New research

How European product management has changed in 2021

Published May 19, 2021

Each year, Pendo and Product Collective ask European product leaders and managers about the trends they feel are shaping their field in the biggest ways, and publish our findings in the State of Product Leadership report.

This year’s report surveyed hundreds of product managers and leaders across the U.K., France, and Germany, and a few themes emerged: Successful digital transformations are more critical than ever, and product teams have become ascendant in leading them.

Pendo Product Marketing Manager Hannah Chaplin and Mike Belsito, co-founder of Product Collective, joined our recent webinar to dive into the report’s findings and give their take on how they’re playing out in the European product management. Here are some of the session’s highlights.

European product leaders connect strategy to outcomes

Product pros in Europe have a stronger focus on product strategy, vision, and roadmapping than their counterparts in the United States. 

Chaplin said this did not come as a surprise: Most product managers found themselves completely revising their roadmaps when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year. Users’ needs changed dramatically, and many companies had to shift focus or downsize.

“I’ve heard people say they’ve had to take on more of the strategic visionary piece and roadmapping because of those challenges and the need to react to a different environment,” she said. “A lot of product teams have had to go back to the drawing board.”

Doing more with less

The net effect of these trends is that European product leaders now have more responsibility for more features and products—not to mention leading digital transformation efforts at their orgs—than ever before with the same or fewer resources.

“Product managers are having to take on more and more just to stay afloat,” Chaplin noted.

Belsito said revisiting this question in next year’s survey will shine light on whether this is an anomaly, if the gap continues to widen, or if things get back to normal. Chaplin expects it will become the new status quo.

Big opportunities to become more data-informed

PMs in Europe have a ways to go in becoming truly data-informed and data driven. There’s a gap between what type of data PMs are using to inform their decisions, and it’s based on their background: Product managers with academic or creative backgrounds are more likely to leverage quantitative data, while technical PMs are more heavily using qualitative data.

Chaplin questioned whether non-technical PMs were leaning more heavily on quantitative data to compensate—or even overcompensate—for a background that has historically focused less on that sort of information.

Both agreed, the best method is to use a split of each type of data. “You’ve got to know what customers are doing, and you’ve got to know what they’re saying,” Chaplin said.

European SaaS companies, in particular, need to improve in the data department, too. PMs at traditional enterprises were more likely to be leveraging data to its full extent.

Product’s influence is growing

It’s becoming harder and harder to dispute that product teams are an organization’s best suited function for leading digital transformation initiatives, and that’s reflected in the data.

Just a few years ago, product teams were most likely to report into marketing, but Belsito noted that’s changed over time. “We’re starting to see product positioned more at the center of things,” he said. No matter if a company identifies as product-led, marketing-led, or sales-led, product is still responsible for digital transformation.”

“That says a lot about product now having that seat at the table, when before it maybe didn’t,” Belsito said. That said, only 45% of respondents said they feel responsible for digital transformation at their org.

Product ops continues to rise

European product leaders of all levels are working more cross-functionally across their organizations, and that’s helping make teams feel motivated and supported. One of the biggest reasons? Product ops. 

Often described as the “connective tissue between teams,” product ops teams empower product leaders to focus on the product and strategy at the macro scale, rather than put effort into making sure the trains are all running on time.

“As product people, we have so many responsibilities and we’re stretched, but if we have a team dedicated to product ops, we’re able to focus on the things that we need to be focused on,” Belsito said.

And the concept is certainly having a moment: Forty-four percent of European product teams reported having a dedicated product ops team, up from just 26% last year, with German PMs most often reported having such a resource. 

An added bonus? NPS is consistently higher among product managers at orgs with dedicated product ops teams. Product leaders are just happier when they enjoy that level of support.

The way forward

So how can product teams continue to leverage their newfound clout without burning out?

First, optimize your use of data. That will ensure you’re making the smartest decisions as you build your product out. Build out solid processes for collecting and leveraging data ahead of time.

Then start looking for ways to increase positive interactions between teams. “Product is a team sport, it doesn’t just reside within the product team,” Belsito said.

 The pandemic, Chaplin and Belsito noted, has forced many orgs to become much more intentional about creating these moments as a way to stay connected amid remote work, but that doesn’t need to—and shouldn’t—end when the office opens back up.

Finally, give product leaders a path to success in the c-suite. Product managers and chief product officers are well-suited to becoming the CEOs of tomorrow, Chaplin noted, so make sure they can see a clear path to that goal.