As a product manager, you play a critical role in the success of the product and team you manage.
The responsibilities of a product manager can vary widely and can be different company to company but in general all aspects of product development, from defining the product's strategy and setting goals, to conducting market research and collaborating with cross-functional teams all come under the purview of a PM.
Given you’re working with technical people daily, it is natural to wonder how technical a product manager actually needs to be.
And do I need to invest more of my valuable time in brushing up my tech skills?
In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of having basic technical knowledge as a product manager, the importance of technical knowledge in the role, and what level of technical expertise is necessary for success.
We’ll also discuss some good resources for those PMs out there looking to upgrade their skills.
If you’re in a rush, the short answer is this:
It’s not strictly required to be technical to be a product manager but there are many aspects of product management that would be improved with even a basic technical understanding.
Technical knowledge informs better decision making
A product manager is responsible for overseeing the entire product development process and ensuring the product meets the needs of the target audience.
This includes defining the product's vision, setting goals and objectives, creating a product roadmap, conducting market research, and working closely with cross-functional teams to bring the product to market etc.
The product manager is the voice of the customer, and they must have a deep understanding of the target audience and the market to ensure the product is successful.
The product manager must also be able to communicate effectively with the technical team, including software engineers, designers, and others, to ensure the product is developed as intended and meets the needs of the target audience.
One of the key benefits of having technical knowledge as a product manager is the ability to make informed decisions.
A basic understanding of the technology behind the product can help the product manager understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology, and make informed decisions about the product's features and functionality.
For example, if the product involves developing software, a product manager with a background in software engineering will have a better understanding of the development process and the various programming languages used.
This knowledge can help the product manager make informed decisions about the product's strategy and direction.
A PM with limited or no technical knowledge might unwittingly take the wrong course of action that could ultimately waste time or put your product on the back foot.
Technical knowledge enables better communication
Another benefit of having technical knowledge is the ability to communicate effectively with the technical team.
A product manager who has a basic understanding of the technology can understand the technical jargon used by the team and can ask informed questions.
This leads to a smoother and more effective collaboration between the product manager and the technical team, and can help ensure the product is developed as intended.
The product manager and the technical team must work together to bring the product to market, and effective communication is key to success.
Developers don’t expect PMs to be able to code what they’re requesting themselves but their respect for you will rise if they can see you have clearly considered some of the technical nuances before bringing the request to them.
If the technical team members have to repeatedly explain to you what an API is then it can waste valuable time and might get tedious after a while.
So having enough technical knowledge to outline your ideas, discuss them with the team and ask the right questions will go a long way in your product management careers.
Technical knowledge helps you bette understand your market
Technical knowledge can also help a product manager understand the market they are operating in.
For example, if the product is related to artificial intelligence, a product manager with a background in AI will have a better understanding of the market trends and can make informed decisions about the product's strategy.
The product manager must have a deep understanding of the market and the target audience to ensure the product is successful, and technical knowledge can help with this understanding.
However, it is important to note that technical knowledge is not the only factor that contributes to the success of a product manager.
A product manager with a strong business background can bring a unique perspective to the role and can be equally successful.
You must be able to think creatively and strategically, and must be able to communicate effectively with cross-functional teams.
A strong business background, a deep understanding of the market, and the ability to think creatively are all important qualities for a product manager.
However, adding more technical knowledge means you might see something a non-technical PM might not. And given your chosen field/market this might make all the difference in the long run.
Technical knowledge helps you better prioritize bugs
Having solid technical knowledge can help you better prioritize bugs and ensure that your team is working on the most critical issues first.
It is essential to prioritize bugs effectively to ensure the product is functioning optimally and minimize the impact on your users.
When you have technical knowledge as a product manager, you have a better understanding of the tech behind your product and can assess the impact of a bug on the user experience.
This allows you to prioritize bugs based on the severity of the issue and the impact it has on the user.
For example, a bug that causes the product to crash frequently will have a higher priority than a cosmetic issue that does not affect the functionality of the product.
Additionally, technical knowledge allows you to understand the complexity of fixing a bug.
Some bugs may require a simple fix, while others may be more complex and require a significant amount of development time.
By understanding the complexity of fixing a bug, you can prioritize bugs based on the effort required to fix them and the impact they have on the user.
This allows you to balance the time and resources spent fixing bugs with the overall goals and objectives of the product.
Having technical knowledge also enables you to have informed conversations with the technical team about bugs and their priorities.
You can understand the technical jargon used by the team and can ask informed questions about the feasibility of fixing a bug and the estimated time required.
This leads to a smoother and more effective collaboration between the product manager and the technical team, and can help ensure the most critical bugs are fixed first.
Another way to speed up your bug prioritization is by using Jam.
This tool allows you and your team to capture bugs with all the necessary info to prioritize in one place.
When you screen or video capture you can include repro steps, console and network logs and even voiceover.
Having all in this one place ensures everyone can clearly understand the bug in an instant and prioritize it quickly.
So, how technical does a product manager actually need to be?
The answer is that it depends on the specific role and the product you are working on.
For some product managers, a deep understanding of software engineering may be necessary.
For others, a basic understanding of technology may be sufficient.
The level of technical knowledge required will depend on the nature of the product, the company, and the team.
A product manager must have sufficient technical knowledge to make informed decisions, communicate effectively with the technical team, and understand the market they are operating in.
It’s clear that the more knowledge here the better in the long run so if in doubt it’s better to overshoot than undershoot.
However, it’s really not necessary to have a background in engineering or technology to be successful as a product manager.
How can a product manager improve their technical knowledge?
It is important to note that technical knowledge can be gained through experience and continuous learning.
A product manager who is not initially technical can work to develop their technical knowledge through on-the-job training, attending workshops and conferences, and seeking mentorship from technical experts.
With the fast pace of technological change, it is also essential for product managers to stay current with emerging technologies and developments in the field.
Here are some good options for PM’s looking to improve their technical knowledge:
CodeAcademy: Is good for learning the basic syntax of a particular language. I personally recommend the SQL and Python courses. These are also good for data analysis.
Udemy: Has literally thousands of courses on pretty much every topic. Find the ones most relevant to your field/market and spend some time going through the courses.
Coursera: Similar to Udemy but more formal and run by universities.
Your employer may cover the cost of some of the above (or have similar sites they use) or give you time to self-study. Discuss it with your manager, if not it’s still worthwhile to self-study in your own time.
The best way to improve your technical knowledge is to actually build your own product.
This could be a simple website, app or video game.
Actually going through the full process from the ground up will give you a good perspective when approaching future projects.
Technical knowledge is an important aspect of the PM role, but it is not the only factor that contributes to success.
A product manager must have a deep understanding of the product development process, the market, and the target audience, and must be able to think creatively and communicate effectively with cross-functional teams.
The level of technical knowledge required will depend on the specific product and the team, but technical knowledge can be gained through experience and continuous learning.
Whether you are an experienced product manager or just starting out, it is essential to continually upskill your knowledge to ensure success in the long run.