The product development manager (PDM) is a very niche role that doesn’t exist in every company. The person in this role works closely with the product manager to build the product or the solution.
But who is the product development manager? And what do they do in the context of the product management ecosystem? This article will take you through all you need to know to become a product development manager or work effectively with one.
Table of contents
- Product management vs product development
- What is a product development manager?
- Traits of a successful product development manager
Product management vs. product development
Before we dig deeper and talk about the product development manager, you should know the differences between the concepts of product development and product management.
Product management focuses on the strategic and business aspect of the product. PMs deal with the “what” and “why” behind a product creation process.
On the other hand, product development focuses on the “how.”
Product development managers answer questions like:
- How should the feature be designed and built?
- What development process will we follow?
- What level of detail is needed for the requirements/specifications?
The differences between product management and product development are summarized in this table:
|Product management||Product development|
|Primary focus||Strategic and commercial aspects of the product||Execution; how the product will function to serve commercial and strategic needs|
|Goal||Build a product that solves the customer needs and moves business KPIs||Build a product that solves customer needs with the least resources to save costs|
|Involvement||Work on the strategic product roadmap and prioritize the initiatives and features based on customer problems, market demand, business strategy, vision, and goals (top-down)||Translate customer needs into initiatives while aligning stakeholders internally to influence the business strategy (bottom-up)|
|Stakeholders||Work cross-functionally with management, customer success, sales, and marketing||Work with the teams involved in execution, such as engineering and design|
What is a product development manager?
The product development manager is a hybrid role between project management and product management. It is often filled by someone with experience working as a software tester, software engineer, or UX/UI designer.
Product development focuses on working closely with the execution team (designers, developers, testers) to identify and build a solution for a user problem. The product development manager is typically involved in activities like:
- Analyzing industry trends
- Benchmarking direct and indirect competitors
- Conducting user research (focusing on the solution space, not the problem space)
But, who discovers, defines, and prioritizes problems?
Product manager vs. product development manager
Although they sound the same, a product manager (PM) and a product development manager (PDM) have distinct responsibilities. The product manager works closely with the business team to identify the direction of a product and with users to identify problems that influence business goals.
The product development manager typically owns a backlog of problems that need to be solved. Those problems are either customer problems or businesses inherited from the product and the business strategy. The product manager grooms those problems, prioritizes them, and scopes them before passing them off to the product development manager, who initiates the actual work.
The product development manager typically starts by taking the problem and working closely with designers to validate the solution with the customer. Lastly, they work with the engineers to translate the requirements and the design into a functional product while keeping everything within budget.
Product development manager vs. product owner in agile
In the agile world, the product development manager is the product owner.
The product owner usually works closely with the PM to translate the strategic vision and the user problems into scope features and user stories and works closely with the designers and engineers to deliver those features to the market.
Traits of a successful product development manager
By nature, the product development manager is a cross-functional role.
To thrive in the product development manager role, you should work to develop the following characteristics and skills:
- Technical chops
- Project management skills
- Creativity and innovation
- Collaboration skills
- Customer focus
Product development managers work closely with designers and engineers. They should be able to communicate fluently with their preferred technical language.
For example, the PDM should always support their scoped features with wireframes to aid the designers’ understanding. They should also be able to engage in technical debates and make trade-offs with the engineers to decide what is best for the project’s timeline and budget.
Project management skills
As the PDM responsible for keeping the execution under the planned schedule and budget. The PDM should possess excellent project management skills, including the ability to manage timelines and budgets and organize and manage tasks.
Creativity and innovation
As we mentioned earlier, the PDM will have the problems passed to them, and they will be responsible for creating and building the optimal solution. Thus, the PDM should be creative and possess innovation skills to come up with unique product ideas that solve customer needs and give the product a competitive advantage.
The PDM doesn’t design or code the product, nor are they the main customer for the product. The PDM is like an orchestra conductor who works closely with other teams to come up with solutions for customer problems.
Although the product manager works on the problem space more, the product development manager should also be customer-focused to deeply understand the customer problems and pain points. This will allow them to build solutions accordingly and work closely with the designers to validate the effectiveness of the solutions.
The product development manager plays a crucial role in the success of the company’s product. Because the role is mainly focused on the execution aspect of hardware products, some companies call them “hardware product managers.”
The success of the product development manager depends on their ability to balance business objectives, technological possibilities, customer needs, product/project constraints, and resources available.
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