For all that enterprises claim to have refocused their efforts around customers over the last decade or more, this hasn’t always translated into better products. That has to change now, especially as enterprises prepare for the post-pandemic recovery. In its Market Guide for Product Management and Roadmapping Tools, (Gartner Account required) global analyst firm Gartner® goes so far as to suggest that ‘by 2022, organisations focusing on product-centric delivery will experience twice the average rate of success in recovery and renewal from the economic downturn.’
The shift now is towards defined product propositions that are mapped closely to the evolving priorities of customers. In other words, there is a keen focus now on product-led growth where product development teams assume more of a strategic, high-profile role in their organisations.
Yet, remarkably, many product teams remain poorly served by tools for organising and prioritising the work they do. Often, ad-hoc manual processes are still the norm. That was confirmed in recent independent research conducted for airfocus in the UK and the US. The survey, conducted in September 2021, polled 300 product managers/owners/directors across sectors about their changing roles and requirements.
In the study, four in ten product managers stated that the role of product management is becoming more strategically prominent. Moreover that its value is now better understood by business leaders. However, this hasn’t yet translated into adopting appropriate tools to equip product teams better to balance their time and priorities.
Post-It notes persist
Today, almost as many product owners/managers/directors rely on a system of Post-It notes on the wall (30%) as have access to dedicated product management technology (31%). Even where product teams do have access to relevant technology, these solutions were found inadequate – particularly during the continuing pandemic. More than half cited a lack of relevant features and functionality, poor usability, or an inability to adapt the platform to their specific needs. Other common issues are:
- poor provision for the way product teams work
- a lack of support for collating feedback centrally
- failure to enable easy collaboration with the different business stakeholders
- a lack of integration with other enterprise applications
Enabling ‘structured’ product management
Increasingly, there is a view that dedicated product management tools are necessary, in particular for addressing key challenges that are expected to intensify over the next 12 months – most notably the pressure for companies to adopt product-led growth strategies. There is a growing requirement for product teams to become more focused on business outcomes. More than four in ten product managers specified the need for targeted tools in the airfocus research.
Common pain points for product teams
What are the pain points for product managers? How can technology address them? The survey looked at the tasks currently occupying the most time.
Currently, these include:
- Collecting and consolidating/centralising customer feedback
- Day-to-day liaison with internal stakeholders (often up to 20 in number)
- Collating and centralising internal feedback
- Preparing documents and presentations for other departments
- Locating product information within the organisation.
In the survey, respondents pinpointed the following gaps in product managers’ roadmapping and process planning/ management capabilities:
- An improved ability to innovate
- Greater visibility for the team
- Easier communication and alignment with stakeholders
- A holistic view of product strategy.
Part of the requirement around innovation is linked to the ability to prioritise product development requests. Now more than ever, product teams must be able to reliably and impartially assess which requests for new features should be channelled into future releases to deliver maximum value.
System capabilities most commonly sought
When choosing a product management platform, the five main qualities product managers look for, according to the findings, were:
- Support for easy and effective prioritisation
- The ability to create clear roadmaps
- Easy adoption by users
- Modularity/flexibility to choose appropriate features
- Seamless and easy integration with everyday office applications
Simplicity emerged as a particularly strong priority overall. The need to address the current capability gap is felt quite keenly now, too. Almost four in ten product managers cited the rising awareness that ineffective product management will lead to poor products when asked which factors would most shape the future of product management.
In the future, product teams may command a more central, strategic and visible role within the enterprise. To achieve this, product management must take on more of the professional trappings of other business functions. As Gartner has identified, this could directly bear companies’ ability to recover from the suppressed economic conditions of the last two years.
airfocus is the creator of the world’s first flexible and modular product management platform, supporting product strategy and management in firms of any size or sector. Founded in 2018, airfocus combines innovative technology with a deep understanding of product management and the importance of product. It provides a natural home for products, tailored specifically to people who manage them, and has a proven track record in helping companies manage products more effectively and deliver better products.