Updated: Mar 11
Peer networks can play a significant role in up-skilling product managers by providing insights and advice from experienced product professionals, rather than the superficial “training” sessions found at meetups and product camps.
This article is the second in our three-part series based on our research and white paper on professional development in product management (download here):
Improving the Results of Product Management Training. Flipping the classroom to improve the results of product management training (read it here);
Provide Access to Insights and Advice. Another component of professional development that our product leader research identified as valuable is access to new ideas and advice (this article); and
The Case for the Strategic Investment in Product Management. Shifting investment in product management professional development from ad hoc to defined programs. (next article).
Our findings reveal a gap between sources of insights and advice and their value, the core value of peer networks, and the opportunity for peer networks to help improve product management professional development results.
Value Gaps in Access to Insights and Advice
The research team at Product Growth Leaders surveyed product leaders to understand how important it was for them to have access to new product management insights and advice including where they access advice and which provide the most value.
Overall, product leaders see access to insights and advice as very important, with 82% of respondents scoring importance 7 out of 10 or higher for both themselves and their teams. This access is critical, and we think a crucial part of product management professional development.
Our research then looked specifically at where they go for each access to new ideas and advice and where they saw the most value.
Peer Network ranked as the top source for Access to New Ideas (70% of respondents) and Advice (74%). Conferences and Events was a close second at 61% for access to new ideas, with no other source scoring above 30%. No other source was even close for access to Advice, with Product Management Coach/Advisor coming in second with 30%, less than half that of Peer Network.
Shifting to where product leaders see the most value for Access to New Ideas, Conferences and Events were ranked most valuable by 44% of respondents, while Peer Network was 30% with no other source above 20%.
Peer Network is where product leaders saw the most value for advice, at 57%, while Product Management Coach/Advisor was second at 35%.[i]
These results identify that Peer Networks are crucial for both professional Advice and new product management ideas. With an improvement in the value seen, peer networks are an excellent mechanism to improve product management professional development.
Core Value of Peer Networks
"Now two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible, intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind [the master mind]" –Napoleon Hill
Seeing the vital role Peer Networks play as a source for access to new ideas and Advice, we researched the history and core value proposition for peer networks, specifically formal peer networks with a regular schedule, common participants, and a defined agenda.
Formal Peer Networks have become an industry in business communities, with many peer network options for executives, entrepreneurs, and functional leadership, from Global 100 to Vistage to The Conference Board and more.
Many of these groups look at the Mastermind Group concept, introduced by Napoleon Hill in his book "Think and Grow Rich" (1937), as their inspiration.
From those in business peer networks or mastermind groups, there is a consistent view on the value of these groups that include:
A chance to learn from and with others;
A trusted circle of peers to help you make decisions and provide advice;
Accountability to your peers and the group;
A confidential space to discuss challenges and problems; and
The value of regular connection and shared empathy.
Dorie Clark, an expert of self-reinvention and branding, says, "it's very powerful to have a supportive group of fellow professionals asks incisive questions that can spark new ideas, and ensure you're working on the initiatives that will really move the needle."[ii]
The two most frequent schedule types for peer groups are monthly and semi-annually, with monthly meetings lasting between 90 minutes and a full-day and semi-annual meetings regularly scheduled for two days.
To gain access to enough diversity of thoughts and ideas, a group should have at least 5 to 10 members, and to ensure the right level of trust and intimacy, they should not be much larger than 15 to 20.
To summarize the best practice, look for a peer network of about a dozen professionals that meets monthly.
The Opportunity for Peer Networks as Part of Professional Development
Peer Networks are not new to product management. There are multiple opportunities for ongoing peer networks and periodic cohorts for heads of products and chief product officers. With that said, the senior-most level is not where we see the best opportunity to impact product management professional development results. There are already options for senior professionals, and those individuals are already at the top of their profession.
The best opportunity to impact product management professional development results is in middle management. The emerging leaders who are assuming more responsibility, whether as a people manager or platform/portfolio manager, and aspiring for more, and those product leaders one or two steps more along their journey.
These product leaders have often moved from individual contributor roles. They may now be managing their former peers, and they do not have many trusted contacts who are true peers.
Building out a formal peer network is a critical step to strengthen the professional development of the future heads of product and, in turn, their teams. Product leaders benefit from peer networks regardless of whether the network is self-managed with former co-workers or comprised of peers in your region who are on the same path.
At Product Growth Leaders, we understand the value of Peer Networks first-hand. The initial concept for Product Growth Leaders came through a self-managed peer network, and we have the first-hand experience as speakers, members, and facilitators of professionally managed peer networks.
Because of this experience and the opportunity to improve product management professional development with peer networks, we created Product Growth Leaders Peer Networks.
Learn more about Peer Networks here.
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[i] Multiple answers were allowed for each respondent leading to the sum of the scores being greater than 100%. [ii] https://www.businessinsider.com/joining-a-mastermind-group-could-help-your-business-thrive-2020-1