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Product teams could look really different in 5-10 years, are you ready?

Updated: Jun 30

Ever since I started playing with LLMs, I’ve been curious about how they will transform how we create and grow products. Today, I’m taking a risk to predict the future. Not because I think I’m going to be right (I’m probably going to be wrong), but because imagining what lies ahead helps me plan, prepare my daughters for their futures, and maybe, help shape the future I want to see.

In the next 5-10 years, product, design, and engineering roles will undergo significant transformations driven by technological advancements, economic pressures, and evolving business needs. People in the workforce today are the ones who will experience these changes, and it’s going to be rough. I always like to say that change is opportunity—and here, the opportunity is to forge new and better ways of working and to do some really cool shit.

Trends Making an Impact

The Reward for Reducing Spend and Increasing Productivity

Major companies have been rewarded for cutting costs while boosting productivity through new tools. reports that 89,105 employees have been laid off so far this year, compared to 263,180 last year. Despite cutting staff, we’re seeing the amount of code they’re writing go up, probably because of tools like Amazon’s CodeWhisperer, which helped developers complete tasks 57% faster, with a 27% higher task completion rate than those who didn’t use the tool.

Re-evaluating roles

Companies like Capital One and Airbnb are reassessing and redefining roles to align with current realities. Capital One cut over 1,100 technology positions, eliminating its “agile” job family. Airbnb is blending product management with product marketing. Shopify’s content designers are now taking on broader design roles, including product design tasks. IBM and Expedia have eliminated executive-level design roles. This trend shows that leaders are questioning and rethinking what roles they actually need.

The rise of fractional roles

There is a notable increase in part-time and gig roles, especially at senior levels. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an 18% rise in fractional jobs from 2021 to 2022, and a 57% rise from 2020 to 2022. McKinsey and Forrester predict that over 50% of enterprises will adopt fractional executives by 2025. This shift indicates a growing preference for flexible employment patterns and contract work.

Predictions, Opportunities, and Tactics

Smaller, More Efficient Teams

AI-enabled teams will accomplish more with fewer people. Leaner teams streamline processes and reduce the necessity for formal project management. “By 2030, activities that account for up to 30 percent of hours currently worked across the US economy could be automated—a trend accelerated by generative AI. However, we see generative AI enhancing the way STEM, creative, and business and legal professionals work rather than eliminating a significant number of jobs outright,” according to McKinsey.

Opportunities and Tactics: While the number of roles dedicated to delivery management will decline, there may be openings for non-technical people with good communication skills to join product teams as generalists or to move into broader operational roles.

Lots of Generalists and Some Specialists

Most roles will be for generalists able to complete a variety of tasks and support from AI. Specialists will likely work on strategic projects part-time while generalists handle day-to-day tasks.

Opportunities and tactics: Specialists can build deep expertise in valuable areas and take on fractional or consulting work with lots of flexibility. Generalists can be more creative and less limited by functional skills and formal requirements for taking on certain roles.

Relearning How to Work Together

I used to support a portfolio of more than 50 clients, and most of them had common ways that engineering, product management, and design worked together. It’s going to get messy when people can do more without formal skills. We’re going to need to adopt more flexible ways of working together and negotiating our roles on a team so we can do our best work.

Opportunities and tactics: Leaders with strong people and communication skills will be in high demand to support this transition. “Demand for social and emotional skills could rise by 11 percent in Europe and by 14 percent in the United States. Underlying this increase is higher demand for roles requiring interpersonal empathy and leadership skills,” according to McKinsey. AI can handle a lot of the administrative tasks, allowing time for coaching and strategic thinking.

Increased company customization

Companies will become more responsive and sales-driven, offering tailored solutions and quickly adapting to market changes. This shift will place a greater emphasis on customer-centric roles and agile business models.

Opportunities and tactics: Understanding client needs and crafting custom solutions that will align with the overall roadmap. Discovering ways to do predictive analytics and offer valuable insights to clients and support their implementation.

Dependence on major platforms

Today, a lot of creators can be put out of business by an update to YouTube or TikTok’s algorithm, and if the big companies control the foundational models, we’re going to be limited by what they want to do. Despite advancements, companies will still be influenced by major platforms, which will continue to shape the technological landscape and dictate certain business operations.

Opportunities and tactics: The most successful creators build a strong connection with their audience and make sure they can diversify their revenue and attention streams. Many years ago, PBS adopted a smart cloud, dumb client model so they could distribute their content to any channel and still market to their audience.

Emergence of the AI curator

Today, viewing and analyzing data requires UI or the technical ability to write queries. AI tools can offer people a much broader set of options, provided the data quality is high enough and that there are controls in place to ensure what’s being returned meets some accuracy standard. The role of AI curators will become prominent, tasked with assembling the best data for specific jobs, much like a museum curator selects the best artifacts. This role is crucial in ensuring that AI systems are fed with high-quality, relevant data to optimize their performance.

Opportunities and tactics: Being able to source, understand, and do quality assurance on specialty sets of data. Helping companies create and implement data strategies.

What this means for you
  • Adaptability is crucial as roles and responsibilities shift. Continuous learning and skill development will be essential to stay relevant.

  • Take some of the many free courses on Coursera and get started with tasks like writing user stories, coding, and prototyping. AI can provide feedback and coaching, enhancing productivity and creativity.

  • Focus on skills that set you apart as a highly valuable employee, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and strategic planning. These skills will complement AI capabilities and enhance your value.

  • This transition will challenge team norms and relationships, navigating this takes strong people skills and a willingness to have vulnerable and challenging conversations.

The future of product, design, and engineering roles is rapidly evolving. Expect smaller, more efficient teams, a balance between generalists and specialists, increased customization, and the rise of gig labor. Embrace the change, invest in continuous learning, and leverage new technologies to stay ahead. The future is full of possibilities for those who are prepared to adapt and innovate.


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