Technical Product Management 101

technical product management

Developing a product nowadays isn’t as simple as solving (or creating) a market’s need. You could identify a problem, create a product/service that solves that problem, use great marketing strategies, and still fail. While marketing, sales, customer service, engineering, human resources, and other company areas are important, the technical product management area has gained relevancy as it traverses the core departments of a company. 

Technical product managers understand the customer needs, work closely with stakeholders and teams in different departments to create the required product. In short, they are responsible for the success of the product. Unlike a traditional product manager, technical ones can translate business requirements into technical requirements, becoming a bridge between the strategy and technological aspects of a product’s development. 

What is Technical Product Management? 

technical product management

Traditional product management consists of an interdisciplinary role that guides a company on investing its resources to deliver a competitive product that is in line with the market’s needs.

A simple way to understand product management is through this graphic:

Product managers are responsible for: 

  • Setting a product vision and strategy
  • Gathering and promoting the most relevant ideas into features
  • Creating a product roadmap 
  • Define the “what” with user stories and requirements
  • Work with cross-functional teams to deliver a complete customer experience.

Technical product managers have the same responsibilities as traditional product managers. But besides understanding the product marketing and the product strategy, they focus on the technical aspect engaging in “how” to bring the product to the market. They possess advanced engineering and design skills. 

This doesn’t mean that a technical product manager will need to perform technical tasks such as coding or developing software architecture. They are not developing the product, but they have a management role in close coordination with a software development team. 

Technical product management focuses on working side by side with engineering teams to create products that customers will like and achieve the business’s short and long-term goals. Technical product managers understand how products are being produced, they can define if certain features make sense or not to include, and overall, they can correctly assess development teams.  

Technical Product Manager Roles and Responsibilities

Technical product management is product management with a focus on engineering. But what exactly does this means? 

For example, let’s say your company builds mobile applications for other businesses. To deliver successful products, you’ll probably want someone who has more than a well-written resume, but a robust background beyond marketing, sales, or finances. You’d want someone with experience building applications to properly assess whether engineering estimates are correct, review technical specifications, evaluate different technology options, and overall, give the team new development approaches and technical capabilities to make a better product for customers. 

These are some of the primary responsibilities of a technical product manager: 

  • Design the product strategy. Outline a vision and a plan of how the company will reach its goal.
  • Manage and communicate effectively with internal teams, developers, engineers, QA, and others, ensuring that implementation plans match expectations.
  • Use database queries to analyze performance indicators, evaluate experiments, etc. 
  • Define success criteria for testing and product acceptance. 
  • Understand the latest tech trends and see how they can impact the roadmap and drive to innovation. 
  • Analyze algorithms, data pipelines, and automated systems.
  • Coordinate product testing. 
  • Use smart software development methodologies like Agile.
  • Manage risks and costs.
  • Coordinate product releases with marketing, sales, and engineering teams.

The 7 Stages of the Technical Product Management Process

You could have a millionaire idea, but this doesn’t automatically mean it will be a success. This is why you need technical product management to help you understand how your product will impact the market and if you’ll have a real audience. 

There are no defined steps when it comes to a product management process. However, most organizations follow a similar order. The steps may vary (as well as the names) because it depends on your company and the product or service you want to build, as some are more complex than others. But overall, these are the 6 key stages of the technical product management process: 

  • Idea Management
  • Product Conception
  • Prioritization and Roadmapping
  • Production and Process Development
  • Analytics, Experiments, and Improvements
  • Customer Feedback 

1. Idea Management

From brainstorming sessions, divine inspiration while taking a bath, a talk with a stranger in a coffee-shop, ideas can come up in different ways. However, this doesn’t mean that all ideas are great. Even if you think you have a really good idea, that solves a particular problem, there’s no guarantee that the product you’re thinking in building will succeed as it depends on many different factors.

Idea management focuses on building the process of generating, capturing, evaluating, and prioritizing valuable insights, requests, and feedback. It consciously prioritizes in giving space to different ideas and to identify some of those innovation opportunities. During regular meetings or regular workdays ideas become useless when there’s not a proper space to discuss them through.

Technical product managers are responsible for managing these processes and reviewing the ideas. And because of their technical background they have a deeper understanding and can predict how viable (or not) an idea is and if it aligns with their vision or current product plans.  

2. Product Conception

After idea management and once the technical PM has captured and organized an idea, the product conception phase begins. Here it’s all about defining details, outlining a general mission and the indicators that will help to measure the product’s success:

These are three important questions team’s should be able to answer:

  • Why are we building that product?
  • What should this product achieve? (Or what’s its purpose?)
  • How will we measure success?

