We recently ran a survey to better understand the needs and habits of product people. As a product discovery platform, we wanted to gain some insight and potentially validate some of the ideas we were kicking about. As we read through the results, we realized that these could be interesting for other product teams too, so we’ve decided to share them with you!
We shared the survey with our customer-base, our network and at a handful of events and meetups. Users of Reveall represented just 7% of all respondents. We made sure to vet the audiences that we shared the survey with to ensure the respondents are relevant and representative for the wider product community.
There is statistical significance and confidence that this survey is representative of the wider product community in Europe and North America. That being said, this survey is intended as an indication of how product teams think and is not an in-depth scientific research study to be taken literally.
Responses were not incentivized and anonymous submissions were allowed to encourage responses without the fear of being marketed to with unsolicited communications.
In total we received 154 responses, with people in different product roles, working at companies of different sizes. Most of the respondents are product managers (51%), followed by product designers (23%), product leaders (18%) and user researchers (8%).
Most of our respondents work for medium-size businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees (42%), followed by smaller startups with under 50 employees (31%) and larger corporations with over 1,000 employees (27%).
Once our survey surpassed 60 respondents, we started seeing little-to-no changes in the results, which adds to our confidence in the representativeness of the answers given.
To keep things simple, we’ve broken down the results into 4 parts:
We wanted to find out a few things about how product teams work, including what goals they have, what tools they use and how they collaborate across the team.
Pick up any product management book these days and you’re bound to find entire chapters dedicated to setting the right goals, measuring objectives and key results (OKRs) and defining your north star metric. But we wanted to know what the actual metrics were that teams are using for measuring the success of their work.
At 67.5%, ‘number of active users or customers’ is by far the most used success metric amongst the teams we surveyed. This is followed by feature usage and adoption (55.8%) and NPS (46.1%). It shows that roughly half of the product people we surveyed use success metrics that depend on a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.
It may be no surprise that the top success metrics relate directly to the product experience. What is interesting though is that less than 1 in 5 respondents use success metrics that are directly related to business outcomes, such as ‘trial to paid conversion’ (20.7%), cost per acquisition (14.3%) and CLTV (13%). With the growing trend of product-led growth, it will be interesting to see whether these commercial metrics will become more amongst product teams; KPIs in the future.
As a company offering a product discovery platform, we often get asked whether we integrate with certain tools. One thing we’ve learned from these requests is that product people use a lot of tools, so we were curious what the most-used tools were within product teams.
Again, no major surprises in who the leaders amongst tools are, but it is extraordinary to see the degree to which Figma has become central to almost every product person’s life, with over 85% (!) of respondents saying they use Figma, even though less than a quarter of respondents are designers.
Amongst the more ‘generalist tools’, Miro (69.5%), Slack (68.9%), Google Suite (67%) and Confluence (51.9%) have practically become ubiquitous amongst product teams.
Among more specialized tools for product teams, Jira (66.9%), User Interviews (33.1%), User Testing (31.8%), Adobe Suite (29.2%) and Hotjar (25.3%) are most commonly used.
Other than the fact that Adobe will be very happy with these numbers following their acquisition of Figma, it’s interesting to see how much product teams still rely on ‘generalist tooling’ rather than software that is made to serve their use-case. Is it due to a need for flexibility? Does Jira cater to all their needs? Or is it simply that the product-tooling market is growing and still relatively immature?
Where marketing, sales and operational teams have opted to give their processes and activities a home, product teams still seem to be relying on a combination of tools to get their work done. That said, there is plenty of evidence that this is changing and that product teams are increasingly opting for dedicated platforms to coordinate their efforts in.
In the last part of this article, we will discuss how the fragmented nature of product teams; tool-stacks can present real challenges.
The overview of most-used tools gives some insight into how product teams communicate, but we wanted to go a layer deeper and really understand how these teams communicate and collaborate, both amongst themselves and with other teams.
