The Good of Product Management — Survey Results (1 of 3)

Initial results from a survey of product managers describing what is working, not working and what should be changed in their Product Management roles

Late last year, I conducted a survey of Product Managers — The Good, the Bad, the Ugly of Product Management — to understand what was working, what wasn’t and what needed to change in their roles.

Unfortunately, It’s taken me a little while to analyze the results, but I’m happy to say, I’ve gotten that done and am here to share them.

This is the 1st of 3 posts outlining the survey results. The other two will be published in the near future.

Comparing to the past

One of the reasons I ran this survey (again) is that I had run it many years ago, back in 2010, in my early days of blogging. I had forgotten about that, but once I stumbled upon the old blog post, I thought it would be a good idea to compare the results from back then with the same survey today, to see what has changed and what (if anything) is still the same after over a decade.

Aside from demographics, I asked 3 questions

  1. What are the top 3 things you like *BEST* about your role? (The GOOD)
  2. What are the top 3 things you like *LEAST* about your role? (The BAD)
  3. What are the top 3 things you would *CHANGE* about your role (if you could) to make it more effective ? (The UGLY)

I’ll start with the results of the Good (what’s working) in this post, and will have followup posts showing the Bad (what’s not working) and the Ugly (what needs to change) results in the near future.

Who responded to the survey?

Let’s start with some insight into who responded to the survey. I don’t have this data for the 2010 results, so can’t compare those.

By Nation

Almost 1/2 the respondents (46%) were from Canada, and nearly 1/4 (24%) were from the US. The remaining 30% were a mix of countries including India, Australia, Germany, UK etc.

Respondents by country pie chart.
Respondents by country pie chart.

By Job Title/Level

At a macro level, just over half (52%) of the respondents were individual contributor Product Managers (Assoc. PM, PMs, Sr. PMs etc.). Almost 1/5 (18%) were Directors and 13% were executives (VP Product or Head of Product). And finally 6% identified themselves as Product Owners.

There were a number of job titles that I classified at “Other”. These were a lot of one-off titles in the respondents including Brand Manager, Product Marketing Manager, IT Director etc. I don’t want to ignore them, and their responses will be included in the survey results later in this post. But, to simplify the analysis, I grouped them this way.

Years of Experience

The vast majority of the respondents had between 3 and 10 years of experience, with almost 1/4 with 15 or more years of experience. I was happy to see this as the responses would hopefully provide a good spread of the Good, Bad and Ugly responses.

Company Size

What’s interesting about the Company Size results is that it’s clearly divided between people in smaller companies (500 or less employees) and those in large companies (10,000+ employees). The middle from 500–10,000 employees, represented about 17% (1/6) of the respondents.

So, gimme the Good(s)

The question I asked was:

What are the top 3 things you like *BEST* about your role? (The Good)
Feel free to elaborate as needed.

NOTE: Please list things that you actually do in your job or are enabled to do.

Two points before we get to the results.

  1. I included the “Feel free to elaborate as needed” text to remind people to give more detail. Perhaps I should have been more emphatic as a LOT of responses were 1 or 2 words in length. You’ll see what I mean.
  2. Given this was an open ended question, the challenge, as with all qualitative analysis, is categorizing or grouping similar responses to look for underlying patterns. It was difficult with this data given the brevity of many responses (see point #1 above), but I gave it my best effort.

So, now that the formalities are out of the way, here are the results. Drum roll please.

Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

Wait…stop the drumroll. I almost forgot…let’s review the 2010 results first! The following is a summary of the top “GOOD responses from 2010. You can read the full details in the 2010 blog post.

The Good in 2010

The top five 2010 responses were Job Responsibilities, Product, Strategy, Customer-related work and Cross-team Communication.

1. Job Responsibilities

  • Managing work that has a beginning, middle, and end with opportunities to sell excitement, problem solve, then celebrate success.
  • It’s a good balance of being social with being analytical
  • Building multidisciplinary teams without official authority
  • Bringing together and involving myself in every part of the company with the aim of getting everyone on board

2. Product

The 2nd most common category was related to products and product development.

  • Building new products/solutions from the ground up
  • Work with the development team to assure the vision is turned into a viable product
  • Writing requirements for new features
  • Creating a product that solves customer problems
  • Releasing new product and seeing how it impacts our customers, users, partners.

I’ll try not to editorialize too much, but someone back in 2010 actually said “Writing requirements” was what they liked best. Really??

