3 trends in customer-centric product management

With the business world rocked by the the rapid evolution of the consumer and competitive landscapes, the role of product management in organizations is racing to keep pace. Since 2015, Alpha has surveyed product managers to capture data about the state of the role and modern best practice. Our first annual report painted a picture of a role that lacked definition and had yet to define a cohesive set of best practices. Product managers reported not having a sufficient impact on a company’s overall strategy and not having the tools and resources that they needed to do their best work.

Our 2019 study shows a different view. In a survey of 253 product managers from large enterprises and startups throughout the U.S., we found notable long-term trends that highlight the maturation of a field that is becoming more advanced and coalescing around a standard set of best practices for building products that customers want. This article covers the three most notable trends that will shape product management in 2019 and beyond.

1. Experimentation has become a core part of product management’s role

In 2015, when we published our first product management insights report, we found that continuous experimentation was more of an aspiration than a common activity for product managers. As the field continues to discover and share best practices, product managers increasingly acknowledge the benefits of being customer-centric and data-driven and have increasingly incorporated experimentation into their workflows.

This year, product managers say that direct customer feedback is the best source of new ideas and 69% of product managers report being responsible for customer interviews, an increase of 10% over the past two years.

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In addition, 34% of product managers conduct user research on a daily basis, and analytics preoccupy 58% of product managers on a daily basis.

2. Product managers want to cut through red tape

Even though product managers say that direct customer feedback is the number-one source of new ideas, and more product managers are collecting customer feedback on a regular cadence, 86% say that they still don’t spend enough time, or spend no time at all, talking to users and 80% of product managers reported not spending enough time, or spend no time at all, running product experiments.

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These findings highlight the growing recognition that continuous experimentation is an aspiration that requires cultural shifts which cannot be made overnight. There are still major barriers to implementing these modern best practices at scale. Our report provides further insight into what these barriers may be, however, the fact that the biggest wish for product managers at companies over 10,000 people is more opportunity for experimentation brings hope that product managers can cut through the red tape.

3. Product management is a strategic role

Product managers are known for doing whatever needs to get done -- which often entails doing a little bit of everything. While this “roll up your sleeves” attitude has certainly made product management a vital role in many organizations, it can come at the expense of being strategic.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen product management shift from a highly tactical, project-based role to a more strategic role. In our 2019 report, 89% of product managers say  that they are responsible for setting the product roadmap and 80% of product managers reported strategizing on a daily basis.     

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Product managers are often the liaison between teams and key stakeholders across their organizations and our data indicates that that’s likely to continue. 23% of product managers indicated that they want to spend more time collaborating with internal stakeholders, which represents a significant increase from last year’s study.

The evolution of customer-centric product management

A lot has changed since we started surveying product teams. Our 2019 report shows that the field is becoming more unified on best practices and more strategic. In the past year, product managers increasingly adopted experimentation and user research and want to do more of it this coming year. In addition, product teams are increasingly the liaison between key stakeholders in their organizations. In a rapidly evolving, hyper-competitive world, product management is increasingly the driver of innovation within organizations.

About Mike Fishbein

mike fishbein

Mike Fishbein is Director of Demand Generation at Alpha where he co-authored the 2019 Product Management Insights Report and produces This is Product Management, a podcast that’s featured leaders from companies including Spotify, Salesforce, and General Electric.

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