It’s clear that at 66.9%, tools like Slack and MS Teams have become the backbone for team communication these days. These tools allow for teams to quickly share, discuss and document ideas with minimal friction.
Beyond this, at 61% it is notable that regular in-person meetings are still the backbone of communication for many teams with trusty slide-decks (49.3%), internal wikis (48.7%) and product management tools, most notably Jira (41%), being used to share decisions, ideas and progress.
One thing we’ve learned is that the product space is constantly evolving and growing at an incredible pace. To keep up with these changes, product people are very proactive in learning about and sharing the latest trends and ideas.
This was our only open question in the survey and we asked respondents “which professionals or resources do you learn from most in the product space?”.
The full list of answers warrants an article of its own, but we’ve listed some of the resources that were recommended most often below (in order of popularity).
The most commonly mentioned resource were various blogs, with Medium being mentioned more than any other resource. LinkedIn and various newsletters were also mentioned. It also became clear from the answers that most product people learn from their peers and mentors.
In terms of specific people or resources to follow, former AirBnB product lead Lenny Rachitsky got a dozen mentions. This was followed by Teresa Torres, Marty Cagan and John Cutler who all had several mentions.
So if you’re looking to stay ahead of the trends, check out the resources linked above. We also use many of them to inform our views and content here at Reveall.
Now that we’ve shed some light on how product teams work, we want to shift our focus towards the challenges they face. As mentioned above, the product space is constantly changing and with those changes come ideas to solve old challenges as well as new challenges to solve.
Let’s start with the main areas of improvement. We asked respondents what area of Product (with a capital ‘P’) they would focus on if they could only improve one thing.
This was a close race and one where, as the answers rolled in, the leader changed a few times. Overall, the 2 main areas that product teams want to improve upon above all other areas are product strategy (22.7%) and product discovery (20.8%). Given that these two areas overlap heavily, it is no surprise that they were so close.
User research (14.9%) and product prioritization (13.6%)came in next, followed by product delivery (11.7%). Interestingly, product launches, user testing and product operations did not appear to be the biggest priority for most respondents.
Now as a product discovery platform, this may be our own bias speaking, but one could argue that product discovery has come out as the clear area of improvement, given its ranking here and the fact that it overlaps so heavily with strategy, user research and prioritization.
In addition to areas of desired improvements, we also asked our respondents what they saw as their team’s biggest challenges.
There are two major challenges that stand out. By far, the biggest challenge appears to be alignment on company goals and priorities, with over 68% of respondents saying that this was their team’s biggest challenge. This was followed by ‘understanding the biggest customer problems / product opportunities’ at 41.6%.
Other challenges included validating (27.9%) and prioritizing (19.5%) product opportunities, building scalable processes (23.4%), managing stakeholders (22.7%) and centralizing customer insights (18.2%).
Interestingly, the respondents don’t seem to have many issues with defining and priortizixing solutions, but they do see validating solutions as a challenge.
It’s interesting to see how our respondents seem like they have a good grasp of the ‘solution space’ but see the ‘problem / opportunity space’ as more challenging. Above all, the biggest problem appears to be that of creating alignment across teams.
It’s one thing to speak of challenges on a high level, but we also wanted to know what causes the most frustration in the day-to-day work of a product professional.
We asked our respondents what part of their job they would automate if they could and 2 tasks stood out. By far the most mentioned task was ‘analyzing and synthesizing customer feedback’ (24.7%) followed by managing the product backlog (18.8%). This probably isn’t too much of a surprise given that these are 2 of the most manual and hard-to-automate tasks and they align strongly with the challenges and areas of improvement mentioned above.
With both tasks playing an important part in a product person’s day-to-day, we will likely see more product teams opting for tools and processes that make these tasks less tedious.
The final part of our study focused on how product teams make decisions. We’re living in a highly digitalized, data-driven era, so we were curious to learn whether and how product teams leverage data to make decisions.
Before understanding how product teams use data and how they make decisions, we first asked what they perceived to be the most valuable types of customer data.
