ProductPlan has conducted research and surveys with product people for the past seven years. As a result, product managers have shared topics such as their challenges, product planning, work strategies, salaries, etc., in the workplace.
For their 2022 report on the state of product management, ProductPlan has asked over 2,000 product people (product managers, senior product managers, directors of product, product owners, etc.) worldwide to talk about how it is to be working in product teams today. The survey ran through the month of October 2021 via their newsletters, shared via email, and several product management communities.
The role of product managers has evolved significantly. Their primary focus is not roadmapping anymore. The report reflects insights on how product management has changed, the work product managers do daily, and their impact on the organisations they work in.
Alignment among the organisation
One of the most challenging parts of being a product manager is influencing their team while being on the same hierarchy level as their peers. Product managers must build alignment with their team. They use communication and influence to do so. Alignment makes sure everyone is going in the same direction and is on the same page.
How do product managers communicate product information?
The report shows that 62% of product managers have a more proactive approach in practice. They host meetings, and present live information in order to communicate product information with their peers. Hosting 1-on-1 conversations came in second with only 14%.
However, when it comes to preference, 45% say they would host meetings, and present information live. In addition, 35% of product managers prefer a self-service approach and would rather refer their peers to the roadmap.
Product managers have a lack of trust in stakeholders to read their roadmaps
Roadmaps tell team members the direction of the product, the time it will take to achieve the targets, and the problems it tackles. Unfortunately, 64% of product managers don’t feel confident about their internal stakeholders reading their roadmaps and keeping themselves informed. They don’t feel like the stakeholders engage well enough with the roadmap. There’s clearly room for improvement regarding communication in the organisations. For example, 39% of product managers say they feel average about aligning with the rest of their organization.
Autonomy in a product team is vital
Autonomy in a team has numerous benefits. First, it’s empowering and motivating. More than half of the product managers (55%) feel like their team is autonomous, while 37% think they’re not. The remaining 8% don’t know. On average, product teams in smaller companies feel they have greater autonomy than those in bigger companies.
Autonomy is affected by the alignment in a product team
The report suggests that alignment affects the autonomy in an organisation. An aligned team, that is on the same page and understands the goals and challenges in their team, will feel more autonomous in guiding their own decisions.
The impact of autonomy on development priorities
A lack of autonomy in a product team might be a factor of chaos on development priorities. Whilst most teams shift their development priorities every month (37%), or three months (37%), some teams struggle a bit more. The survey shows that product managers who don’t feel like their team is autonomous are more likely to shift their development priorities on a weekly basis (18%). It’s an indication of a product team that’s doing more reactive than proactive work.
The impact of autonomy on stakeholder engagement
Autonomy also impacts stakeholder engagement and is a sign of a healthy team. For example, product managers who feel like their team read their roadmap often are more likely to have developed autonomy in their team than those who feel like they read rarely.
The go-to-market strategy today
Product managers have the role of choosing what product to build and develop next. ProductPlan searched to find what happens after a product is built and what role a product team plays in bringing their product to market that is the go-to-market.
One factor showing the influence of a product team on a go-to-market strategy is the decision of the launch date of a product. The study shows that half of the product managers (50%) state that the product team decides when a product is announced or launched, followed by the executive leadership (31%) and the marketing and sales team (12%).
Who’s in charge of product education?
The customer-facing teams have a vital role in communicating the value of a product and are at the core of having a successful product. It appears that product teams are half of the time (56%) the ones educating the rest of the organisation on new products and features.
Who’s in charge of product messaging?
83% of product managers say they have a lot of influence on how the product is messaged. In addition, product managers that felt aligned with the rest of their product teams reported that they had got strong influence over product messaging. This is a strong indication that alignment empowers the product team to influence how their products are brought to the market.
Product operations roles are growing
The product operations (ops) are on the rise. Product ops is a role designed to help the product team, and the rest of the organisation operate as effectively as possible. The survey states that one-third (32%) of companies have a product ops person or team. It’s more common in larger organisations.
The role of product ops people varies depending on the product they work, the organisation they work for, or the industry they’re in. The survey shows that the most common responsibility for a product person is to improve communication between the product team and stakeholders and increase the efficiency of the product team.
The survey also shows that product teams that work with product ops feel more aligned with their organisations, experience greater autonomy in their decision-making, and trust their peers to read the roadmaps they provide for them.
The impact of product managers on customer acquisition
Customer acquisition has changed. It’s the product teams that are helping organisations and companies acquire new customers. Today, there are many ways to reach new customers, such as sales conversations, marketing campaigns, free trials, and the in-app experience.
Customers prefer self-educating themselves about a product. They’re more likely to try a free trial of a product than be exposed to advertising or be in touch with a salesperson. Product managers feel like the product experience has the most significant impact on customer acquisition (40%), followed by sales conversations (32%). This shows a shift in how products are sold—no more sales calls. Instead, companies are trying to build products that will sell themselves in industries like computer software.
Trends in 2022
What are the new challenges of product management?
The survey shows the #1 challenge product managers experience this year is planning and prioritising initiatives.
- 22% Planning and prioritising initiatives
- 21% Setting roadmap priorities without feedback
- 20% Getting consensus on product direction
This could be due to several reasons. The first might be the companies adjusting back to normal after working remotely during the pandemic. They’re hiring new members and are facing new challenges in defining priorities. The second reason could be increased product teams’ involvement in other parts of the business. As this survey shows, product teams are getting involved in other parts of the business and getting new sets of responsibilities. It might affect the product teams’ ability to prioritise.
Budgets for 2022
37% of the product teams state their budget for 2022 is allocated to hiring. This number was 20% last year. This is understandable since the pandemic made many companies pause hiring new product people. They’re looking to fill the most for the product manager (52%), followed by the senior product manager (30%). It is important to note that 23% of companies said their companies are not looking to hire this year.
Significant changes are being noticed in most organisations. Today, we’re facing a product-led movement compared to a top-down approach to product development in the past. As a result, product teams are starting to have more critical positions within their organisations. They’re starting to get more responsibilities and find a stronger voice in decisions that are made.
It is important to note that the level of alignment and the degree of autonomy of a product team impacts their ability to develop and launch a product to the market in today’s market. To be able to put up with the increasing competition and disruption, the report states it’s more important than ever for product teams to exert influence over their organisations.
What to take from this report
- 62% of product managers have a proactive approach to communicating product information.
- 64% of product managers don’t feel very confident about their internal stakeholders keeping themselves informed about the product by reading their roadmap.
- Only 55% of product managers think their team is autonomous. Autonomy is vital in a product team.
- Product managers decide on a go-to-market strategy 50% of the time
- Product teams are the ones educating the rest of the organisation on new products and feature 56% of the time.
- Product operations roles are growing, especially in large companies. 32% of organisations have a product ops person or team.
- Product managers have a big impact on customer acquisition.
- The #1 challenge product managers experience is planning and prioritising initiatives.
- Product teams’ budget this year is allocated to hiring (37%).
Product management roles are arising. Product people are gaining more responsibilities and becoming more involved in many parts of the business in organisations today.
Photo credits: Kevin Ku
Graphics: ProductPlan's 2022 Product Management Report