Handling the technical side of product development and management involves both in-depth technical knowledge and a natural ability to lead product teams. That's where product manager technical skills come in.
The technical product manager role is the backbone of a company’s developmental framework. This means that anyone who fills the PM role needs to have ample technical product management skills.
If you’re looking to make a career in technical product management, keep reading.
In this article, we’ll look at the primary skills required from technical product managers, including some job responsibilities.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
The 10 Primary Product Manager Technical Skills
The actual technical product manager skill set depends on the industry in which they’re managing product development.
Here, we’ll keep our primary focus fixed on technical product managers in the software development space.
Here are the top 10 product management skills that any technical product manager should possess:
1) Product Roadmap Development Oversight
Any agile product needs a streamlined roadmap from inception to completion, and a product manager is the one to create such a roadmap.
Product managers create a complete roadmap that includes processes that come before and after the production phase of a product lifecycle.
Technical product managers are more focused on roadmap development. They look more into the actual development aspect of the product and create a roadmap just for that phase.
- Identifying product objectives (market research)
- Product backlog prioritization
- Identifying optimal building/development processes
- Mentioning top product requirements
- Performing feasibility analysis
Additionally, technical managers may get directly involved with the development team in the design-specific development phase, such as during UI/UX design.
All of this points to high-level product lifecycle knowledge.
2) Agile Methodology Knowledge
Almost the entire SaaS product management and successful product managers today are based on the Agile methodology.
In such an ecosystem, all new products are made by cross-functional teams that have different goals and priorities but are able to work in sync towards a common goal.
The agile approach involves continuous learning, planning, personal and departmental improvement, collaboration, consistent development, and streamlined deliveries.
In terms of core values, Agile is based on:
- Interacting with teams and individuals, instead of using tools and processes
- Operational software, instead of comprehensive documentation
- Collaborating with customers, instead of negotiating contracts
- Responding to change instead of following plans
Some companies that use the agile approach have a development framework that involves development and testing at the same time, instead of the traditional waterfall approach.
As this methodology gains more traction, we’ll no doubt see additional aspects of product management converting to Agile-based.
3) Product Research
Product research is important for product managers since it helps them understand the impact it’ll have on the market and the potential audience for it. It helps to understand the target audience and explore their needs, likes, dislikes, as well as the amount of money they’d be willing to pay for the product.
The research has to be customer-centric and, it’s often the only aspect of a technical product manager’s job that requires them to think outside of the development sphere.
In terms of specific skill aspects, product research includes:
- Knowing buyers on a personal level
- Defining a ‘quality’ product
- Discovering similar product examples
- Determining the most valuable product features
Additionally, product research ensures that each new iteration of the product will address secondary and tertiary customer needs.
Less technical product management roles are always more inclined towards research, as compared to technical PMs.
Prototyping is the primary design verification stage in software product development; technical product managers have a huge role to play in this.
The prototyping process includes developing and testing the UX design, demonstrating its capabilities, and testing it in real-world usage scenarios.
PMs create the prototyping guidelines and the aforementioned scenarios. They do this by brainstorming all the possible use cases according to the user personas as well as product features.
Reasons for mastering this skill include:
- Satisfying senior stakeholders
- Getting a practical design demonstration
- Exposing potential flaws and UX shortcomings
- Collecting valuable user and stakeholder feedback
5) A/B Testing
A/B testing is where the managers find the real-world viability and effectiveness of the product. It is the most important post-development phase.
PMs need to be able to know the effective features of the product without having to launch the final product and receive negative feedback.
This is where A/B testing comes in. This ability allows PMs to scientifically prove which iteration of the product will be more successful, triangulate the features that audiences approve of, and implement them.
A/B testing can be performed on:
- UX design features
- Marketing campaigns
- Different pricing models
- Product feature lists
Depending on the company, PMs may also define the parameters and outcomes of the testing.
6) Data Analysis and Extraction
A product manager has to explain the product to various people and convince them to sign off on it.
This includes all the internal and external stakeholders, including the product team, developers, and even senior managers. This is where data, numbers, and metrics come in.
Data competency is a technical skill that all PMs should possess. However, it’s vital for technical PMs, since they need it to support their hypotheses and projections.
Data competency for product managers includes:
- Identifying valuable and necessary data
- Extracting required data
- Analyzing data for potential insights
- Presenting data in an easy-to-understand manner
Microsoft SQL is the primary software used for data management in most software development settings. PMs generally have a basic understanding of SQL and can use it for various product types.
7) Data Collection and Management
Data competency is an umbrella skill that includes all aspects of handling data. However, in some cases, collecting data to support product-related arguments is a skill in itself.
This is due to the variable and ever-changing nature of the audience, the general product market, and customer attitudes.
Knowing how to collect data, and that too from the right places can help streamline a product manager’s job to a tremendous degree.
Data collection and management include:
- Establishing parameters for required data
- Setting up data management tools on the developer end
- Turning raw data into visual representations
- Creating reports and papers using finalized data
The aforementioned SQL will help you collect data from multiple sources according to pre-set filters. After that, it’s just a matter of using tools such as Amplitude and Tableau to convert raw data into engaging visuals.
Coding as a skill is not mandatory for a technical product manager. This is due to the extremely focused nature of it, combined with the fact that it doesn’t relate to management.
