Are Product Managers Managing Developers?

May 27, 2022

Are product managers managing developers? The answer is a clear and simple ‘No’. Product managers are leading the developers in the right direction, mainly by communicating the users’ needs, business objectives, and priorities, but they are not specifically managing them.

Following are the three reasons why product managers (PMs) are not a good fit for managing developers:

1. PMs manage a product, not humans

Product managers are the experts in solving the problem. They are generally the most aware of the users’ needs and pain points. The term “manager”, in their title, actually refers to the product, not to humans, which is, obviously different. While the required skillsets in both cases have some similarities, like empathy, clear communication, and leadership, managing a human and a software product are very different.

2. PMs are not technical experts

Product managers do not have enough technical expertise to guide developers in their careers. The best managers tend to be amazing mentors in their field – They know exactly how to support someone in growing their career, and are able to understand their employees’ constraints so well that they give them advice on solving their problems.

While product managers know exactly how to prioritize the next initiatives and build efficient roadmaps, they are not technical experts. Although they might have previous experience as software engineers and have a strong “software development literacy”, they generally are far from being able to develop high-quality code.

3. PMs don’t have time for that

Product managers spend most of their time in the following activities:

  • Gathering feedback and interviewing users
  • Defining priorities based on discoveries and proposed ideas
  • Aligning stakeholders and other departments on priorities
  • Communicating priorities to the entire company (Development team, stakeholders, etc…)

These tasks are already extremely time-consuming, and energy-draining. If you had to do it in the past, you would know how aligning everyone in the same direction is already a huge, and extremely complex, task. Setting the expectations that a product manager will be able to find time to efficiently and humanly manage other people on top of that is just not realistic. 

Bringing hierarchy into the relationship can also be counterproductive. Product managers are leading through influence. They build relationships based on trust, and it is way easier when there is no hierarchy involved.

Who should manage the developers, then?

It is better to give the management side of things to someone who has a strong technical literacy, and the best human approach possible. Most of the time, this responsibility is given to a software development manager, also known as a lead software developer.

The most senior profiles are often the persons getting this role. The most important qualities to look for are humanity, empathy… and available time.

It will be a question of balance. The CTO is generally a good choice, as they are already in charge of the technology of the company. They generally have a very deep technical background and are able to effectively communicate with other team members. When the company grows, and the CTO can’t handle this workload anymore, the best approach is to select someone from the team or to hire someone specifically for that task. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can add that to the plate of the most senior profile. 

To summarize all this: Product managers are not managing developers. Software development managers are. If you don’t have any, wisely choose someone from your team, or hire externally.

This content piece was contributed by Linky Product, a product management consulting firm

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