As organizations battle to adapt and grow with agile working methods, product managers have never been in higher demand.
But as the need for product managers skyrockets, the position itself becomes increasingly varied (dare we say...vague?).
Well, to put it plainly: PMs are facing some challenges. In light of the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the product manager role (what is product management after all), we sourced the latest research to better understand some of these challenges, as well as what the future holds in store.
Here are some of the most interesting statistics we found along the way.
Let's dive in...
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 7% of recent Harvard Business School grads took jobs in product management.
Whilst this might seem like a small number, what it demonstrates is that the world's elite business schools are adding programs specifically designed to lead students to product-management jobs in tech companies.
A career in product management is becoming more popular with future alumni, too.
In fact, Harvard Business School recently reported that their Product Management 101 course received three times the number of applicants than places available.
What does this mean for the industry?
Well… it's about to get competitive.
As banks lose out on some of the brightest and best grads to tech companies, the crop of talent entering the industry is about to boom.
For current product managers, experience is on your side, but you shouldn't expect experience alone to carry you up the career ladder. It's more important than ever to demonstrate your impact.
Product management is all about working smarter, with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Part of this comes down to the tools you use.
Now is a critical time to scout out tools that are designed to save you time, help you prioritize and make the right decisions, and improve cross-functional collaboration with clear roadmaps that adapt in real time.
In light of the previous point, it's perhaps then unsurprising to find that online interest in the term Product Manager in the US is more than double what is was just five years ago.
What was surprising, though, is that this dramatic rise is fast outgrowing that of traditionally attractive career paths such as Management Consultant and Investment Banker.
This trend is only set to rise as more and more elite schools gear their students up for a life in tech. Alumni who would have traditionally gone into banking and consulting are now turning their gaze elsewhere.
This is set to have a huge impact on the prestige associated with product management, which may also have a knock on effect on salaries.
Currently, the average salary of a product manager in the US is $113,886/yr, but with more elite grads entering the workforce, we may see a shift that brings it more in line with other traditionally more 'prestigious' sectors such as finance or consulting.
In 2016, Pragmatic Marketing Inc surveyed 2,500 product managers and product marketers.
What they found around the topic of strategy was surprising.According to those surveyed, just 28% said that they spent any time strategizing. Instead, 72% of time was spent on tactics and execution.
When asked whether this time allocation affected the success of a project, the results were reversed, with 61% agreeing that they wish they could spend more time on strategy, and that this would almost certainly impact the success of a project.
This lack of time spent on strategy often happens when businesses have a 'top-down' hierarchy or culture, which places product managers as 'implementers' rather than empowered decision makers.
It's also hugely exacerbated by the sheer amount of admin work product managers have to deal with.
It may, therefore, be extremely worthwhile to look into tools that help you to work faster and smarter. This will not only impact your efficiency and KPI's, but will help you manoeuvre into having greater influence on strategy, rather than being side-tracked with time-intensive manual tasks.
Internal politics is a challenge for most roles, but it's an especially pressing problem for product managers, whose job it is to convince senior stakeholders, whilst also keeping development teams focused and motivated.
It's perhaps unsurprising then, that 30% of product managers actually specified that internal politics is their biggest challenge, according to a study by the 280 Group.
We've all been in that dreaded scenario where a decision made by a leadership team conflicts with your development team's priorities. Keeping a product running smoothly through these turbulent times can be really tricky, even for a seasoned product manager.
So, what should you do to counteract internal politics?
Put plainly: effective communication and relationship building is key.
Though you will likely always have a lot of personalities to manage, always keep in mind that you have one common, shared goal. Remind your team of that shared goal throughout the project - especially when there are internal misalignments.
Whilst not fail-proof, this will help to keep internal politics and roadblocks to a minimum.
Click infographic to enlarge.
There's often a lot of debate around how technical a product manager should be, and that debate is only getting more conflicted as the role of product managers shifts. What was once a fairly technical role is now opening up to those with business and marketing backgrounds.
So, do product managers really need to learn how to code in order to be successful?
In short, no - but having a basic knowledge certainly helps.
That's perhaps why about 60% of product managers state that they think more technical training would help them to be more successful product managers.
If you're interested in developing your technical knowledge, why not take advantage of free online courses such as Free Code Camp? You can progress at your own pace and focus on the elements that are most useful for your role, all whilst being part of a supportive global community.
The best product managers optimize, streamline and execute successful projects, resulting in bottom line benefits.
In fact, this report indicated that having a fully optimized product management process at their company would result in a large increase in profits (a 34.2% average increase across respondents).
However, the success of a product manager doesn't come from the individual alone. It's a combination of the skills of the product manager and quality of the business systems in place.
When product managers are empowered with standardized processes, as well as simple and effective ways to prioritize roadmaps and deliver the most important outcomes, the return on investment can be staggering, as evidenced by the data above.
Product managers look away now, but - despite the previous stat - almost two thirds of your bosses don't understand the value you bring.
This is a common problem for people in newly emerging roles that aren't as tangible as established roles like sales or design.
Though this can be frustrating, the reality is that it's on you, product managers, to not just show your value but present it in a way that executives understand.
At airfocus, we realize the pain product managers go through not just with their work, but with helping stakeholders and the executive team to understand the benefits of the hard work you're putting in.
That's why we've developed a tool that helps product people to prioritize based on the effort a task takes the and value it will bring.
No more complex and outdated spreadsheets, just a simple interface that's updated in real time and integrates with the tools you already use. And before you know it, executive leaders will have a clear understanding and great appreciation for the value you bring.
A 2016 study showed that - despite the growth in demand for product managers - businesses are failing to establish ways of working that sets the role up for success.
Often these issues arise when businesses don't have a set of standard product management processes in place.
When this happens, product managers are forced to navigate a myriad of hodge-podge tools and systems that make decision-making, accountability and communication much harder than it should be.
Whether it's through a lack of understanding of the role, or that tools and systems are outdated, there's clearly a disconnect between an organization and its product managers.
What this means for you as a product manager is that you have an opportunity.
By finding tools that are easy to integrate into any business, you can be the one to pioneer new (and better) ways of working that will reap huge rewards for both the business and you.
Tackling a backlog can feel like shovelling a snowstorm.
This challenging reality is evidenced by a recent report, which investigated the main challenges facing product managers today.
The report indicated that almost 40% of product managers feel that - even though a manageable backlog is one of their main priorities - their current set up is a jumble.
Thankfully, there are tools to help alleviate the issue of complex and unmanageable backlogs.
New and emerging tools like airfocus enable product managers to more efficiently prioritize projects and features to build more effective roadmaps.
Our algorithms calculate your priorities and visually map them out on a chart so you can make informed and objective decisions. Better still, you can easily set up your first workspace in minutes by picking from our ready-to-use prioritization templates built on the most effective decision-making methods.
If you're interested in reading more on making pro-level decisions for your backlog, take a look at this guide.
And there you have it - 9 super intriguing facts about the state of the nation for product managers today.
Whilst some of these stats might paint a bleak picture, we actually see this as a time of huge growth and opportunity for the industry.
We know that problems facing product managers won't go away overnight. But with effective teamwork and decision making, and better automation – enhanced with some of the new and emerging tools that are rapidly coming to market – some of your most common pain points will be very soon be alleviated, allowing you to do what you do best: build and ship amazing products that will change the world.
From product management to prioritization, roadmapping, decision making, and strategy, we’ve got you covered.