The responses show a large range of data being used by product teams, but a few stand out. With user interviews (51.3%), product feedback (46.1%) and customer support feedback (39.6%) it is clear that the voice of the customer is a crucial source of information for product teams. It appears that more than half of product teams are making regular interactions with users a core part of their work.
Besides this, product / user analytics (51.3%) are one of the most important data sources for product teams. This is no surprise as analytics are on of the easiest forms of customer data to work with, and we know from our previous question that analyzing and synthesizing customer insights can be a lot of work.
In addition to asking about the types of data they perceive as being valuable, we also asked how they used this customer data.
Most respondents said they used customer data and insights for validation (80.5%) and prioritization (76.6%), with less than half of the respondents using it for stakeholder buy-in and ideation.
Now we know customer data is important, but what does that mean for decision-making? In other words, who decides what gets built next?
This is always a contentious question but overall it appears that the product teams we asked have a lot of influence on deciding what gets built. Our respondents suggest that product managers (26.6%), the product team (25.3%) and head of product (14.9%) are largely responsible for product decisions, with two-thirds of respondents naming one of them as the decision-maker.
Unsurprisingly, companies’ leadership teams also have an important say in what gets built (24%).
Going a layer deeper, we wanted to know what frameworks teams were using to prioritize product.
It’s clear from the responses that product teams use a range of frameworks for prioritization. Value vs. effort (46.1%) is the most commonly used standard, with user story maps (32.5%), ‘must-have, should-have, could-have, and won't-have’ (21.4%) and RICE (20.8) being other popular frameworks.
Interestingly, Marty Cagan’s ‘4 risks’ and Teresa Torres’ ‘opportunity-solution tree’ have received a fair amount of mentions, echoing their influence as mentioned previously.
We also asked our respondents what the fuel behind their prioritization was.
It’s good to see customer insights playing such an important role with product analytics (26.3%) and customer feedback (25.6%) being used by many teams to prioritize ideas, opportunities and solutions.
That said, the responses also show that a lot of decisions are still driven by less scientific factors, with almost a quarter of respondents saying that leadership and stakeholder preferences drive prioritization and 1-in-10 saying that prioritization is still done on the basis of gut-feeling. This also reflects the challenges and areas of improvement that these respondents identified earlier on.
This last graph demonstrates the progress and growth of product teams whilst still highlighting the challenges that many of them face.
One of our key takeaways from this survey is that it appears to support an ongoing trend of product teams wanting to shift their focus away from product delivery and towards product discovery.
Product discovery is a fundamental process whereby product teams decide what they should (and shouldn’t) be building. It is about discovering opportunities for improving your product in order to deliver more value to the end-user and drive desired product and business outcomes.
The interest in product discovery and its principles has grown rapidly in the past couple of years, driven by the likes of Marty Cagan and Teresa Torres, the latter of whom wrote the quintessential book for product discovery – Continuous Discovery Habits.
At the core of good discovery lies a deep understanding of the customer’s problems, needs and desires – which often requires a shift in mindset. Many teams have a tendency to jump straight into the ‘solutions-space’, fast-forwarding through or even skipping the problem or ‘opportunity’ space. This often results in beautifully-designed and well-developed solutions that don’t necessarily solve the most important customer problems and therefore often deliver less value than expected.
With studies repeatedly showing that most products fail, it’s no surprise that product teams are wanting to invest more in setting the right product priorities and making the best possible decisions. Our survey underlines this trend, but also highlights some of the challenges faced by product teams wanting to put more emphasis on product discovery.
These challenges include:
There are a lot of challenges out there, but the pay-off is big if you manage to improve your product discovery efforts – fewer wasted resources, faster delivery of customer value and ultimately, driving more revenue.
The best place to start is with a shift in mindset. Hopefully this study helps. Reading some of the recommendations above definitely will too. But ultimately, you need to make sure you have the right process and tooling in place to make product discovery simple and manageable. And that’s something Reveall can help with…