Updated: Mar 11
The past 20 years have been a seemingly golden era for professional development in product management. Hundreds of thousands of professionals have participated in product management training. Product management is now on the curriculum at major business and computer science programs. There are myriad options for in-person, on-line, and degree programs for anyone interested in product management training.
Yet despite the explosion in the number of professionals trained in product management and the available options for that training, traditional training has not produced a material impact on the practice's improvement and growth.
Product management is clearly defined and understood in only 21% of organizations;[i]
Processes, roles definition, and overall alignment are the most significant challenges in product management;[ii] and
47% of respondents identified process as the biggest challenge for product management in their company, and 51% said their product management process is not well-defined.[iii]
These issues with process, roles, and alignment show up in poor results, with research identifying that 72% of all new products developed fail to meet their revenue targets.[iv] Traditional product management training is not meeting the objectives of today's organizations.
For the product management profession to improve these results, professional development needs to evolve.
In 2021, Product Growth Leaders researched the current state of product management professional development and best practices from adult learning and professional development. Our findings from this research and our recommendations for how product management professional development needs to evolve are in our White Paper "The State of Product Management Professional Development" which can be downloaded here.
This article focuses on product management skill gaps, what product management can learn from the broader professional development community and recommendations on improving product management training results.
Skill Gaps in Product Management
We surveyed product leaders to understand current professional development practices for product managers and learn what product leaders value.
We asked them to consider five aspects of professional skills and rate, using a scale of 1 to 10, the importance of that skill for their organization, and their team members command of the skill:
Product Management Fundamentals;
Business and Strategy;
Technical Skills; and
We were surprised by the skill gaps we found. In short, product professionals are underperforming in each area.
Competence and Importance scores were calculated for each skill based on the percent of responses with a rating of seven (7) or more.
Twenty years into the supposed golden era of product management professional development, these results are dismal. Each of these five areas had negative gaps (Command less than Importance).
86% of product leaders who rated Fundamentals important rated their team's command at only 41%, a gap of -45.5.
Business and Strategy skills were important to 91% of product leaders, but they rated their team's command in this area as only 32%, a gap of 59.2.
Either the current investment in product management training is not enough, or those product management training methods fail to deliver long-term value. We think that the answer is BOTH.
Chronic Issues with Professional Development
To better understand how to improve results, we researched professional development as a practice and found that it is not just the product management profession that is struggling.
In "Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development,"[v] Steve Glaveski argues that the $359 billion spend globally on training was simply not worthwhile and shared some eye-opening statistics.
Only 30% of employees report they have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs;
Only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in training programs to their jobs; and
Only 25% believe that training measurably improved performance.
The statistics are astounding but not surprising. In conversations with product management educators, coaches, and leaders, we have seen similar results.
One of the main reasons for this is the reality of learning transfer.
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found that if new information isn't applied, people forget about 75% of it after just six days. To compound that, the Association of Training and Development (ATD) reports that 90% of trainers are not creating a learning transfer strategy.
Glaveski's recommendations to improve results include:
Focus on the core of what is needed to learn;
Give short lessons; and
Apply learnings to real-world situations immediately.
How do you apply these insights to training for your product management teams?
Flipping the Classroom to Improve the Results of Product Management Training
Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.— Xun Kuang, a Confucian philosopher
The majority of product management training today is lecture-based, regardless of delivery method, --on-demand, online, or onsite.
Most traditional training options incorporate only limited case studies and few team exercises. Their focus is primarily on information transfer, not on skills development. The typical training format is 80% lecture and 20% application at most. Few are designed to apply the concepts to your products, markets, and organizations.
Malcolm Knowles, in his theory of andragogy (adult learning), made four assumptions about the design of learning:
· Adults need to know why they need to learn something;
· Adults need to learn experientially;
· Adults approach learning as problem-solving; and
· Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.
Product Management training needs to shift from lectures and stories to facilitation and coaching. For that matter, the same can be said for all professional development—whether for product management, technical fields like engineering, sales professionals, and so on. Learning requires a more engaging approach. After all, you don't learn to drive a car from hearing stories about racing.
Focus on applying relevant concepts immediately and "flip the classroom."
Shift the bulk of time to the application of concepts.
More engagement means better learning.
Our belief in the value of flipping the classroom with a focus on application and learning transfer is so strong that we incorporated these concepts in Product Growth Leaders Fundamentals, our foundational product management training program.
Learn more about Fundamentals here.
Also, read our overall thoughts on where product management professional development needs to evolve in our White Paper and look for our future article on the importance of peer networks as an aspect of professional development.
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[i] 2020 Product Management Festival Benchmark Report. [ii] 2019 SiriusDecisions Product Management Priorities Survey. [iii] 280 Group. [iv] CB Insights. [v] October 2, 2019, Harvard Business Review.