Whether you are an engineer or a product manager (PM), you are part of a product team. As engineers are technical, PMs need to have certain “technical skills” to work effectively in building a great product. But what are these technical skills? On July 31st, Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) hosted a panel discussion on technical skills for PMs, sponsored by Sift Science. The panel featured Megan Mann (Product Manager at Sift Science), Akshay Kannan (Product Manager at Google), and Pranava Adduri (Founding Engineer at Rubrik) and the discussion was moderated by Neetika Bansal (Engineering Manager, Stripe). Here are some key insights from a few questions asked.
Is technical experience necessary for Product Managers?
This depends on the product you work on. Some products are more technical depending on the end user. Thus it’s important to be open to learning the technical skills that relates to your product. Great product managers are always curious, asks questions to get clarity, and aim to holistically understand their product. In building your technical skills, it is also important to connect with the right engineers as no one person would know everything. There are certain products that require fewer technical skills, however, PMs are often expected to have a basic understanding of the software development process to work effectively.
How do you get clarity in building technical products?
Lack of clarity can impact team efficiency, culture, as well as product quality, and delivery timeline. Achieving clarity in all areas of the product cycle is necessary to maintain high team productivity and remain focused on development goals. Make sure you understand the product requirements and ask the engineers questions where you need further clarity to complete the feature specs. Great product managers often leave the teams motivated to work. Clarity on requirements is the most important thing you can do for the people that you are working with.
What’s an example where collaboration with engineers was not successful?
Submitting to a 50-page product requirement document (PRD) with super detailed requirements, that’s fully designed and laid out. This is very ineffective as it’s likely has many incorrect assumptions and far from an minimum viable product version (MVP). You should write a concise spec with wireframe designs vetted by a few customers before sharing it with engineers to iterate product & feature PRDs further. As the product manager, you should always communicate with all relevant stakeholders in your organization to test all assumptions.
In what situations has technical skills helped you the most?
Technical skills are often very helpful in prioritizing and triage product issues & bugs. As product manager, it’s important to understand the technical issues & limitations of your product to effectively prioritize roadmap efforts. Furthermore, great product leaders are data driven in their decision, and this often requires a technical skill set in properly measuring and understanding customer engagement and behavior with your products. Technical skills are also valuable in having detailed product discussions with engineers. Engineers often like to speak technically, and effective PMs can map the technical product capability to features that meet customer use cases.
When hiring product managers, how do you test the technical skills?
In testing the technical skills for PMs, communication is often the 1st check. It’s important to determine if a PM can connect well with engineering teams and is able to cohesively articulate feature requirements. Additionally, it’s important to understand if the candidate can grasp the technical capability of the product and has some domain expertise to connect with customers. To vet the skills, interview questions are often based around their prior work experiences & past projects. Technical skill set questions are often designed to see if the candidate understands the value and designs of building APIs, Integrations, and can work through a solution to a problem end to end while going into a technical level of detail necessary to define a PRD.
Advice from Our Panelist:
Don’t over think it.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t forget you’re the customers advocate.
Don’t waste your engineers time because they are the most constrained resource in your company.
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