What does it take to be a great Product Manager?

by Roger Snyder –

Recently, 280 Group conducted the largest survey of its kind amongst Product Management professionals. With nearly 1700 participants, we learned which skill sets product managers score strongly on and which are areas for improvement.

Source: 280 Group | Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report 2019

This survey set out to better understand the skill levels of Product Managers across 15 dimensions (called skill sets) and how they correlate to experience, job title, training, product process, industry, region, and other factors. After qualifying the responses, the survey contains information from over 1,650 Product Management professionals.

Participants are represented across the globe, with 49% working in the US, 21% in Europe, and 16% in Asia, with strong representation from Canada, Africa, and Oceania, as well. These professionals work across 20+ industries, with the largest concentrations in software, manufacturing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and IT services, and finance and financial services.

This survey also represents a wide range of experience levels, from just starting out in the profession to having over 21 years of experience. The average number of years as a Product Manager is just under seven years but most participants have three to five years of experience.

Key Findings

Overall, there were seven major findings in the resulting Benchmark report:.

  • The combination of formal Product Management training and an established Product Management process provided Product Managers with the highest skills, 26% higher than for Product Managers without these benefits.
  • Product Managers who work for organizations that have an established Product Management Process are nearly 20% stronger in their skills than Product Managers who work for organizations with no formal process.
  • Formal Product Management training results in skill sets that are stronger by 11% on average, and by as much as 17% in particular skill sets.
  • Interest in the Product Management career is very strong — over 25% of those who took the Benchmark survey to assess their skills were not yet PMs, but were interested in becoming one.
  • The skills that Product Managers need to focus on over the course of their career change from their early years, through their intermediate career, and once they become a manager or leader.
  • Product Managers are always learning — even PMs with over 20 years of experience continue to advance and refine their skills.
  • The Benchmark study found that Competitive Analysis, Pricing, and End of Life are the three areas that Product Managers struggle with the most.

Critical Product Management Skills

Product Managers need specific skills to advance their careers. In the early years, the Benchmark study showed that these skills require the most attention:

  • Writing Requirements
  • Developing Business Skills
  • Marketing & Launch
  • Understanding their team’s PM Processes
  • Developing End of Life plans

In their mid-career years, the gaps between this level of experience and 10+ years of experience are narrower for the skills above but wider in three other areas. These new skills are needed to further advance a Product Manager’s career:

  • Competitive Analysis
  • Pricing
  • Forecasting

Process Matters

The Benchmark study showed that the single most dramatic increase to it’s Product Management team’s skills can be recognized by establishing and following a formal Product Management process. Across all 15 skill sets, skill levels increase by a whopping 18% on average, with the smallest increase at just under 12%, and the largest increase in skill being over 31%. Here’s a look at the increases in skill across all 15 dimensions.

Source: 280 Group | Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report 2019

What is a Product Management process?

Whether a company has a Product Management process or not, its products go through a natural lifecycle – from the initial idea, the planning and development of the product, the production and packaging, the launch, marketing, and support, and the eventual migration/upgrade or retirement of the product. A Product Management process formalizes these natural phases into a system that provides best practices for each phase, defines roles and responsibilities for the team members, and asks the right critical questions as the product evolves.

Next Steps

There are several actions individuals and Product Management leaders can take to build up their skills and teams based on the results of the Skills Benchmark. These include improving weaker skills, leveraging strengths, finding mentors, and pursuing education and certification.

Want to learn more about the skill sets that make Product Managers successful? Dive into the details or learn more about any of these key findings and recommendations by downloading the full Product Management Benchmark report here.

In addition, there are numerous resources available to Product Managers of all skills and experience. You’ve taken the first step by reading Boston Product Management Association’s blog and, hopefully, you’ve attended some of their monthly meetings, joined their mentorship program, or even volunteered with the organization.

About the Author:

Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.

Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.  280 Group is one of the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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