Can a non-technical product manager do justice to his job? Or should one hire a tech-oriented product manager? And the answer is yes. Product managers can perform their tasks well if they are passionate. Moreover, with some practice and interest, they can develop technical skills over time.
As a product manager, if you plan to work in the software industry, having a technical background will benefit you. However, technicality cannot be a hurdle in your way to success. Product management is a role where it can backfire if you cannot balance your skills and role.
This article will help you clear all of your queries regarding technical PM and how vital these degrees are in the PM profession. So let’s have a look into the argument.
- What does it mean to be a technical product manager?
- Product Manager vs. Technical Product Manager
- What do you need to understand without a technical background?
- Benefits to being a technical product manager
What does it mean to be a technical product manager?
The tech-oriented product manager is not a role but a person. He is a software engineer who is interested in product management. He understands and performs the technical tasks in their jobs. Moreover, they can understand the technical requirement and prioritize the features according to them.
According to their employer, tech product managers can come from different educational backgrounds and promote products.
However, prospective technical PMs often start their education by earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business administration, computer science, or engineering. Students can benefit from undergraduate classes in marketing, communications, economics, advertising, and statistics.
Product Manager vs. Technical Product Manager
Whether a non-technical product manager or technical, they have the same jobs and responsibilities. But, here, you can spot some significant differences between them.
- Product managers are focused on customers and involved in creating the overall product strategy. On the other hand, technical guys are more engrossed in capabilities and how their products work and tend to be.
- Product managers usually cooperate with many departments and non-technical team members. They work with sales, support, marketers, project managers and collaborate with external partners. Subsequently, technical product managers collaborate closely with internal technical teams, like developers, engineers, and testers.
- Doing professional research, product managers study the competitive landscape from a strategic business and go-to-market perspective. Alternatively, tech-oriented product managers think more about emerging development and technology trends and evaluate competitors for capability-oriented.
- Usually, the educational background of the product manager may consist of a degree in business. On the other hand, technical PMs are more likely to have engineering or computer science degrees.
Moreover, they use their technical skills to improve planning and prioritization. If there is a clear understanding of how the product is created, managers can assess the risks of some features or understand the duration of tasks.
What do you need to understand without a technical background?
A technical background is a common path to a product management career. Many new PMs come after earning degrees in computer science, software application, and mechanical systems. Having technical skills is a plus point, but sometimes the PM can conflict with the engineering team due to minor mistakes or superiority. However, if you don’t belong to a technical background, you can still make a difference.
As a non-technical product manager, you work longer with your development and design teams. You will start to understand patterns like who works quickly, who does not, who tends to overestimate their timelines, and who writes code quickly but needs extra code reviews due to frequent bugs, etc.
At the beginning of the project, you should always communicate with any direct stakeholders involved to get their perspectives. Moreover, don’t play the hero who tries to estimate for the entire team. You may not have the full context around technical limitations and challenges during the development process.
Recognizing the logic behind technical issues does not mean you need to figure out and implement the exact solutions yourself.
The initial step should be to identify and map out all user flows in your product. So you can more easily trace any user issues to the underlying problems.
Mapping out these flows will create a “mind maze” in your head. So, you will be able to identify components of a product that might get affected whenever new features are added.
As a product manager, you will have to help in sorting out a lot of potential issues. Try not to become a middle man who identifies defects and forward them to the engineering team. To maintain your respect, try to understand the cause and effect.
Develop technical curiosity
Does technical curiosity demand a technical background? No, if you aim to sit down with the engineering team to understand your product technology stack, you can.
In the future, with any onboard projects, you should try to set aside time to speak with your engineers about implementation details to have the context around tradeoffs that may arise, or you need to think about it.
Another thing that a product manager should focus on is the SQL information. Figure out where your product data is stored and get a sense of how product logs are structured.
Benefits to being a technical product manager
As a technical manager, you are more likely to get in conflict with the engineering team. But, in an attempt to avoid crowding technical skills in your product manager role, do not overlook utilizing your skills when needed. Here are some benefits of having a technical background. Let’s walk through them.
As a product manager, you will always come across tons of opportunities that you need to prioritize. To fulfill this task, you need to know the technical log.
Some people believe that it is entirely the technical team’s job. But, we think that as a product manager, you need to make a hypothesis on the tech blog.
It will help avoid you going back and forth to the technical team in the day and save your team’s time. The idea is not to estimate the workload yourself all the time, but rather to avail yourself of the opportunity to prove a moon shot in your career.
Give a better understanding regarding task, process, and stakeholders’ expectations.
It is the foremost benefit of having a technical background. A product manager will give you a more accurate view of what will be required to build the product according to the strategic plan you have set in your product roadmap.
If you can only understand the market and customers’ needs, lots of product development will remain a mystery to you.
You will have to rely on the technical team and take their help to make a budget. Moreover, you will have to ask the time product will take to come into existence. Furthermore, you will not be able to prioritize the features.
So, having a technical background gives you insight into processes which is sometimes essential for a successful product and strong team.
Data analysis has become a vital part of every profession so, product management. As a product manager, it is part of your job to figure out problems. So analyzing product data usage is crucial.
Sometimes you do not have a data analyst with you 24 hours 7. To get it done by yourself, you need to have some technical information and SQL knowledge. Basic SQL knowledge is a great way to be autonomous in this activity.
Making technical tradeoffs
A basic understanding of your product’s technical architecture is key to making these tradeoffs as a product manager. Let’s suppose you are working on analytical features. Now you will wonder what the acceptable refresh delay is. Should the analytics be real-time?
However, these questions have huge technical consequences. So to make these tradeoffs, you need to understand the technicalities and how it works.
Identify technical mistakes
If you are a non-technical PM responsible for making technical software, here starts your actual test. However, your development team will tell you that the theme you ask for will take 3 months and require delicate resources.
Except that they cannot start working right now as they are working on something else and you are still unsatisfied.
As a non-technical product manager, you will never understand if they are correct about their assessment. You can know if this product will take 3 months to code if you have technical knowledge. You will be able to scent out the problems and tell them. This way, you can do this.
It gives a better understanding of the industry, market, and upcoming trends
If you are a software product manager, you must have repeatedly heard about NoSQL debates. Now, you will be wondering how it can affect your product or if it has anything to do with your product or not. Many queries can arise in your mind regarding new technology.
Having some technical knowledge here will be valuable. As a technical product manager, you will better understand and spot technological development in the industry. Moreover, you will better figure out opportunities and threats that might affect your product and the company’s bottom line.
A technical product manager can play a big game with his skills, but it would be to say non-technical managers cannot make a difference. However, technical skills can help a PM in prioritization, road-mapping, and debugging.
Both types of PMs have to play the same responsibilities. Whether you get some insight into the development process or a better understanding regarding the market and customer, both managers can do justice to their jobs.