Although the technical PM oversees all the phases, these questions should be answered not only by them individually but by all the team with the input of different stakeholders that allows them to consider other angles. The questions might seem general at first, but the importance of these questions is that they allow an implicit agreement on what the product is about, its importance, and its purpose.

In the product conception phase, there should be at least outlined 5 different aspects of the product:

  1. Product summary: Make a description of the product idea and a timeline. Besides answering the “what,” it is also important to answer the “why” – why is the product being created?
  2. Business case: Describes the business case for building the product, its benefits, budget, and available resources.
  3. User stories: Are user-perspective summaries with the desired features.
  4. User personas: A detailed description of the characteristics, needs, and goals of the target users of the product.
  5. Functional spec: It describes the capabilities of the product and how it should interact with users – the technical details behind the solution. 

3. Prioritization and Roadmapping

technical product management

You have the general idea and panorama of your product. You know why you’re building it, and you have a general overview of its features. However, it usually happens that teams get excited and have many ideas for the product. 

The prioritization phase aims to eliminate the wasteful practices and those features that don’t add any value to the product. One of the many challenges technical product managers experience is that customer’s priorities often shift, funding is scarce, and sources need to be distributed differently. Because of this, they need to adapt and prioritize the features that define the product before running out of resources. 

For some, this phase isn’t as important as other phases. A Mind the Product survey indicated that 64% of product managers spend at least a few hours prioritizing each week. 7% said that they don’t prioritize at all.  

A different survey conducted by the same organization showed that for most product managers, the biggest challenge was prioritizing the roadmap without market research. Shockingly 49% of respondents indicated that they weren’t sure if they were working on the right thing. And due to the lack of customer research and proper prioritization, many product managers based their decisions on popularity, support requests, gut reaction, or imitate what their competitors are doing. 

The prioritization stage helps teams define if they are delivering the necessary value to customers, working on the highest business value item and whether the product will or will not succeed in the market.  Once you have this covered you can start building your product roadmap that will outline the vision, direction, priorities, and progress of the product over time.

All of what you have been working on from the vision to the prioritzation of features will be represented in the roadmap. Usually the content of a roadmap depends on its audience (If its for the software dev team, executives, etc.) But the key is to create one that your audience easily understands. 

4. Production and Process Development 

Once you have created your roadmap, prioritized your product’s features, and all your team understands the short- and long-term goals, it’s time to start with the process development. 

Usually, traditional PMs are not as involved as engineers and the teams in charge of building the product during this stage. But technical PMs also oversee the product’s development and guide the software team. 

How a product is delivered depends on the process an organization chooses to follow. Different software development life cycles offer methodologies and models to help teams to deliver a product successfully. For example, there’s the Waterfall model characterized by a detailed and rigid structure. And there’s the Agile methodology that is characterized by its iterative process. 

The methodology depends on the organization and what the technical product manager believes is best. But the production and process development phase aims to deliver and launch the product successfully. 

5. Analytics, Experiments, and Improvements

Once the product is built and release (whether fully released or as a controlled beta), technical product managers can focus on the product analytics to understand what behaviors drive key metrics. This can help them understand if there are specific aspects of the product that users value the most or if certain features could be removed as they don’t have as much impact as the team thought they would. 

technical product management

This phase focuses on discovering if the product you delivered has value on users and measuring the overall success. During the first phase, you defined how you were going to measure success, so here based on the results, you’ll know if the product development was successful or not.

Additionally, product analytics also enable teams to conduct experiments and improvements in the established product. Teams can test different scenarios and users to measure a product’s efficacy and optimize the current user experience. 

6. Customer Feedback

While, in the previous stage with product analytics you could learn and measure your product’s performance, qualitative feedback from customers and users will help you have a clearer vision of their experience.

Though customers feedback you’ll learn if they are satisfied with the product, if they hate it, if they think certain things can improve, and so on. You can collect feedback through different strategies, such as:

  • Conducting polls and surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Interview them
  • Reviews
  • Usability tests

Also, keep in mind the ex-customer feedback that could help you understand what is causing users to abandon the product. 

Wrapping Up

There are over 30,000 new products every year, and 95% of them fail. Why? Because they were not thoroughly prepared for the market. Product management has gained more importance as it involves different company areas that work together towards one common goal: to launch a successful product. It’s not only about having the best sales and marketing strategies. It is about developing a product that understands what users need and want, the best way possible. 

Technical product managers are deeply involved throughout all the areas and processes of the development of the product. Although they have similar roles as traditional product managers, technical ones understand how a product is built and define if there are certain risks in what you’re building. They also are able to translate and effectively communicate highly technical explanations from the engineering departments into the English language for the rest of the team to understand. And overall, they drive your company’s vision and ensure the product meets that market needs.