As a former technical lead and now a product manager, I can say that a product manager does not need to know how to code to do well in the job.

Most Common Question

This is the most common question by a product manager or aspiring product manager. Quora and Google have multiple questions asked and answered in different ways.

Why do PM ask this question?

Instead of giving a blanket statement, I think we should put on our product manager hat and ask the “Why” behind this question.

I feel that this is a common XY problem. Product manager or aspiring product manager feel that knowing how to code will magically solve their problem. Some might even be seeking more of confirmation rather than solving the real problem.

So why do product manager ask "should PM know how to code?"

The Common Problem

From my understanding, the common problem tends to be one or a couple of the following:

  • My engineer doesn’t understand what I say
  • The delivered feature is always different from what I drafted
  • My engineer always under-estimate the tasks
  • I have trouble knowing if a feature is feasible to build
  • My engineer is overloaded, If I know how to code, I can help speed up the deliverable

Many people around the industry think that by knowing how to code will magically solve all of the above problems. But will it?

I work with many fantastic coders. Coders who can handle the frontend, backend, devops. and almost single-handedly build the entire product on their own. But many of them are going to face the same problem above.

I believe, this is mostly the Y in the XY problem. Many product managers or aspiring product managers face some problem with X (one of the bullet point above), they think that by knowing Y (how to code), it will magically fix it. Unfortunately, most of the time this is wrong.

Fixing the root cause

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

It really depends a lot on what you are facing. But I believe that tackling the root cause is better than trying to dive right in to learn about coding. If a product manager is facing a problem with communicating and understand what everyone is discussing, he just has to learn more about tech jargon. Spend an hour or two with an in-house developer to iron out what he does not understand. Understand the terminology used in-house, and use the same when drafting spec or in communicating so everyone can understand easily.

The problem on writing user story or drafting the right feature specification can be solved without code as well. There are many courses and online learning platform that could provide ways to learn more about writing better users story or creating better feature specs.

If you like to help speed up development, then it is already too late. As a product manager, if a feature is looking to be delayed, we should be planning for interruptions already. We should communicate with the rest of the team to either delay launch date or ship with fewer features.

In short, spend some time to dig deeper and find out the X (the real problem). Look at ways to directly solve the problem rather than just trying to learn how to code assuming that it will solve it.

What, Why and How?

A product manager job is to deliver a product/feature that solve the user problem. This very much tied to "What to build" and "Why building it help the users" than "How to build it". It always good to know more about coding, the "how to build part". But is not a must.

Just like many product manager jobs posting out there, coding is a bonus but not the main skill set. The company are more likely to hire a PM who can't code but can communicate with a team of engineer well rather than hiring a PM who code but unable to define the What and Why of the product.

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In the day, I am a technical product lead. At night, I am a maker, engineer, and designer. I enjoy learning and building new things about tech, products, and startup. You can find me on Twitter or on my blog.