A comprehensive survey of Product Management
👋 Hello, I’m Lenny and welcome to a ✨ once-a-month-free-edition ✨ of my newsletter. Each week I humbly tackle reader questions about product, growth, working with humans, and anything else that’s stressing you out at the office.
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Q: What is the product manager role like at different companies?
What skills do companies look for in a PM? What do PMs need to get right to get promoted? How much influence do PMs have at different companies? There’s surprisingly little information out there about the differences in the PM role across the industry.
Today, I’m sharing findings from a survey I’ve been running over the past month, with nearly 1,000 responses from over 600 companies. Below, you’ll find:
Which skills matter most when hiring PMs
What PMs have to get most right to get promoted
How much influence PMs have
Which companies prioritize Heart vs. Head vs. Hands
Takeaways, and links to dig deeper
A big thank you to PMHQ, Sriram Krishnan, Hiten Shah, Josh Elman, Ian McAllister for helping amplify this survey to get more responses, and to Tal Raviv, Manik Gupta, Helen Sims, AJ Frank, Matthias Wagner, Kara Skrip, Sean Lynch, Peter Sauer, and Kiyani Bamba for feedback on the survey and post.
A few quick disclaimers:
I’m no survey expert. I may have gotten something wrong. Please forgive me if so, and please give me feedback.
85% of the responders were product managers (as planned), so assume bias from that perspective.
When I mention specific companies below, I made sure to have at least two data points from that company.
Let’s dive in!
Who took the survey
Being a Product Manager
Most frequently valued: Communication, execution, product sense
Least frequently valued: Design/UX, empathy, raw intelligence
Companies who spike on Communication: HubSpot, Salesforce
Companies who spike on Execution: Salesforce, Tesla, VMware
Companies who spike on Product sense: Asana, Flipkart, Intercom, Netflix, ServiceNow, WhatsApp
Companies who spike on Strategic thinking: Coinbase, Stripe, Zillow
Companies who spike on Collaboration: Atlassian, Box, ServiceNow, Spotify, Twitter
Companies who spike on Data acumen: Quora, Reddit, Zynga
Companies who spike on Technical background: Oracle, Stripe
Companies who spike on Raw intelligence: Coinbase, Robinhood
Companies who spike on Empathy: HubSpot, Intercom
Companies who spike on Design/UX: WhatsApp
Showing significant impact on the business — by far the most common thing to get right
Unlike the mini-CEO label PMs often get, in reality they must keep their external stakeholders onboard to be successful
Keeping their team and manager happy — less of a priority at most companies, but as you’ll see below, very important at some
Companies who prioritize Showing significant business impact: Atlassian, Capital One, Coinbase, Expedia, HubSpot, Netflix, Square, Wayfair, Yelp, YouTube, Zillow
Companies who prioritize Keeping stakeholders onboard: Atlassian, Booking, IBM, VMware, Wayfair, Zillow
Companies who prioritize Hitting goals: Airbnb, Reddit, Yelp, Zynga
Companies who prioritize Shipping great product: Adobe, Hubspot, Intercom, Robinhood, Stripe, WhatsApp
Companies who prioritize Making their manager happy: Apple, IBM, Oracle
Companies who prioritize Keeping their team happy: Intercom, Quora, Visa
According to responders (mostly PMs), PMs have more influence than other functions at over 80% of companies
Similarly, PMs have “a lot more” influence at ~50% of companies
Almost no companies have PMs with a lot less influence than other functions
Looking at this same data but excluding responses from product managers (e.g. only looking at responses from engineers, designers, CEOs, etc.), the story shifts a bit:
From this perspective, we find that PMs have more influence than other functions at only 70% of companies (vs. 80% above). Clearly, PMs believe they have more influence than their teammates think they do.
However, most of the variance comes from the number of responders who believe PMs run the show — ~13% when looking at all responses, but only ~6% when PM responses are excluded.
In both cases, roughly the same percentage of companies have PMs with slightly more, or a lot more, influence (~65%).
The spectrum varies widely: from Zynga where PMs run the show, to Apple where PMs have the least influence
Noteworthy companies where PMs have a lot more influence: YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber, Robinhood, Lyft, Coinbase, Asana, Airbnb
Noteworthy companies where PMs have relatively less influence: Apple, Oracle, Stripe, Tesla
Heart vs. Hands vs. Head
It's often said that companies are defined by how they index on Heart (e.g. empathy, culture) vs. Hands (e.g. execution) vs. Head (e.g. intelligence). When describing PMs at your company, how would you stack rank the importance of Heart, Hands, and Head?
Companies who spike on Heart: Asana, Spotify, WhatsApp
Companies who spike on Hands: Flipkart, Okta, PayPal, Quora, Tesla, Wayfair, Yelp
Companies who spike on Head: Coinbase, Uber, YouTube, Zynga
This is the first time I’ve conducted a survey like this. Depending on how it’s received, I hope to run it again sometime in the future. If you have any feedback on the results, the analysis, or the way it was run, I’d love to hear it. Please leave your feedback here.
And lastly, if you see any other interesting takeaways when looking at this data, please leave a comment 👇
See you next week!
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Nice work! My big takeaway is the one truth for me which is business impact/customer value always wins. That in the end is the job. Good design, luck, timing, market forces, great data strategy, execution are all components. Whatever you build has to move the needle, even if it's not in pure revenue terms, it has to be valued externally. The magical "So what?".
Hi Lenny. Very interesting perspective. Can you share the questions you asked to determine the responses? Was it just a 1 to 10 scale on the particular attribute?