it”. For us to be able to do this we need to not only know how we are doing but also explain why. That’s how we make informed decisions, and once we have made our decision we need to monitor the results. Queue our audience development teams; it is well documented and evidenced in a multitude of case studies that the companies that invest in their audience development teams have a direct competitive advantage. You may read this and think “well duh doi?!? We have had a team dedicated to audience development for years”, and you would be an employee at a company that is keeping up with the times. But, sadly there are still a high number of places where they just bundle the responsibility of implementing, recording, reporting and analysis of audience development data as a bolt on to someone else’s job, meaning the subject matter isn’t getting the treatment it deserves. 2016 will see more new data scientist employed than any other discipline in the digital sector.

Google, Facebook, and Apple Will Force Us To Think Differently

With Facebook, Google, and Apple implementing content consumption within their own networks, they have the potential to call the shots on what you can and can’t have in your page.


There is a massive fear that these new content platforms mean we will have to strip out various forms of code that aren’t relevant to the content, meaning we will have to think differently about how we monetise. This really does have the potential to disrupt the industry where thousands of jobs are dependent on being able to track and monetise a web service. I don’t think things will change too much next year but expect tons of weird and wonderful ways of making money to come out. To be fair, I can completely understand why this has come about: websites are getting heavier by the minute and for every delightful web experience, there are dozens of experiences like this.


Programmatic Advertising Saturation Will Come Sooner Than You Think

The original prediction was that the end of 2018 would see 70% from all advertising budgets spent on programmatic advertising platforms. The UK is already at 50%, and more and more companies are opting to hand over the expertise of buying and selling inventory to the programmatic services out there, receiving the savings of cutting out the middlemen. My prediction is that we will not only be talking about more digital ads being sold, but the entire 360 advertising audience sections where companies will bid for mobile, desktop, and TV advertising spaces.


MVP and User Stories Will Continue To Evolve

Lean product development is great: I love how it causes a mentality shift that cuts through bureaucracy to get stuff done quicker. That is of course if you do this the right way, full hog, lean, iterative development. However, although these tools within the methodology are fantastic, they are by no means perfect. I predict the minimal viable product concept will still be here for years to come but evolved to incorporate minimal user satisfaction thresholds. The “minimal lovable product” idea is starting to float around in the design creative space and that feels like the start of something exciting. User stories will follow a slightly different route as we start to think how can we remove the ambiguity, whilst allowing the experts the flexibility to do a task as they seem fit. Action stories or end point stories are beginning to make ripples and I will be experimenting with them on a project or two in the near future.


The Product Manager Job Title Will Be Used In Vain Far, Far, Too Much

We work in an amazing industry: problems need solving and everyday new stuff is coming out. However, that does mean the job remit and description of Product Management is being stretched, to a point where it is beyond recognition. We now have Product Managers for everything, from Advertising Product Managers to Service Product Managers. It feels like some organisations just take previous roles, stick the word product in there somewhere and say, “as you were, carry on”. Whenever I go on training courses and we do the inevitable round table of name, role, and company, I see how acute that can be. I would hear role descriptions that don’t even seen to resemble any leadership, strategy, or working knowledge of implementations. There is nothing wrong in any hard working digital role, but disguising a role as one thing and then letting them out into the world as something else will come back to haunt your company when they move on and have to deal with real product roles.


Cross-functional Teams Will Evolve Into Cross-functional Roles

We have designers building prototypes; coders who can design; commercial staffs that do their own analytics; Product Managers who can do a little bit of everything; Project Managers who think about strategy and want visibility of roadmaps and AHHHHHHH! Who does what anymore?!?!?!

With organisations becoming cross-functional, it makes sense that roles become more flexible. This is causing teething problems all over the sector, as personalities and expertise mean that the composition of one product team might look completely different from one organisation to another. That’s OK as long as you have a process in place to identify who has accountability for what, and the team feel they have a way to channel any issues and uncertainties.


What do you think will have an impact on the product landscape in 2016? Leave a comment below.