Our PM Survey Says … (Part 2)

Throughout 2019, we posted a weekly debate question/poll to both our homepage and our Twitter feed, asking our readers to weigh in on “hot topics” related to product management. Last week, we shared some of the results of these informal polls, particularly those related to the themes of product team structure, career and professional development, and collaboration. In some cases, the results surprised us. In other instances, we nodded our heads at responses that met our predictions. But all of the poll results helped us build a more complete picture of what it means to work in product in 2019. Let’s go through some of the major themes we explored with these mini-surveys, and what our readers had to say.

Customers and Feedback

Product managers are more data-driven than ever, but hard numbers are only one piece of the puzzle. Qualitative feedback from customers helps PMs build a more complete picture of their users’ product experience. We’re glad to see that our audience agrees with the importance of moving beyond “just data” to make product decisions.

How frequently should PMs speak directly with customers?

Our friend Jeff Lash has a whiteboard in his office that reads, “I’ve Gone X Days Without Talking to a Customer.” The more frequently that number is close to zero, the better. And 20% of our survey takers agreed, saying that “daily” was the best cadence for customer conversions. However, the most common response was “weekly,” with 66.7% of the vote.

Which group is your best source of feedback?

While NPS as a measure of customer sentiment has its drawbacks, it remains a useful barometer for how users feel about your product. We asked our audience which group was the best source of product feedback: promoters, detractors, or neutrals/passives. Surprisingly, promoters got 0% of the vote, while detractors received 90%. Neutrals/passives received the final 10%.

How frequently do you conduct customer interviews?

This one was an even split between weekly, monthly, and quarterly, each with a third of the vote. With “weekly” receiving such a large share of the vote for the previous question, we’d expected that would be the winner here as well. But of course, we acknowledge that a full customer interview is a bigger undertaking than a regular conversation.

What’s the best way to conduct customer interviews?

Is it worth it to travel to speak to your customers face-to-face? A majority of our survey respondents (66.7%) said that yes, in-person as the best way to conduct a customer interview. Twenty percent of respondents selected video as the best option, and 13.3% selected phone. Email (perhaps surprisingly) got zero votes.

Features and Roadmapping

“What should we build next?” is a pressing question for a lot of PMs. And it’s not an easy one to answer, with competing stakeholder opinions, limited resources, and changing priorities acting as constant obstacles. Below are a few of the questions we asked on this sticky topic and the responses.

Should PMs ever rely on instinct to make roadmap decisions?

PMs are more reliant on data than ever. However, 80% of our survey respondents said yes, product managers should rely on instinct to make roadmap decisions.

Should you have a customer-facing product roadmap?

A customer-facing roadmap can be both a blessing and a curse. You want to promote transparency and let your users know what’s coming. And yet you don’t want to set expectations that you end up being unable to meet. A majority of our poll takers think the benefits outweigh the risks, with 63.2% of them saying “yes” to this question.

What’s the best source of feature ideas?

Our options for this question were: Product Team Members, Competitors, and Customers. Most of our respondents (74%) selected customers, while 15% picked competitors and the remainder chose product team members.

Should you tell users before cutting unused features?

This is another tricky product situation. If no one is using a feature, why not simply cut it without a fuss? However, that action isn’t without risks, and perhaps a customer may notice and take offense. Our audience tended toward the more conservative “yes” stance, with 58% of our respondents saying that you should tell users before cutting an unused feature.

The PM Role

Quite a few of our poll questions related to the “big picture” questions about product management, like what it means to be a PM, which skills/characteristics are important for working in product, what kinds of people make good PMs, etc. Here are just a few of the responses.

Which skillset is most useful for a PM?

Technical acumen is typically held up as a key skill for aspiring product managers, particularly those interested in the SaaS industry. Our poll results, however, tell a different story. A vast majority of our survey respondents (92.5%) said that interpersonal skills are more useful to a PM than technical ones.

Is product management more art or more science?

Yes, metrics and data are a big part of product management. But so are influence, finesse, communication, and even instinct (as we saw above). Three-quarters of our survey takers put PM on the “art” side of this debate.

Which personality type makes the best PM?

Do the most successful product managers tend to be the detail-oriented, hyper-organized Type As of the world or the more relaxed and collaborative Type Bs? This one was actually a pretty even split, with a slight majority (53.8%) going to Type A.

We plan to continue these informal weekly polls throughout 2020. If you have topic suggestions, tweet us at @Product_Craft.

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