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Product Management Training: Three Powerful Ways to Get Results

Your company may be scaling back on professional development as a means to save costs during these shaky economic times. Even in the best of times, if training isn't producing impactful results, it may be hard to justify the investment.

Product management training hasn’t produced impactful results.

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;

  • Processes, roles definition, and overall alignment are the most significant challenges in product management; 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.

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.

Traditional product management training is not meeting the objectives of today's organizations.

1. Start with what's important to the business

"We need training" isn't the problem to solve. Step back and look at what's really going on. What keeps your executives awake at night?

  • Can we sell what we have already built?

  • Can we build what we planned?

  • Have we planned the right products for the future?

  • Do we have the right skills and teams to accomplish this?

You might need training to accomplish this, but you don't know what professional development is needed until you analyze what is preventing you from selling, building, and planning your products.

Can we sell what we have already built?

If you struggle to sell what you've built, get to the root cause. Your sales team might say, "Let's hire more people. That will solve the problem." But maybe your sales team isn't trained on HOW to sell what you have. Maybe they don't know WHO they should sell to. Maybe the problem is a lack of clarity about who is RESPONSIBLE for enabling the sales team to sell.

Can we build what we planned?

"If we hire more developers, we can build what we planned." Is the root cause too few developers? Or is it because the development team is not getting the market context about WHAT needs to be built? Chaos and churn at every turn cause wasted efforts across the team. Do they have context about the problems to be solved? Context about who has the problems and what solution would satisfy their needs? Maybe the bottleneck in building what you planned is not the understaffing of developers and engineers but a necessity for designers or product owners or product managers.

Have we planned the right products for the future?

You may have the best processes for building products. But what happens if you're building something nobody wants? Who is responsible for learning what buyers and users need—and will pay to solve? Who builds the business case for future investments? Are there repeatable processes to discover market needs and clarify the business opportunity to solve the needs?

Do we have the right skills and teams to accomplish this?

Once you've figured out the biggest challenges you face, take inventory of the teams responsible for overcoming these challenges. Training and professional development may be the solution, but until you assess the situation, you will have difficulty prioritizing your training needs.


Take a simple Product Team Self-Assessment to highlight which areas need your attention. Our recommendations will be emailed to you (and no salesperson will call).

2. Identify and address skill gaps

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;

  • Project Management;

  • Technical Skills; and

  • Soft Skills.

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 percentage of responses with a rating of seven (7) or more.

Graph depicting skill gaps in each of the five aspects of professional skills.

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 insufficient, or those product management training methods fail to deliver long-term value. We think that the answer is BOTH.


Assess the skill gaps and tailor training to close the gaps. Learn more with our free on-demand program, "Assess and Optimize Your Product Team."

3. Address chronic issues with Professional Development

To better understand how to improve the results of product management training, we researched professional development as a practice. We found that not just the product management profession is struggling.

The current results of training across fields are dismal.

In "Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development," Steve Glaveski argues that the $359 billion spent 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. We have seen similar results in our conversations with product management educators, coaches, and leaders.

Learning needs to be applied to produce results.

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found that people forget about 75% of what they've learned after just six days if new information isn't applied. How do you apply these insights to training for your product management teams?

Flip 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

Most adult training today is lecture-based, regardless of delivery methodon-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 must shift from lectures and stories to facilitation and coaching. Strive to learn new concepts and apply them to your business immediately.

Professional development should follow the L-E-A-P™ approach to learning. In each workshop, begin by LEARNING a topic, EXTEND the understanding with a practical tool or template, APPLY the concept to your products and markets in a working session, and perform a PEER REVIEW of the final deliverable.

After all, you don't learn to drive a car from hearing stories about racing.

Our free eBook, "Why Traditional Training Fails," offers more tips on improving product management training results.

Read our free eBook, "Why Traditional Training Fails" with more tips on how to improve your product management training results.


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