However, learning how to code can help product managers streamline the programming process to a high degree, making the lives of the product teams much easier.
Knowing how to code will also help managers communicate better with the software engineering team since they practically speak the language.
Understanding coding entails:
- Knowing the principles of coding
- The technology used in it
- The fundamentals of prevalent coding technologies
- The role of different code snippets in the overall backend design
PMs can understand coding by learning about their technology stack. This includes all the applications, servers, types of code, and databases being used to develop and manage the software product.
9) Technical Writing
The features, specifications, and other product details need to be documented at every single point during the product lifecycle.
This requires knowledge and experience in technical writing. While good writing skills are often enough for rudimentary product documentation, maintaining a full written log of the product helps the non-technical staff understand the product.
Technical writing involves breaking down complex, jargon-heavy product details into easy-to-understand concepts that the board of directors or senior management can understand.
- Planning document creation
- Collecting high-value information
- Converting complex concepts into simple English for everyone to follow
- Formatting documents into simple layouts
- Creating visual aids
Effective technical writing is all about taking high-value facts, arranging them in order of informational priority, and organizing them into a document.
Some companies have technical documentation specialists for this role, but in most cases, it’s the technical PM’s job role that requires this skill.
10) Product Marketing
In the traditional sense, product marketing only includes selling the product to the audience, increasing the number of users by presenting the product in an interesting light.
In the modern sense, it means being able to get everyone, including company personnel, to agree on the product and its viability. This is perhaps the most important skill in the technical product manager’s arsenal.
Understanding marketing fundamentals include:
- Positioning the product in an optimal market space
- Branding (turning the product into an idea everyone can relate to)
- Knowing how to create the optimal user experience
- Understanding product reach and maximizing it
It’s important to remember that despite the term ‘technical’ being attached to the job role, the product manager needs to understand business objectives and ultimately drive growth for the company.
In light of this, PMs need to diversify their skill sets to the point where they understand where their audience is, how to reach them, and with what product features to use as the hook.
Technical Product Manager Soft Skills
Although the technical side of product management doesn’t require many soft skills, a product manager should still have some.
- Communication skills: A manager needs to communicate the technical parts of the product strategy to the engineering team and to make sure the developers are on the same page in terms of product features. All of this requires excellent communication skills on the manager’s part.
- Interpersonal skills: These tie in with communication skills and managers should be able to communicate design concepts and ideas to the product and sales team members. Regardless of the technical nature, any managerial role requires interpersonal skills.
- Attention to detail: Software products are complicated by default. Any technical PM responsible for one will need to have a sharp eye for detail, especially while installing features and debugging a This is to ensure a smooth product launch and positive customer feedback throughout the product lifecycle.
- Audience affinity: A senior product manager’s ability to relate to the product’s target audience often sets the difference between a great product and one that doesn’t survive past the first iteration.
- Project management: One aspect of the PM’s job is managing design and development tasks just like a project. PMs employed in startups and SMEs often have to run their development programs as a singular leader. This requires project management with effective time management and accurate decision-making skills.
Additional Technical Product Manager Skills
- Product ownership: A technical product owner is a relatively new concept in the software product development world. It involves maximizing the product’s value in the eyes of the audience. This is another skill that PMs in smaller companies need to possess since they are the prime representatives of the product.
- Effective leadership: A technical PM’s job is not limited to overseeing the development side of things. They have to rally the rest of the product team and bring them on the same page in terms of how the product should perform and the overall product vision. Good leadership skills will also help them manage a cross-functional team structure.
- Time management: There are very few instances when companies don’t have product deadlines. In most cases, product teams need to be hyper-efficient with the time spent on the product, and it’s the PM’s job to make sure everyone is being as efficient as possible with their tasks.
In addition to these, technical PMs need to know the product and its greater impact.
Technical Product Manager Qualifications
Technical product managers are different from standard PMs in the way that they require more technical qualifications to be able to land a product manager job.
This is due to the more practical and hands-on nature of the role.
Here are some of the primary qualifications of a technical product manager:
- Advanced degree (MBA) in product management, project management, or computer science
- Undergraduate degree in product management, software development, or programming.
- Advanced diploma in technical product development and management, or information technology.
- Any other technical qualification from a vocational institute.
- Relevant field experience as either a junior technical PM or product team member (developer, tester, data scientist, UI/UX designers, and more).
On top of this, it’s always great to have a PM with a background in project management on a large scale.
Technical product management is a narrower and more focused role than a project manager who’s just responsible for a single project iteration. However, the managerial experience gained from this can easily be applied to development team management.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What are the required technical skills for product managers?
Good product managers need to possess important skills that include research, prototyping, A/B testing, analysis, and extraction, as well as data collection and management using Excel.
2. Is product management itself a technical skill?
Product management is not a technical skill. It’s an umbrella term that involves multiple activities and individual hard skills. However, some companies may define ‘product management’ as a senior position within the development department.
3. Does a product manager need to know coding?
Product managers do need to come from at least a partially technical background. However, individual skills including coding depend on employer requirements.
4. What makes a great technical product manager and why?
The best product managers operate as product leaders, with an impeccable product vision that lets them create the ultimate user experience. This is because the audience has pain points and it’s up to the product manager to provide them with an optimal solution, which they can’t do unless they understand the product inside out.