Two Conclusions for Product Teams from Airtable’s 2022 Product Insights Report

Posted on July 11, 2022.
The complete report from Airtable can be found here.

Last month, Airtable released its first product insights report looking into how product teams are working and accomplishing their objectives, as well as where things can be improved. They surveyed over 700 full-time product professionals in the United States, ranging from individual contributors to C-suite executives, most of whom worked on a mix of physical and digital products. 

From what they found, most teams feel equipped with the necessary tools to do their jobs, but they don’t seem to have all of the necessary information, which doesn’t allow them to hit their goals, ship on time, and iterate effectively.

Here are my two main conclusions from the report.

Conclusion 1: Teams need a lot more visibility and access to information.

The survey found that 58% of product team members don’t have a strong understanding of the product vision. Over half of team members don’t have high visibility into either the objectives for their projects or the customer and product feedback. And only 24% say that it’s easy to access the information they need to do their jobs. 

Having a lack of visibility and access to information has broad implications on team alignment, product viability, and the ability to ship on time. 

  • If teams don’t understand the vision, or aren’t privy to that information, how can they align on what problem they’re trying to solve and for whom?
  • If much of the team doesn’t have access to the goals and objectives, nor to the customer and product feedback, it’s much harder to know how they need to direct and redirect their experiments. When they only learn that information, or are given direction, from a supervisor or another team member, it slows down the experimentation process and can stifle opportunities for team members to bring forward ideas that could generate results.
  • And if a team doesn’t have access to the information they need to do their jobs, they’ll need to ask others, which not only slows down the process further and creates bottlenecks, but it also causes employees to be less self-sufficient (or not self-sufficient at all).

This also has implications for the tools teams use. The survey found that 95% of teams say they have the tools needed to ship on time—but less than 1 in 3 teams “almost always” ship on time and hit their goals, and only 1 in 4 say it’s “very easy” to find what they need. Teams get comfortable with the tools they’ve been using, but clearly, the tools most teams are using now aren’t facilitating key components of their work.

Bottom line: Product teams have insufficient visibility of important information, which is hindering their ability to achieve their objectives and engage in the process. Organizations need to prioritize (1) creating one master source of information that all team members can access, update, and use; and (2) ensuring that the tools they’re using actually aid visibility and support the objectives.

Conclusion 2: Self-sufficient teams, supported by effective processes, see better results.

This isn’t a wholly new conclusion—I’ve been talking about the importance of having self-sufficient product teams for years. But Airtable’s report data meaningfully backs up the assertion again.

As discussed above, the survey found that most product team members don’t have access to the information they would need to do their jobs autonomously. In fact, only 30% said they had “high autonomy.” Yet, autonomy breeds greater engagement, which leads to faster shipping times and a higher likelihood of meeting goals. There was a 30-point difference in the likelihood to ship products on time between teams with high autonomy versus those with low. That is not small.

But it’s not just whether or not teams are autonomous and self-sufficient that determines their success. They also need to have the support of good processes. The report makes clear that organizations have prioritized process documentation: 81% of teams have documented processes for at least five stages of the product development cycle, and 49% have a dedicated product operations function. 

That’s all great. However. 

It turns out 90% of teams still find at least one stage of the cycle “highly challenging” to execute, so simply having a process (or having it documented) doesn’t relieve the challenges of execution on the whole. For each stage that teams reported having a documented process, roughly 30-40% of them are still challenging to execute.

So, no matter how self-sufficient your teams seem to be, if the processes they have to work with are exceedingly difficult to understand and/or execute, they will run into issues with shipping on time and hitting their goals. 

Bottom line: Product teams need processes that are clear and effective to help facilitate their success. If the processes don’t work well, your team won’t be able to either, no matter how self-sufficient they are. To support your teams more fully, invest in auditing your processes and tools.

Check out the full 2022 Airtable Product Insights Report here.