3. Strategy

And the 3rd (and definitely not last nor least) from 2010, was the strategic nature of their work.

  • Ability to impact and participate in the corporate strategy
  • Guiding the direction of the product
  • Learning the business and strategizing for future
  • Big picture of the product
  • Seeing how it all fits together

4. Customer-Related Work

  • Really understand and translate customer needs
  • Customer visits
  • Lots of interaction with our customers
  • Interacting with clients and potential customers
  • Bonding with customers

5. Cross-Team Communication

  • Being communication channel between customers/sales and tech dev team
  • Variety of being the linchpin between all functions
  • Interacting with a variety of people internally & externally
  • Getting sales and customers excited about our stuff

Other 2010 categories included:

  • Impact/Influence
  • Creativity and Problem Solving
  • Market related work

Did any of these resonate with you? Do they look like items that are working well for you today? Well, that was then.

The Good in 2021

Now let’s compare with the 2021 results. I will say up again that categorizing the responses into clearly related groups was difficult. Both the variety and brevity of the responses made that difficult. There are a clear set of popular/common categories and then a long tail of categories with 1 or 2 responses. That’s par for the course with qualitative research IMHO.

The top 10 Categories were:

  1. Solving Problems
  2. Working Cross functionally
  3. Working with Customers
  4. Strategy Work
  5. Having Influence
  6. Creating Product
  7. Coaching and Mentoring
  8. Collaboration
  9. Variety of Work
  10. Autonomy

Here are some of the actual responses for each category.

1. Solving Problems

I was actually surprised to see this one at the top. I’m not sure why, but before the survey, I would never have thought this specific topic would rank so high. Perhaps that just a blind spot for me in that it’s something inherent in the role; sort of like a sales person saying they like selling.

  1. Finding and ideating solutions to key problems
  2. Solving customer problems
  3. Tackling different problems with tech
  4. Helping customers solve problems that are important to them
  5. Being in a position to understand customer problems and work towards solutions for those problems.
  6. Helping to solve an important problem for a customer help user solve their problem

And about 8 to10 responses that basically said “Problem solving”, “Solving problems”, “Solving interesting problems” etc. See what I said about the short answers?

2. Working Cross Functionally

I have to admit, this was both a great part of my job as a PM but also one of the frustrating parts given the demands and challenges of working across larger organizations.

  • Cross-functional nature of PM and the interface between Marketing/Sales, Engineering/Product Support and the ‘Business’ part of the business to make decisions that are best for the product.
  • Working with a diversity of people from different functions and companies.
  • Interactions with Customer, Account Teams, Engineering, Partners etc gives a very comprehensive view
  • Building communication channels across teams

And a lot of responses like : “Cross-functional work”, “Working with different departments”, “Working with teams to solutionize”, “Work across functions” etc.

3. Working With Customers

This was, and still is, my favourite part of the role. I’m surprised it was not a lot higher. We may find out more on this topic when we see the Bad or Ugly results (hint, hint).

  • Interacting with customers, to help learn about their problems and resolve their issues
  • Speaking with customers/users product customer interaction
  • Talk with customers getting feed back or educating about new features.
  • Transforming how your customers work or the value you deliver to them.
  • and several other “Speak with Customers” type responses.

4. Strategy Work

Everyone loves strategy right? We always want to be “more strategic” don’t we? High level of input into and awareness of company strategy and access to information about other parts of the business.

  • I get to decide the product strategy across the portfolio
  • Ability to drive product strategy.
  • Involvement in company strategy
  • Working on and setting product strategy
  • Product Strategy, Strategic vision, Strategy, Presenting strategy etc.

5. Having Influence

  • Getting to learn new technologies and the ability to influence the path the product takes
  • Knowing you and your team directly contribute to business objectives and can make it happen.
  • Making decisions that impact users and business.
  • Influencing up.
  • Doing things that matter to people
  • Opportunity to set direction

I’ll stop here. If you’d like to see the rest of the top 10 in more detail, let me know in the comments or via the feedback link below. I’ll add them to this blog post if there is enough interest.

What’s Next

Things will get more interesting when I report the Bad and the Ugly. People seemed to be a little more descriptive in those sections and it was actually easier to see the patterns and group the results.

A Little Feedback please

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I’d like some feedback on the article to make it better. Just a few questions. Should take 30 seconds at the most, but it will be really valuable to me. Thanks in advance.

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Saeed

Product Consultant. Contact me for help in building great products, processes and people. http://www.transformationlabs.io