The Global Benchmark Survey: Product Management Skills – Initial Insights

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Late last year, 280 Group conducted its most ambitious and comprehensive survey to date, to learn more about the skill levels of product managers across the globe. We invited over 30,000 product managers to participate, and received over 2,400 responses. After normalizing the data, the database contained nearly 1,700 high quality responses.

Participants in the survey came from across the globe, with 49% working in the US, 21% in Europe, and 16% in Asia, with strong representation from Oceania and Africa as well. These product management professionals worked across 25 different industries, with the largest concentrations in software, manufacturing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and IT services, and finance and financial services. We also saw a wide range in experience levels, from just starting out in the profession to having over 21 years of experience, with the average number of years as a product manager coming in at just under 7 years, but the largest population having 3-5 years of experience.

What are Product Management skills?

Product Managers have a wide breadth of responsibilities, and therefore need to possess a wide variety of skills. In our survey, we asked 74 questions to evaluate the level of proficiency a product manager has in 15 different skill areas. This is an instrument we’ve been using for nearly three years with our private clients to help them evaluate the skills of their PM teams. The 15 skill areas are listed in the table below, with brief descriptions of each.

Product Management Skills Summary Table

For each question, we asked the PM to evaluate themselves on a scale of 1-10, asking them to be as honest as possible, considering that even with 10+ years of experience, PMs should answer 10 infrequently. We also gave these suggested skill levels:

1 = I don’t know what this is

3 = I am just starting to apply this skill

5 = I am using this skill but have more to learn

7 = I am confident in my abilities to use this skill

10 = I could teach others how to use this skill effectively

 

In reviewing the responses, we were pleasantly surprised to see that PMs seemed to score themselves pretty honestly – there was a good distribution of scores ranging on average from 5.03 to 7.97.

What have we learned so far?

We’re in the midst now of analyzing the data to learn more about how well Product Managers know their craft. We’re looking for various trends and insights, including how their skills correlate with experience, title, degree of product lifecycle process maturity at their company, and with and without formal training. We’ll be discussing some of these insights in more depth at an upcoming webinar next week, but here are a few insights that we’ve already identified:

Not all Skills Are Created Equal

We found that when looking at all respondents together, the degree in variations by skill area were wider than we expected. Here’s the average score for each skill area:

Domain Knowledge

Domain Knowledge (understanding your industry, and relating your product value to it effectively) stood out as the highest scoring skill area, which is not surprising. PMs typically come from either a technical, marketing, sales, or support function that has given them deep exposure to the market situation and its important trends.

Communication and Customer Understanding

We were very encouraged to see that the next highest skill areas were Communication and Customer Understanding, because these are crucial skills needed at the core of what every Product Manager should be doing – identifying the key needs, and pain points customers have and the benefits customers need from their products.

End of Life

At the other end of the spectrum, it was no surprise to us that understanding how to take a product out of service, to bring it to its “End of Life”, was the area Product Managers identified as their weakest. We encounter this frequently in our training programs and when working with private clients. It is difficult to take products off the market, as you run the risk of disappointing customers and damaging your brand reputation. Yet, being able to migrate a customer from one product to the next is essential for maintaining customer loyalty over the long-term, providing them with ever-better solutions, and providing your company with sustained and even growing revenue. Every product manager will eventually face this situation, so we recommend that you learn more about this important phase of the product lifecycle. You can start by checking out our blog post and accompanying video: Issues Faced at the End of the Product Lifecycle.

Competitive Analysis

More surprising to us though was that the second lowest skill area that Product Managers identified for themselves was that of Competitive Analysis. Understanding which competitors are likely to take away your business, which benefits your products offer that are superior or inferior to that of your competitors, and even how your competitors offer their products to your customers is crucial to developing your own product roadmap, and being clear about your differentiating advantages in your own marketing. Simply put, being weak in this area can spell disaster for your product. 280 Group offers powerful training in this area both through our in-person Optimal Product Management Training, or through our online learning experience, the Certified Product Manager Online Course. To understand the basics of Competitive Analysis, check out our short primer: What is Market Research and Competitive Analysis?

These are just a few insights from our first look at the Benchmark. We’re still analyzing the data, but have already identified three more insights that we will discuss in depth next week on our AIPMM-hosted Webinar, The Global Product Management Benchmark – How do you stack up?. For example, we’ll discuss how the degree of product lifecycle process maturity at an organization affects the skill levels of the product managers working there.

You’re not going to want to miss this review of the Benchmark to learn more about where you should be working to improve your own skills, and how organizations can optimize the effectiveness of their product management teams.

NOTE: This webinar has passed– you can view the complete slide deck below.

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
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 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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