Agile Insider
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Agile Insider

The 2020 View Inside the Product Manager’s World

Image: Austin Distel @Unsplash

Product management has undergone significant evolution, with a series of methodologies, tactics and best practices becoming widely embraced, including iterative experimentation, data-driven decision-making and near-constant collection of customer feedback.

Product management has come a long way in the past century: From the 1930s, with Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble and his memo on the need to hire more people; to the 1940s, with Hewlett-Packard setting it as a stand-alone profession; to the 1980s, with the Intuit founders bringing it into software companies; to the 1990s, with Microsoft realizing the need for a role to fill in the gaps for engineers when Excel for Mac was being developed; all the way to 2000s and 2010s, with companies such as Google, Amazon, Netflix and Apple adopting the role.

In all those years, we have seen tremendous movement of the PM role, initially being very much a part of the marketing function, and focusing on understanding and fulfilling the customers’ needs using the classic marketing mix, moving in to the tech ecosystem, owning the value proposition and the development of the product, experiencing the waterfall era, transitioning to Agile, becoming a stand-alone function with a seat at the management table, and reporting directly to the CEO.

Things keep emerging briskly, and the real question is: How do they look today?

More than 550 product managers, leaders and executives with diverse career backgrounds and job responsibilities completed the 2020 Product Management Insights Report, published by Alpha, revealing insider information on their day-to-day operations, major frustrations, significant challenges and much more.

There are seven main areas I found quite interesting:

1. Core responsibilities

A whopping 84% of product managers and leaders surveyed declared they are primarily accountable for product strategy, while 83% noted crafting the product roadmap as their main responsibility.

Considering that customer centricity sits at the heart of product management, conducting user research, such as prototyping, surveys and interviews, ranked next at 59%.

69% of PMs are directly responsible for user research in companies that do not exceed 1,000 employees, while they clearly maintain less ownership in larger organizations

2. Day-to-day business

  • 96% indicate the majority of their day is consumed in meetings, and communicating with colleagues and clients via email and Slack.
  • Strategy and analytics are the next two categories ranking high in day-to-day operations.
  • Even though, on a quarterly basis, users are sourced to generate feedback, and user interviews are conducted, 80% claimed not spending enough time talking directly to customers.
  • Half the PMs feel they are spending too much time navigating internal processes but a perfect amount of time meeting with internal stakeholders.
  • Nearly all PMs need to create a report or presentation every quarter.

3. Main source of inspiration

Reflecting on the past year, some of the best product and feature ideas were culled directly from customer feedback. Team collaboration ranked high, as well, with 57% pinpointing brainstorms as a strong means to uncover feature and product ideas. Nearly a third of the respondents revealed competitor benchmarking as a source of inspiration.

4. Major frustrations

If PMs could wrap up their major frustrations and shift them into three wishes, this is what they would love:

  1. Become more strategic: Roadmapping and crafting a product vision ranks high on the wish list. Only 6% said they spend too much time crafting product vision, strategy and roadmaps, while more than 50% want to dedicate more time to it.
  2. Run more product experiments: 71% claimed they are not spending enough time on experimentation, and a shocking 13% noted no time spent at all.
  3. Education and training: 61% want to spend more time attending trainings and learning new skills, and an outrageous 11% devote exactly zero time to professional development.

5. Significant challenges

Numerous challenges PMs are facing in 2020 were cited. The most significant ones are listed below:

  • Elevating trends: Startups and enterprise organizations encounter many high-level challenges, such as digital transformation and customer experience.
  • Product development moves fast; customer preferences move faster: 60% say direct customer feedback was the source of their best product and feature ideas, but most say they don’t conduct enough user research on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
  • Cross-functional collaboration: 51% of PMs collaborate with market research on less than half their product projects. The time and rigor required to gather customer data is often at odds with the agility required to build innovative products and solutions, leaving a huge window of opportunity for improved collaboration between researchers and product teams.
  • Roadmap roadblocks: 30% of respondents placed a clearer product strategy at the top of their 2020 wish list, but nearly 53% said they don’t have enough time to craft product roadmaps.

6. Pivotal product development goals

Most PMs and leaders surveyed shared a very similar set of product development goals.

The top four cited are combating churn, nailing user onboarding, new market expansion or customer reach, and monetizing product offerings.

72% named revenue or profitability as the main business objective, while 59% felt creating or incubating a new product/business line was high on the list of company goals.

7. Forthcoming trends

  • Tools mature as the discipline matures: 64% plan to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into their product offering this year. A smaller percentage expressed interest in chatbots (37%), while 21% had no plans for tech integrations in 2020.
  • Pressing priorities: Most PMs hope to establish a clearer product roadmap and strategy, while more than 20% ranked additional resources as a hopeful investment in the coming year.
  • Spending product budget: Given an extra $250,000 for their product budgets this year, half the respondents would allocate it to user research or experimentation, 21% would invest in training for teams, and only 7% would be interested in bringing in external consultants or agencies.

Let’s stay tuned to witness how product management will flourish in the years to come.

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