Software Product Manager: Taking a Big Picture View

Software has a life cycle — from inception to market to phase-out — and it’s the job of the software product manager to oversee that process.

Learning how to balance business and marketing talent with technical knowledge makes software product managers shine. Excellent communication skills, including the ability to deal effectively with technical staff and business and sales professionals, are also key. “Software product managers are in demand,” says John Asdell, branch manager, Robert Half Technology, San Diego, Calif. “While an understanding of technology is important, the main function here is customer acquisition. Professionals in the role of software product manager need to think through how the product will drive customer acquisition. Some of the best software product managers are compelling speakers who have solid product knowledge and a diplomatic approach.”

Software product manager salaries on the rise in 2014

Software product manager salaries in the United States are expected to rise 4.1 percent this year, according to Robert Half Technology’s 2014 Salary Guide. Starting compensation for this in-demand role is projected to range from $99,250 to $136,000.* (Use the Robert Half Technology Salary Calculator to find specific salary information for your city.)

What does it take to become a software product manager?

Asdell says that many professionals who move into the software product manager position tend to “come up through the ranks” from a programmer position. “From start to finish, a successful software product manager focuses on making a quality product,” he says. “For example, software product managers should have a solid understanding of Scrum methodology which emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities.” The software product manager should also be a solid communicator, according to Asdell. Typically, software product managers can expect to do the following:

  • Help define product requirements alongside software engineers and developers
  • Work with sales and marketing to develop effective launch strategies
  • Write materials for sales personnel briefing purposes
  • Assist in trade show presentations

How can I become a software product manager?

As for education, software product managers should have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Leading employers also will want to see at least five years of experience in software product management. In some cases, a master’s in business administration (MBA) is desirable, but Asdell believes a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification can be even more valuable because it shows that the person has the experience, education and competency to lead and direct. He further advises that an aspiring software product manager work in coding for a few years before earning the PMP in order to better understand the nuts and bolts of software development The bottom line is this: A successful software product manager is good at seeing the big picture in terms of the product life cycle. It’s up to this  tech professional to make it possible to see the forest, as well as the trees, while intersecting business, IT and the overall user experience.

Look to Robert Half Technology's latest Salary Guide for job descriptions and starting compensation trends for a wide range of IT jobs — including software product manager. *Software product manager starting salaries in Canada are projected to increase 3.8 percent in 2014, with a starting salary ranging from $99,250 to $131,250. Figures are in Canadian dollars.