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Why Product Managers should be Technical AND Why they shouldn’t be

We have had numerous posts on what the role of a Product Manager is and what are the major skills a Product Manager should possess. (Refer my take on the skills – 3 Most Important Product Management Skills) With all the articles there are a number of disclaimers, and roles in reality differ from most of the descriptions.

Some organizations refer to Product Managers as Marketing professionals others refer to them as technical managers and most companies keep them in between as Techno-Business professionals who are somewhere in between. Let’s refer to the Techno-Business professional image of Product Managers for this article.

“Product Managers take ownership of a Product or Product line and are responsible for Strategy, road-mapping, feature definition and overall P&L or success of the Product” (Reference – What is the role of a product manager?)

Why Product Managers should have Technical Skills?

#1 They realize the complexity of alternatives

Product Management and Product Implementation in general have common timeline pressures and business objectives at times can be realized via multiple alternatives. A Product Manager who is technically well aware can plan roll out of complex features based highest priority needs. Often this is a collaboration exercise, but Product Managers can early on reduce the to and fro.

#2 Communicate Technical Challenges

Product Managers need to communicate technical challenges across business teams or external stakeholders. Having an in depth understanding of the challenge can make these communications more smooth.

#3 Smoothly Win the trust of the development team

Techies trust techies, wining the trust of the development team can be an uphill challenge for non-techies. Understanding technical challenges and empathizing with technical challenges, planning technical work arounds can greatly increase the harmony of the Product and Tech team.

#4 Scrutinize release & Quality expectations (optional)

When Product Managers are technical they don’t have to listen to generic engineering excuses. They can in fact dive into the challenges and demand for better resolution or work arounds. In cases, better collaboration can happen and resolution or workarounds can be planned together.

#5 Be the true face of the Product

When they are technical they can be the perfect face of the product, representing the product to external stakeholders. Understand integration or partnership challenges on the go and seek engineering help at the right points.

The word of Caution

As a word of caution it is important for Product Managers who have technical understanding to realize that they are currently distant from a lot of technical details. A requirement might seem too small in terms of complexity, but internally there might be a number of dependencies and regression issues that make it much more complex. Its important to keep yourself grounded in the role you are currently playing and use your understanding as well realizing that you are not managing things technically anymore.

Mohammed Jamil Nasir
Nasir manages Products, by providing business oriented technology solutions. He is at the center of discussions ranging from a long-term vision or competitive strategy, or improving business processes, or a client demo, or the right marketing strategy, to, project delivery commitments, or improving UX, or technical architecture, or recruiting developers. He has a Global MBA from S P Jain, Engineering in Computer Science, 6 years of work experience and a flair for writing & poetry.