Training: What’s the Biggest Challenge for Product Managers?

BY ROSEMARY KING ON JUNE 28, 2017

For the past two months, I’ve been conducting research and discovery to help establish some ground rules for the Mind the Product Training Program.  As an organization we’ve set some goals for what we want to accomplish with our training. These are:

  • To offer the same best in class experience that our Mind the Product conference attendees get when they come to our events.
  • To serve our core MTP audience of experienced product managers who want to continue to grow their already in-depth skill sets.
  • To bring our training to as many of our Product Tank communities as possible.
  • To impart lessons that product managers can apply immediately in their jobs.

So with all this in mind, I’ve been looking at and collecting data which inform how we achieve these goals.

Tell me What you Want

But, having analyzed the data, I’ve found that what product managers say they want differs quite a lot from what they state they need. What do I mean by this? The training subjects that product managers list as those they are most interested in do not line up with the areas where they say have the greatest challenges.

Mind the Product sent out a survey to its community in 2016 and 1,200 product managers from five continents responded. I randomly selected 350 responses and analyzed the responses to the following two questions:

  • What do you feel your biggest challenge as product manager is?
  • What topics are you most interested in learning about?

Stakeholder communication was the biggest challenge – by 12%. But this answer took many forms, some respondents simply stated stakeholder communication or stakeholder management.  Others called it “problems with alignment”, “difficulty getting buy-in from higher-ups”, “keeping all the teams on the page”.

So I expected to see training on communication, alignment and presentation skills rise to the top of desired skills list, based on this data.  But the most requested training topics were user research, conducting user interviews and metrics and KPIs.

Obstacles and Takeaways

So let’s state the takeaway that we can draw from these two pieces of data: product managers are most interested in understanding how to improve and optimize their products, but reporting out and discussing their work with the wider organization creates obstacles.

This quantitative analysis helped me to formulate an interview script that I used in the qualitative research round that followed.  When do our product managers feel they encounter the most difficulty in communication? Where do they feel most confident in their own work?  How do they currently work with their greater organizations?  How do they work with their teams? Where do they feel they miss the most opportunities to improve their products, why?

I can’t give away the store, but following these two rounds of research and analysis, the main takeaway is that any conversations around specific and tangible skills should and must be coupled with lessons about the value of the work, how to explain it, and how to report out about it.

Do you agree?  What’s your biggest challenge as a product manager?  How does it line up with the skills you are most interested in learning? I look forward to hearing from you.

Rosemary King

About ROSEMARY KING

Rosemary is an experienced product manager who has specialized in software development, agile enablement and lean methodologies for the past seven years. She has worked across diverse domains including government, finance, retail and enterprise. After starting her tech career in the New York City start-up scene, she moved into consulting and has spent time with ThoughtWorks and Pivotal Labs London. She has done freelance consulting and training with incubator programs like start-up bootcamp, done UX research on four continents and likes cold water surfing. She is currently Director of Training Products at Mind the Product. You can usually find her at monthly ProductTanks in London.

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