How Important is it for a Product Manager to be Technical

by Sean Boyce
technical product manager

Product Management is a relatively new area of concentration in the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle).  A product manager combines aspects of the business operation and the technical development.  Since a product manager is expected to have knowledge in both business and tech, they typically have a background in one or both of these areas when they begin dedicating their efforts.  This begs the question of how technical a product manager should be.  I’m not going to pretend like having more knowledge cannot be helpful when it comes to pretty much anything, but like any tool it must be used appropriately to be effective.  Allow me to give some examples to shed some light on this topic and you can correlate them with the situation you are facing running your project.

How Large is Your Operation?

Product Management is done differently by everyone, but the overall goal is the same – make the product successful.  This means different initiatives are top priority at different times during the project.  It also means different things depending on the size of your team.  Are we talking about a 2 person startup or are we talking about a 200 person company?  Those two are going to have different levels of resources as well division of responsibility.  What I’ve noticed is that true to typical startup fashion smaller teams benefit significantly from a product manager with a technical background for reasons such as communicating with the development team in a language that they can easily understand.  Simply put, it is much easier for a technical product manager to make progress on a smaller team.  

How Complicated is Your Product?

Does your product have dozens of features or only a few?  The more complicated your product is the more benefit will come from having the experience of a technical product manager.  Each individual feature can have varying degrees of complication when talking about design and operation.  The more complicated your product is the more comfortable your product manager will need to be with complicated technology to be truly effective.  

How Important is Your Tech Stack?

Depending on the purpose of your product the tech stack could end up being quite important.  I know javascript has taken the world by storm (and I’m a fan), but due to its lack of strong typing when it comes to variables it can be tricky to work with heavy numbers or computations.  You may want a heavier more robust language for something like that.  While it is possible to understand these lessons on paper, it does make a difference if you’ve experienced them yourself.  A technical product manager has experienced these issues personally and as such would be better suited for understanding the pros and cons of each approach intimately well.  

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Being too Close to the Product Can be Counterproductive

Like we stated earlier, a product manager’s primary goal is to make the product successful.  It can be very easy to lose sight of this if the product manager is writing code!  Engineering is another world that effective product managers have majorly graduated from.  They still understand the principles and the difference between good and bad engineering, but a product manager should not be that close to the actual building of the product.  If the technical product manager is involved in code review they are more of a development manager.  A product manager needs to be more high level than that.  Getting too close to building the product will render the purpose of the product manager ineffective.  I would argue that the most important role of a product manager is to make the product successful, which to me means making the company money.  Your product making your company money is typically pretty far removed from writing code.

If you’d like to learn more about product management or talk more about the services I offer as a product management consultant please feel free to reach out to me at sean@nxtstep.io.  Keep disrupting.

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