• In a recent SiriusDecisions survey, we asked product management leaders about their top challenges and the skills their product managers need to improve
  • Major challenges included the quality and consistency of the product innovation and lifecycle process, portfolio management, focusing on solutions, and clarifying roles
  • Common skill gaps include understanding customer needs, developing business cases, collecting customer feedback, and market sizing and segmenting

January is often a time for new beginnings. The new year — or, in this case, the new decade — often leads people to resolve to improve their health, their finances or their relationships. It’s also a time that many product management leaders turn over a new leaf, focusing on key initiatives they want to address in the new year.

In late 2019, we conducted research with product management leaders on their biggest challenges and priorities for 2020, and the results have just been published. Clients of the SiriusDecisions Product Management Research service have access to the research brief “The Pulse: Product Management Leadership Priorities for 2020.” We’ve also summarized some of the key findings in the free e-book “Product Management Leadership Priorities for 2020.”


We conducted similar research in 2014, and looking at the results five years later provided us with the ability to also look at trends and changes over time.

Here’s a few of our key findings of some of the biggest challenges product management leaders are focused on for 2020:

  • Improving the product innovation and management process and gaining consistency are top priorities. Respondents chose “improving the overall product innovation and lifecycle management framework/process” as the top challenge overall, and it was also the top challenge cited for software companies. “Getting consistency across the entire product management organization (e.g. activities, deliverables)” was the third highest response overall and tied for the top challenge among large organizations. These are significant increases from 2014, which show that despite the proliferation of different product lifecycle approaches and methodologies popularized since 2014, product leaders clearly need to ensure their teams are not just aware of best-in-class approaches, but are also consistently following those frameworks, like our SiriusDecisions Product Marketing and Management (PMM) Model.
  • There is a greater need for portfolio and solution management. Although portfolio management, including investment allocation and sunsetting, remained a major challenge, “focusing less on individual products and more on integrated solutions” saw a noteworthy increase in responses (25% in 2019 vs. 18% in 2014). As organizations invest more in creating and managing solutions, portfolio optimization and sunsetting increase in importance, and investments in new product areas may need to be funded by reduced budgets in current less-successful product lines.

We also asked product management leaders what product management skills the product managers on their teams most need to improve. Key findings outlined in our e-book include:

  • The biggest skill gaps relate to customer and market focus. Identifying buyer, customer and user needs; collecting product feedback and measuring product satisfaction; and market sizing and segmentation were three of the top four responses overall with percentages similar to 2014. Product managers continue to spend significant time and energy on internal product delivery responsibilities, but product leaders must target upskilling on external areas (e.g. learning to conduct better customer interviews).
  • Product managers must improve their commercial mindset. Developing a business case was tied for the top skill in need of overall improvement and in non-software companies and large companies. In small companies, 27% of product leaders indicated a deficiency here. This is noteworthy because these organizations are more likely to adopt agile and lean innovation processes. Conventional wisdom could lead observers to believe that organizations using these approaches would be less concerned about formal business cases, but the data indicates these are still important deliverables regardless of company size or industry.

These findings — and more — are included in our e-book. It’s easy for product management to get caught up in day-to-day activities (e.g. dealing with sales requests, triaging with engineering setbacks, responding to competitive actions), but product management leaders must rise above the tactical and ensure their teams are putting enough time and energy into strategic responsibilities. Investments made to address challenges and improving skills will pay off by creating high-performing product teams that can consistently produce products that are more likely to meet commercial goals and succeed in the market.