Written by Rikki Kazmierowicz
Experience: 15+ years
Skills: Coding ninja, engineering team leader, systems analyst, software designer, technical magician.
Personality: Data driven, meticulous, logical, excellent at devising solutions from complex challenges.
Opinion: Knowledge is power. The more technical the PM, the better.
Experience: 15+ years
Skills: Product strategist, expert startup and business developer, marketing ninja, entrepreneur.
Personality: No nonsense, laid back, kind, intelligent, direct, transformative.
Opinion: For a PM, general business skills can be more valuable than coding/technical skills.
As it turns out, there are two methods of thought. We’ll present the facts and opinions, and let you decide.
Did you know that only 5% of product managers know how to code, but 60% believe an increase in technical training would help them be more successful? As a PM, the more experiences you are capable of drawing from to evaluate criteria as it relates to your product line, the better. The truth is, the product manager job can be done more successfully with a deep understanding of the engineering process.
A good PM grasps basic logic: “if this, then that”. He should be able to confidently answer questions like:
A product manager should be able to easily follow the workflows and logical trains built into an application. A PM’s role is vision and strategy… which translates to objectives. If a PM doesn’t understand logic, they can’t provide direction on how an objective might come to fruition.
A PM should be able to understand the challenges and risks around the development of a given product (i.e. what will it take to make this product successful?) He should understand the technologies involved and the maturity and/or vendors within them.
For example, let’s say we’re trying to build a cloud based service. A product manager that knows what service offerings AWS, Microsoft and Google have, and what firebase is and how it plays into the Google ecosystem on a fundamental level (i.e. what they are + what services they provide) is invaluable.
A knowledgeable PM is able to do research around how service providers can meet the needs of his product. A PM that has the ability to view the product with a wide angle lens, can more easily provide vision for his team. A technically inclined PM can leverage their knowledge to provide business conscious solutions as well. (i.e. what is the best solution for a project’s budget?)
An engineer answers the question that was asked of him, regardless of whether or not it provides the PM with the information he was truly interested in. This isn’t the engineer’s fault, he isn’t trying to evade the PM he’s simply answering the question as it was formulated. A technically knowledgeable PM will have the frame of reference and context necessary to ask explicit, intelligent questions and formulate meaningful responses.
Should a PM have technical skills? Should he know how to code? Or are emotional skills for a product manager more valuable? Would you be satisfied with an answer like; “it depends on the product”? In reality, it’s situational. There are different types of products in the world. If you put a low-tech PM on a highly technical product, it could be completely debilitating. However, a PM that’s worth his salt in every other way will self select off of a technical product – he’d be miserable doing it.
A product’s client base is what matters. If a PM loves his product he will master the foundational competency required to run his product line and pursue product market fit. He’ll dig into his user’s pain points through customer interviews and user testing, and he’ll be energized and enthused to create a product roadmap and strategy that produces results. There are many consumer and business products created for an increasingly unsophisticated software person. These product lines are where the less technical, intelligent PM, with excellent general management and soft skills will thrive.
Did you know that 80% of new products fail? A successful PM will focus his attention on the most important question: Are we making money?
A product line should be making money now or losing money intentionally due to the expectation of growth down the road. A PM’s role as the general manager is to evaluate a customer’s expectations and build an actionable strategy to deliver a product that satisfies the customer’s requirements, within the technology, timeframe and, above all, budget constraints.
Can a PM fire anyone on the team? If you answered yes, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. You’ve been told that a PM is the CEO or VP of the product by countless individuals perpetuating the mischaracterization of expectations. A PM has no power to fire the team, the CEO or any stakeholders.
In all honesty, product managers often utilize a very political and machiavellian way of influencing a decision maker. According to a study from the 280 Group, 30% of product managers cite internal politics as their biggest challenge. Building a great product requires advanced relationship management skills. It doesn’t matter if the PM is the most technical member of the team. If he cannot communicate and get buy-in from decision makers, his product line won’t succeed.
The product manager handles a continuously moving body, a broad vision, stakeholders with different priorities and every element in between. He is successful when he ensures that each and every aspect of his product and team is firing perfectly.
Written by Rikki Kazmierowicz