After acting as the technical product manager for Series A software companies and developing my own software company, I've learned a lot of what the job entails. I'm also a silent partner of Product Manager HQ, one of the largest product communities (28,000+members).
In recent years, the product management role has been evolving and covering more responsibilities than what it traditionally did.
That’s expected. After all, the more products evolve, the better product management needed.
But contrary to what many think, technical product managers are needed in many different industries -- not only in the tech industry.
The reason is this technical know-how makes a huge difference when it comes to understanding how to bring products into the market, which is an important aspect of the project management job in every industry.
What Does a Technical Product Manager Do?
A technical product manager does product management with a focus on engineering. A big part of the technical product management job is translating business requirements into technical requirements. They can be considered a bridge between the strategy side and the technological side of the company.
The Three Faces of Product Management
The product management role includes three main functions:
- Product strategy
- Product marketing
- Technical product management
The product strategy part of product management entails outlining “where” a company is going. This is the visionary component, which helps the company achieve its business goals.
The second function, product marketing, involves understanding and communicating “why” customers will succeed with the product. This element of product management is about perceiving users’ needs and positioning the product accordingly.
Technical product management, in turn, engages in “how” to bring the product to the market. It entails the engineering and development part of the product.
In small companies, one or two people wear all these hats. In this case, product managers must have diversified knowledge that allows them to cover these three functions.
As companies grow, the need for more specialized people appears. That’s when you will see one person (or more) dedicated to each branch of product management.
Some highly technical products, that involve complex processes, need a technical product manager right from the beginning. After all, technical product managers are skilled traditional product managers with a technology background. Let’s dive deeper:
Technical Product Manager vs. Traditional Product Manager
In practice, the main difference between a traditional product manager and a technical product manager lies in their background.
While traditional product managers tend to have sales, marketing, management, communications, or economics background; technical product managers come from an engineering, computer science, or development background.
Technical Product Manager Job Description
Being more involved in the development part of the product doesn’t necessarily mean being less involved in the strategy part of the product.
The “technical” part of the job title just means that the candidates’ background will allow them to take a different approach to the job’s challenges. The tech inclination should be just a plus -- unless you have several specialized product managers.
Technical product managers have different mixes of the following responsibilities:
- Be the face of customers by understanding and representing their needs and product requirements
- Analyze competitors’ products and explore new ways to improve the company’s products
- Work with the development team to ensure that product requirements are understood
- Translate product’s strategy into detailed requirements for prototype construction and final product development
- Define the product vision, product roadmap, and product strategy
- Support engineer team to ensure customer satisfaction goals are met
- Work within a software development methodology like Agile
- Coordinate product releases with marketing, sales, and engineering teams
- Ensure that user story content and prioritization is aligned to larger strategic objectives
Keep in mind that a technical product manager’s job description might involve different responsibilities depending on:
- The size of the product team
- The industry that the company operates
- The capability of the engineering team
Balancing out these three aspects will also help you to understand what specific qualifications you need to look for in a candidate.
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Technical Product Manager
Hiring product managers with deep technology expertise have many advantages, but it can also have negative points.
A product manager with a technical background is not always better than a product manager with no technical expertise.
Whether or not your product manager should have technical skills depends on the size of your business’ particularities. Let me help you to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks:
Advantages of Hiring a PM with a Technical Background
1. A technical background gives product managers the ability to understand tech trends in the industry and how they affect the roadmap.
2. Technical PMs are subject matters experts on technical challenges and can do a deeper competitive analysis.
3. Technical expertise improves communication with the development and engineering team, increasing credibility and trust.
Disadvantages of Hiring a PM with Technical Background
1. Hiring a PMs with a technical background represents a risk that they become too specialized in technical solutions and neglect the other responsibilities of the job.
2. A product manager with technical development enthusiasm might end up becoming over-involved with the engineering team.
3. The technical background might represent a weaker business knowledge, which can have a negative influence on the strategy and marketing functions of the job.
How to Hire a Technical Product Manager
Hiring a technical product manager is not a simple process.
There’s not a general recipe that works in every case. As mentioned, each product has a different management particularity and corresponding interview questions.
Overall, successful technical product managers have a high level of education in the technology field with experience on the business side, preferably, in facing customers to address their needs.
There are a few aspects that can help you find the cream of the crop. Let’s dive into the qualification aspects that companies look for in technical product managers:
A technical background is the first thing you should consider when evaluating a candidate. Most companies hiring for the TPM position require a degree in Engineering, Computer Science, Information technology, or a related field. Keep in mind that some people don’t have a technical degree but have equivalent experience -- it’s rare but it happens.
Strong Business Acumen
Even though the role involves a lot of technology responsibilities, it is still a product management position. Being successful in the position requires the ability to understand company strategy and economic drivers. To ensure that the candidate has a strong understanding of the business side, some companies even require an MBA (or equivalent job experience).
Excellent Communication Skills
The technical product manager translates the strategy into the execution. This involves communicating with strictly business-minded people and with strictly technical-minded people -- and ensuring that both sides have the needs fulfilled in an optimal way. It is key that TPM is comfortable getting into deep technical discussions with engineers (and users) about the pros and cons of different approaches.
Every product manager must be a champion in solving customer’s problems. Understanding and empathizing with who the product is serving is key to thrive in this position. A technical product manager must be able to identify the technical aspects that can contribute to the user’s success -- and this happens through direct communication with the users.
Since technical product managers operate in a dynamic environment, they must have experience determining the best course of action based on the whole. You should look for a proven ability to break down barriers to improve interactions and efficiency. Being able to develop scalable and performance-driven control platforms is a must.
These are all traits that form excellent technical product managers.
But remember to evaluate your company’s own needs to understand what to look for in a technical product manager.
Every need you currently have related to the product must be balanced out with the candidate’s capabilities. All forming a perfect equation.
Technical product managers fill in a crucial gap in product development.
From technical savvy to user empathy, a technical product manager who masters users’ needs, product development, and everything in between will be crucial to any organization working to grow.