Survey identifies growing pains as product management expands.
The role of product manager formally dates back to the 1930s with its start at Procter & Gamble, but it has only been in the last few years that the role has become much better known. As the field has grown, a few annual surveys to were created to provide insight into the role. One that I follow is the Product Management Insights report, which was just published by Alpha.
I interviewed the report’s co-author, Nis Frome, who is also co-founder and head of content at Alpha, a company that provides on-demand user insights platform for product teams. Nis is also the editor of Product Management Insider and co-producer of the This is Product Management podcast.
- how people move into the role of product manager,
- the key activities product managers are involved in,
- the responsibilities of the product management role,
- where they get their ideas for product features, and
- how they spend their time.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:50] Who did you collect data from for the 2018 Product Management Insights report?
This is our fourth year doing the survey, and we try to collect data from as many previous recipients as we can who are still working in the field. We also advertise on social media, on our podcast, and in our newsletter. We want to cast a wide net so it’s not just people who are already subscribed to what we’re doing. Respondents are mostly in the U.S. and do not necessarily need to have the title of product manager, but they have to be responsible for building digital products.
[4:30] Only 11 percent of people taking the survey indicated they started their careers as product managers. How did everyone else get into this field?
People starting directly as product managers spiked a few years ago and is declining as companies shift toward rotation programs and valuing people coming into product management having served in other roles. The most common job someone has before starting in product management is a business analyst, followed by engineering, then marketing/sales/customer success. There’s a belief out there that you need to have a technical background to be a good product manager, but I think we’re starting to see empathy and knowledge of other teams trump technical knowledge. The level of technical knowledge needed really differs from role to role.
[7:17] What does a digital product manager do?
They set product roadmaps and write user stories. More product managers are talking to more customers than ever before. They are using technology to replace things like traditional focus groups so they can reach more of their customers in a way that’s efficient for everyone. A lot of product managers are still doing things like prototyping and managing development teams, which are not things they necessarily should be doing.
[10:01] How can product managers set a roadmap?
We’re advocates of creating thematic roadmaps that demonstrate what problems you’re going to solve, but we realize that sales teams might want something more concrete about what you’re going to build next quarter. A big theme in the report is learning to work within the constraints you have and make the most of a non-ideal situation.
[13:18] What were some of the challenges that came up in the survey results?
Stakeholders and internal politics have consistently topped the list. However, every year we ask about the biggest wish for the coming year and have seen some interesting trends emerge. In 2015, they said it was a better strategy and clear roadmap. In 2016, it was a salary increase. In 2017, it was more resources. In 2018, it’s back to a better strategy and a clear roadmap. This follows industry growth and in some ways we are now back at the beginning. Product managers are making what they feel is a fair salary and have the resources they need to do their jobs and they’re back to asking for the strategies and roadmaps they need to be successful in their jobs.
[18:05] Where do product managers get their ideas?
We’ve found that ideas mainly come from customers and from team brainstorming. This year, we saw a big drop in the number of ideas coming from leadership. This suggests that executives might finally be buying into the value of customer insights and realizing that top-down innovation is not always effective. Instead, customers are providing pain points that teams use to come up with products that will solve those problems.
[21:04] How are product managers spending their time and where do they want to spend more time?
Product managers feel they spend too much time dealing with internal politics. They would rather spend more time talking to customers to get the data that will inform better product decisions. Building good relationships with your stakeholders can help reduce internal politics and get to decisions. We’ve also seen a gap between people who want to do experiments and innovation centers and the people who are actually doing those things. It’s difficult to take ideas that are successful in the startup world and scale them to a large corporation with a lot of bureaucracy. One of the challenges organizations are facing is how to keep pace as change continues to happen more quickly and we expect that will continue to be a theme in our reports.
- AlphaHQ 2018 Product Management Insight survey
- Nis Frome on LinkedIn
- This Is Product Management Podcast
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.