Thursday, November 25, 2021

Product Manager to Product Ratio

How many chucks could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? It depends on the structure of the organization's tech stack. A highly structured tech stack provides a format that you can build repetitive products with. Structure makes the design obvious and lets the developers work faster, which means more gets done easier. 

Every problem that you're solving is just a case of “fit this into our model and then solve it”, and you can do a lot with a little. For instance, in many systems management products the problem is to recognize endpoint state and take action, and the interface is to show state and guide to action. In many data analytics products the problem is to collect data and show informative panels like counts of types. If you make sponges, the easy use cases are all some form of "clean something". Given the commonality of these goals, a highly structured tech stack can be produced to make common tasks simple. In my experience this might be an average of three devs per product and a one to three PM to product ratio. I’ve seen a lot higher: averages of one to five and one to six in two of the teams I’ve been on.

On the other hand, a lot of structure can be constrictive, and a more flexible approach has benefits. If you treat every problem as a new solution to discover and build from first principles, maybe you’ll come up with new shortcuts to success. But you’ll also be unable to depend on preexisting structure. In my estimation you'll need at least five or six devs per product and a one to one PM relationship.

I've run over a dozen very similar products by myself and I've been taxed to capacity by a single product… it's all about how much structure the development platform provides. I'm defining product as an installable/removable module that’s complex enough to need semi-dedicated development team. A content pack is not a product.

If you’re not sure how to describe the amount of structure in your organization, you can assess it in reverse by asking about past performance. If getting a new product to usable and salable is a one quarter job for under three people, you're probably very structured. The first task is to learn the structure, and studying the existing products will help. If it's more like a year, plan accordingly and lean into product management process.