2023 presented the tech sector with a number of serious challenges. Rising interest rates led to a renewed focus on profitability for venture-backed companies, hybrid and remote work models became standardized, and increasingly accessible artificial intelligence tools caused many members of the C-Suite to shift their priorities.
To tackle these challenges head-on, savvy PMs have spent the past year up-leveling their approaches to product strategy, management, and development. In the sections below, you’ll find fresh advice for tackling pertinent product challenges, whether you’re a current product manager going through a job transition, a seasoned product executive, or a PM-turned-founder looking to sharpen your skills.
These experts have shared their top takeaways from the past year:
● Shao Zhou, Senior Product Manager at CAIS
● Michael Palone, VP of Product Management at Swisslog Healthcare
● Lucy Zhao, Co-founder at Spire (Ex-PM, Pogo)
● Yooni Choi, Senior Product Manager at Wistia
Follow their advice to guide your own reflections on 2023 and prepare for the year ahead!
Thanks to Kristen Poli for crafting this piece for GoPractice.
Kristen Poli is a product leader and tech journalist.
She previously held the position of product manager at Contently and was the product management lead at Curacity.
Her articles have been published in outlets like WIRED and Hackernoon.
What was your biggest insight as a PM in 2023?
To maintain focus in a fast-growing marketplace, our experts recommend leveraging tried-and-true frameworks in order to gain clarity about users’ most pressing problems. By identifying stakeholder assumptions, estimating the feasibility of new feature builds, and leveraging tools to help visualize their approaches, product managers can use their resources wisely to solve customer challenges.
In addition, our experts recommend embracing experimentation and iterative development to ensure that products and features have widespread user support prior to launch. By de-risking their bets and reconceptualizing the results of so-called ‘failed’ experiments, product managers can build long-term value for users and their organizations through continuous learning.
Applying trusted frameworks and methodologies
A big skill I learned in 2023 was how to deal with ambiguity. As product managers, we’re often faced with making decisions based on incomplete or imperfect information. Coming from a large company with an established product, I had the luxury of determining what to build in a more focused way.
When I moved into startups, opportunities became more difficult to identify. The opportunities were boundless, but the constraints were more substantial. Applying frameworks such as Amazon’s North Star (and then walking backwards), using the impact vs. effort matrix, and leveraging First-principles thinking helped me focus on identifying the biggest problem we were trying to solve, and start making clarity from chaos.
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Focusing on product adoption
I have come to understand that many of the changes we have undergone post-pandemic are permanent, and there is no looking back. Some changes are well-documented, like the shift away from in-office work to remote and hybrid work. In addition, I believe that there have been significant changes in what we expect from business partners and products.
As such, I see it as my responsibility to release products and features predictably and sustainably while maintaining a focus on adoption. Even though we might be offering something beneficial, customers’ ability to adopt and implement our solutions might take a backseat to competing priorities.
We also reorganized our product and engineering teams this year, which has given us an opportunity to revisit our tools and processes. While not new to our team, we’ve leaned into the use of Aha! Software for product roadmaps and a broader portfolio view. Our internal customers always need more information about development work than we typically share, so we are working on a new approach using Aha! to offer more targeted updates.
Embracing iterative development
I have launched consumer marketplace products across many industries over the years, from construction to fintech to wedding planning, but my biggest learning came this year while building my own company, Spire.
Spire is a reading platform and digital publisher. As avid readers and indie writers, my cofounder Jennifer and I knew firsthand the challenges facing the book industry: authors struggle to get in front of readers while making a decent living, and publishers fall behind fast-moving reading trends. Though we knew the current system was broken and had heard many voices saying the same, the prospect of competing with Amazon as a small, bootstrapped startup was daunting. At first, we put aside the idea because we couldn’t find a foothold to start.
Then came the insight to take a serialized approach to building. We fully embraced building (and failing!) in public, launching smaller features—imperfect and limited in nature, but very doable. Each feature was a chance to make a splash and gather a lot of feedback quickly.
Using this approach, we’re already fulfilling requests from authors: we have learned so much and have been able to add more items to our roadmap. Our upcoming releases are informed not only by our best efforts, but also by our actual users’ behavior. I had never launched a product where the v1 differs so much in nature from the final version, but I credit this approach with empowering us to start and to be unafraid of tackling big problems.
Evangelizing experimentation + continuous learning
My biggest learning as a product manager in 2023 was the value of experimentation. This year, I dove into the uncharted realm of using AI to solve our users’ problems and learned the impact that experiments can have on refining your approach as a product manager.
One particular experiment involved introducing a new AI feature to a select user group. Beyond deploying the prototype, it involved collecting user data, conducting interviews, and evaluating technical feasibility. Although the experiment indicated scalability issues and suggested the prototype wasn’t superior to the existing solution, it wasn’t necessarily a failure. Rather, the real value lay in the insights gained and how I could use them to inform the path forward.
Experiments aren’t just tests; they’re a dynamic way to learn from your users and ensure your solutions aren’t built in isolation. And the process of experimentation may not be linear; it may look like a web of interconnected insights that continually refine your understanding of users’ needs. In a fast-paced environment, the ability to pivot based on real user data is a superpower that every product manager should harness.
In short, experimenting gave me a way to learn rapidly in a new and growing product area. It also gave me the ability to foster an environment at work where I could collaborate with my team to iteratively and quickly build towards the “right” product. Rather than avoiding mistakes, we should collectively make informed ones. I look forward to next year as I continue my journey of learning and committing to building solutions that truly matter to our users!
The tech sector’s widespread adoption of new work models, technologies, and economic incentives dramatically shifted the market landscape for product managers in 2023. In response, savvy PMs rose to the occasion by critically analyzing their current practices, processes, and toolkits in order to embrace new approaches.
For some experts, this meant sharpening their product sense by reverse-engineering complex problems with First-principles thinking. For others, it meant embracing iterative development through beta launches, publicly shared progress reports, and hypothesis-driven experimentation.
While the strategies they describe are different, all of our experts’ perspectives betray a commitment to frequent and unbiased self-reflection–an important practice for any product manager. Your best bet as a PM in 2024 might be found within their suggestions, but could just as easily appear within your own careful observations.
We recommend preparing for the year ahead by pairing the product insights that inspire you most with conclusions that you’ve drawn from your own experiences.
Illustration by Anna Golde for GoPractice