All professions come with their own unique challenges, and product management is no different. Product Managers lead cross functional teams and have to take decisions that lead to the delivery of the right products at the right time.
For that they must not only be jacks of all trades, but also expert problem-solvers. They have to be capable of unraveling complex challenges and adapting swiftly to marketplace changes and emerging trends.
For our 2020 Trends and Benchmarks in Product Management (PM) Report, we surveyed over 2000 product professionals from a range of industries to find out, among other things, what challenges they face and how these relate to job satisfaction and openness to new job opportunities.
Challenges mounting during pandemic
Little did PMs know that this year, a global pandemic would completely overwhelm the “usual” difficulties and obstacles they face in their everyday jobs and introduce a whole new set of challenges. Among these:
Finding the right apartment corner for the makeshift office.
Being professional during meetings when the dog is barking in the background or the child crashing the conference call to show their fallen out baby tooth.
Trying to juggle work and life stuck in a lockdown between 4 walls.
To add to the above, many PMs feel the uncertainty about what lies ahead for their product, their team and the start-up they work for.
But although some of the everyday “normal” challenges of PMs may seem less significant in light of the current worldwide health and economic crisis, these do remain valid and a few become more arduous and tiring to overcome.
Here is what the product community shared about what difficulties they face at the workplace.
For 33.5% of the respondents lack of role clarity is a top three issue they struggle with.
It is true that, the responsibilities and impact of product managers can vary a lot. The PM role is shaped differently depending on company size and type, on whether the organization is product-led and PM is seen as a key differentiator and on the type of product. Having a clear outline of roles and responsibilities across functions, however, is essential to reduce misunderstandings and and discontent. It helps mitigate conflicts and increase effectiveness.
PMs are short on time and 45.6% point this as a top problem. This comes as no surprise with the demanding schedules of Product Managers. 23.8% of their time at work goes to daily business, ad-hoc requests, and firefighting. Other main activities include everything from meetings with product focus (18.3%) and product development related work (16.7%). Meetings without product focus take up 13.4% of their work hours and product vision and strategy work – 10.2%. One of the most important business impacting activities – interacting with customers – occupies only 7.4% of PMs’ time.
The front-runner on the challenges list however is competing objectives in the organization. PMs have to manage many stakeholders, whose expectations can be different and their goals may not align with the ones of the pm team. To be successful in their jobs PMs need to master relationship building and conflict resolution. After all, ongoing support from a wide range of stakeholders is necessary to bring successful products to market.
When stakeholders have conflicting priorities relating to the product roadmap, product managers must put on their prioritization hats, arm themselves with data and navigate through a sea of opinions, trying to balance the needs of external and internal parties involved. Even though many effective techniques and strategies exist, most of the time when prioritizing PMs rely on their experience and gut feeling.
Challenges perceived differently depending on organization type
It’s worth mentioning that survey respondents did not rate the Product Managers’ hurdles the same way.
Lack of executive support, not being able to influence management and competing objectives in the organization are bigger challenges in chaotic and bureaucratic companies than in start-ups and agile organizations.
When we look at correlations between the top challenges and openness to other jobs, we find interesting insights. Lack of executive support and not being able to influence management may not, on their own, be reasons for PMs to leave their job. Yet we found that PMs who are clear on their role, feel like they can influence upwards and have the support of company executives are more likely to stay as they are happy in their current position. They however point lack of time as their biggest challenge – perceived by PMs who are actively searching to change job as much less of a problem.
Successful PMs make successful products and help companies succeed.
Even though product management as a discipline has gained considerable popularity over the last decade, is established and recognized as a critical function in many organizations, our findings show that often organizations fail to provide the right environment for PMs to shine.
Organizations and product leaders looking to retain PM talent and help product managers be more impactful, effective and happy should look into providing more support, more clarity on the responsibilities and role of the PM, and put efforts into helping PMs reduce time that goes towards firefighting.
And today during a global pandemic, more than ever, organizations, leaders and PMs must keep in focus the human-first approach in every challenge they face.
Product Management Festival’s Trends and Benchmarks in PM 2020 Report is available to download for free at https://productmanagementfestival.com/survey/ . The report delivers insights on Leadership, Culture, People, Product and Processes and Salaries. Based on a global survey of over 2000 product professionals, it serves as a barometer in product management.