Top Product Management Challenges in 2015

In May of 2015, the  280° Group conducted a comprehensive survey to determine the biggest challenges that Product Management organizations currently face.

The survey was taken by 1197 respondents over a four-week period and the total number of respondents included in the final results is 890 (30.4% of these were Director or VP level).

This survey targeted individual contributors as well as team leaders of Product Management organizations from around the globe and come from a wide variety of industries (Software being the largest at 32.5%) and company sizes (62.9% of respondents indicated they have 1-10 Product Managers at their company).

These are the key findings:

  • Although 61.6% of respondents indicated that Product Managers in their companies are viewed as leaders, Product Managers are still too tactical and not strategic enough (57.4% of the respondents).
  • Product Managers focus too much on development and QA, while other phases of the product lifecycle are ignored (56% of respondents).
  • Half of the respondents are at companies where their teams do not use a consistent process across all teams (49.2% of respondents) or where the process is not well-defined (51.7% of respondents).
  • More than one in five products being delivered fail to meet customer needs (an average of 20.9% across respondents).
  • Skill levels of Product Managers vary greatly (44.7% of respondents), and there is a strong desire for training to remedy this. Most of the respondents (56% of respondents) indicated that the skill level of their Product Managers was average or below.
  • Respondents are using a wide variety of development methodologies—in many instances, more than one within the same company.

For respondents that indicated their company uses some type of Agile development methodology, Scrum is very popular as well as Hybrid/Waterfall and custom Agile. Strict Waterfall is still being used by 29.3% of these companies. Waterfall represents a significant percentage of the development methodologies being used when you look at the 23.9% who indicated they are not using Agile and the 43.5% that indicated they are using Hybrid.

Contrary to common perceptions, pure Agile Scrum is NOT the only development methodology in wide usage.

  • 8% Agile – Scrum
  • 5% Hybrid – Waterfall/Phase-Gate combined with Agile
  • 7% Agile – Custom version created by team/company
  • 3% Pure Waterfall/Phase-Gate
  • 3% Kanban
  • 3% Lean
  • For those whose companies are using Agile, most Product Managers are also the Product Owners (69.9% of respondents).
  • Respondents indicated that Optimizing Product Management fully at their company would result in a large increase in profits (34.2% average increase across respondents). However, the majority (60.3% of respondents) indicated they have no plan for optimizing Product Management.
  • Only 29.3% of respondents feel that the executive team at their company has a complete understanding of what Product Management is and the value it brings.
  • Product Managers believe that process is the biggest challenge (49.2% of respondents), whereas only 41.7% of Directors and VPs believe it is the biggest challenge.
  • Product Managers also believe the process at their company is not well-defined (54.9% of respondents) versus 44.3% of Director and VP respondents.

Being a Product Manager myself as well as an AIPMM member, I couldn’t agree more on the above “challenges” and on the fact that this the reality several Product Managers and organisations seem to struggle with today. And it’s quite obvious that all these challenges’ root cause can be attribute to one single expression: “lack of” as well as its implications (lack of education, lack of awareness, lack of process, lack of knowledge, lack of support, lack of understanding…).

Even if the product management role has expanded its influence in technology companies one question seems to persist: “Who needs product management?”. On top of this, the Product Manager role itself is still not clearly understood within the organisation and this, at pretty much all levels (and sometimes not even by the Product Managers themselves, especially some of those who found themselves in these positions without no training or knowledge).

Product management is a strategic role yet product managers are often pulled into tactical activities. The role of product management spans many activities from strategic to tactical yet how many Product Managers have the skills and wear the hats for each of these activities?

For technology companies, particularly those with enterprise or B2B products, the product management job is very technical yet the problem appears to be that they don’t have time to visit the market to better understand the problems their products are designed to solve. They spend so much time building products that they’re not equipped to help deliver them to the market.

In “Market Development—the Neglected Companion of Product Development,” IEEE Western Electronic Show and Convention (WESCON), Albert Ehrenfried said:

“Too many products are developed to satisfy the desires, urges, and hunches of people within the company, rather than to meet the specific needs of the market external to the company.”

Product management is fundamentally about delivering successful products to a market of customers. And this requires a deep understanding of market requirements. But the problem is that most development methods were designed for one-off projects rather than repeatable products.

In terms of process, most organisations will just “reorganize” and thus, creating the illusion of progress.

The Optimal Product Management Process include 7 phases: Conceive, Plan, Develop, Qualify, Launch, Market/Maximize, Retire. Yet several of these stages are either ignored or shortened leading unsatisfactory results for the company and its customers.

For example, many companies make the error of jumping directly into the development phase, especially when they work with teams that use Agile as development method. But this is a recipe for disaster and also one of the reasons products fail to meet customer needs.

Which brings me to the several suggested actions organizations need to take if they want to see dramatic improvements in the effectiveness of their Product Management function:

  • Educate your executives on the strategic role of Product Management and the benefits that excellent Product Management will bring to the organization.
  • Build awareness on the following points:
    • the entire product lifecycle (Conceive, Launch, Market/Maximize, Retire) and NOT just the Development and QA portions
    • the importance of becoming more strategic as a Product Manager
    • training your Product Management staff to get them to a consistent, high level of skills
  • Create
    • a comprehensive plan for optimizing Product Management
    • a clear process that is used across your company and which supports all of the development methodologies being used along with a consistent set of templates for the critical documents that map to your process (business cases, product launch plans, end-of-life plans, market needs/requirements, etc.)
    • products that fit the market needs



Source: 280 Group “Challenges in Product Management Survey Results”

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