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6 ways to drive growth through change and uncertainty

6 ways to drive growth through change and uncertainty

Data-backed recommendations on how to drive growth through change and uncertainty

As 2022 winds down and a new year approaches, product managers can be sure that their role will continue to be a complicated and demanding one. There’s more pressure on product teams to help drive growth than ever before, and the overall environment continues to be one of uncertainty where change is the only constant. 

Productboard recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a new study, The Business Impact Of Investing In Product Management, that explores key concepts in the relationship between strong investment in product teams and overall organizational performance. As a follow-up to this study, guest speaker Lisa Singer, VP, Research Director at Forrester joined our SVP of Product, SK, to discuss the study’s findings, specifically as they relate to driving growth under the current conditions. 

Watch the full recording on-demand here, and discover six ways to increase growth through change and uncertainty. 

1. The product management conundrum: prioritization 

How do you decide what to tackle first when requests are coming in constantly, on top of the regular tasks every product manager already has on their plate? There are a lot of different systems to consider, but on the webinar, Lisa Singer suggests the Eisenhower Box. 

Eisenhower box for decision making

Source: Driving Growth through Change and Uncertainty, featuring Lisa Singer, Forrester

Divide tasks into those that are more important and less important, then further by what is urgent and not urgent. Do the urgent, important tasks first while delegating those that are urgent but not as important. Decide if you have the bandwidth to take on the tasks that are important but less urgent – and delete those that are both not urgent and not important. 

This exercise should help you stay on track no matter what gets thrown your way. 

2. What’s driving change? 

While change and uncertainty are nothing new to product professionals, it does feel like an accelerant has been thrown on expectations for product teams lately. As our CEO Hubert Palan put it at the 2022 Product Excellence Summit

“Uncertainty is nothing new for Product people. Our job has always had uncertainty. We thrive in uncertainty,” Palan said.

During the webinar, Lisa points to several different causes for this: 

  1. Changes in customer expectations around products 
  2. Changes in buying and using products
  3. Changes in how value is created from product teams 

Behind all of this is the reality of increasing customer expectations; things that were once novelties – take two-day shipping, for example – are now expectations. Customers want the kinds of experiences they’re used to with B2C shopping in B2B transactions, too.

94% of respondents to the Forrester Consulting study agreed or strongly agreed that “customers expect our products to evolve alongside their needs very quickly.” 

Further, the separations between buying and using are disappearing. Companies now expect to immediately gain value from a free trial before they will even consider investing in new software. This in turn is causing more companies to focus on product as an engine of growth – 90% of respondents to the Forrester study agreed or strongly agreed that “there is more focus on upskilling and embracing more modern practices in product management” and that “there is a greater focus on improving product management processes.” 

Product teams have known for a while that differentiating by product features is no longer enough. There has to be value throughout the entire product experience for most customers to feel satisfied. 

3. Product managers feel they lack the investment needed for success 

The problem many product managers and leaders alike are running into is that they lack the support necessary to deliver on the expectations of stakeholders and customers – just 25% of respondents to the Forrester study say their tools are completely fit for purpose and enable them to deliver results. 

A further 64% of respondents agree or strongly agree that “there is a gap between the importance of the product management function and the job-specific resources provided” which results directly in 57% reporting that they “have to work with multiple disconnected tools that are not fit for the specific use of product management”. 

This is in line with the 2022 Product Excellence Report, which found that product organizations still lack purpose-built toolkits to ply their trade, resulting in fragmented workflows and greater difficulty aligning across multiple stakeholders. Only 28% of respondents said they use a dedicated product management tool, down from 2021 numbers. 

4. What does success look like? 

In order to succeed, product professionals not only need to have the necessary tools but also a definition of what success looks like. There are six factors that put high performing product organizations above the rest, as seen in this infographic from the study: 

6 factors to product management success

5. The roadmap to success 

On the webinar, Lisa Singer shared a roadmap to success based on those six factors, with each one covering what successful product teams do as they mature and the organization they’re a part of continues to evolve into a product-led organization. 

When it comes to customer-centricity, teams ultimately need a mindset of continuous experimentation and validation of what they’re testing. This starts with regular, proactive customer research to identify unmet needs, growing into research to identify unspoken needs, then finally unspoken and evolving needs and to develop solutions for them. 

Obviously this should all be data-driven: what does an engaged user look like? Strategy should be planned to drive that. As your team and organization mature, move from quantitative feedback from customers that is gathered and organized to leveraging that data to prioritize tasks and features in order to identify those engaged customers. Finally, product decisions should be made based on customer feedback and their interactions with concepts and the product offering itself. 

Teams should be strategically aligned. Whenever you’re working on something, ask how it relates or connects to strategy – even product leaders aren’t always great at communicating this to the rest of the company! Maturing companies should move from good alignment with cross-functional teams to good alignment across in-market products and strategic goals, then finally to direct alignment between product initiatives and strategic goals. 

Accountability is hugely important, especially for product professionals. You’re ultimately accountable to three separate groups: the organization as a whole, your stakeholders and your customers. From regular measurement of business value through a shared offering dashboard, move to predefined customer success metrics that are regularly assessed to understand customer and business value. Finally, as a fully mature product team and organization, you want to focus on a regular increase of value delivered to the customer and business. 

Continuous improvement means focusing on programs that foster ongoing advancement of product-related skills and best practices, including mentorship for junior team members and conducting regular retrospectives to discover where efficiencies can be improved and that everyone is focused on the same goals. In newer product teams, members are occasionally upskilled on best practices. With more mature teams, product leadership is dedicated to ongoing upskilling for the product team based on industry best practices. The ultimate goal is for cross-functional product teams to work to optimize collaboration and alignment and conduct retrospectives to identify gaps and areas for improvement across the entire organization. 

It should be clear by now that it’s incredibly difficult to be a mature, effective product organization while using spreadsheets. You need to be well-resourced. Teams might start from leveraging development tools to better collaborate between product and engineering teams, moving on to using tools for aggregation of customer feedback and cross-functional collaboration and communication for product planning and go-to-market activities. The most mature product teams leverage technology and instrumentation to understand how their offering is being used. 

6. Mature product management practices drive better business

Organizations with advanced product management practices are more likely to exceed business-critical goals. Put into numbers, they’re: 

  • 103% more likely to effectively evolve the product portfolio
  • 52% more likely to increase customer retention
  • 36% more likely to achieve revenue growth

It’s also almost twice as likely that high performing product organizations are using a dedicated product management platform, vs. other organizations. You could definitely say that investing in product management pays dividends. 

If you enjoyed this breakdown of how product teams can drive growth through change and uncertainty, download the full study and watch the full webinar recording for more – including the Q&A where Lisa Singer addresses what product managers should focus on in the current economic environment (spoiler alert: it’s still customers). 

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