🔱#5 - Technical skills for PMs & the Rise of Flutter
Thinking of starting to write? Check out the end!
Hello Fellow Learners!
An aspiring PM asked me last week - “Should I be technical? My boss has asked me to spec out a technical integration between two systems and I don’t know what to do!”
After assuring the PM that shooting the boss would not be considered as a crime, I focused on all the other times I’ve been asked this question and faintly remembered that I authored an article on this, a year ago.
In that article I argue — Even Architects need to know a little about civil engineering.
And yet, today, I feel it’s a weak argument. Architects are taught the fundamentals of civil engineering but retain very little of it. I’d argue that the best architects are those who constantly challenge the status quo — never limiting themselves to the books whence they acquired their limitations.
On the flipside, I imagine architects waltz into the room and sell their big ideas on a fancy blue paper and leave it to the project team to work out the kinks. Ever seen a Jenga tower just as it’s about to fall? Imagine that as a building:
So, no, architects are a bad analogy.
What’s a better analogy, you ask? I think CEOs would be a good one — at the risk of rehashing the old cliché.
A CEO relies their team to give the best advice. They cannot weigh the million different factors that are present — the individual CXOs have teams that can handle it. The CEO needs a few options and the teams confidence in them.
Will the CEOs decision making capability be affected by knowing about the factors involved in the decision? I don’t know. But I do know two things:
A little knowledge makes you feel wise and capable. A lot of knowledge forces you to second guess your decisions.
The results of the multi regression analysis suggest that firms having a CEO with an educational background in the area of engineering or field of operations do not have any edge in firm performance to firms controlled by CEO in some other educational background.
(src: Page 40 of Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO’s) Educational Background and Firm Performance An empirical study on Manufacturing and IT listed firms in the Stockholm Stock Exchange)
While the study is dated (2012) and the world has changed significantly since then, I’m sure this empirical truth holds — the factors that determine success for CEOs do not include a formal education in the area where the company operates.
Therefore, as a PM, you shouldn’t focus on trying to be technical. Nor should you determine technical aspects of your product (especially by writing technical specifications). You are the vessel of customer and business needs — the dev team is the water that’ll fill it.
But wait… don’t you feel awfully stupid when the team is discussing a technical issue?
I know I do… Doesn’t mean I read technical papers on setting up a microservice architecture!
See, there is a difference in knowing and understanding.
I had an MD with no background in technology, who learned that you can connect two systems with APIs. Within hours he was ‘solutioning’ different problems he devised. SAP can’t talk to Oracle? Put an API! Customers cannot see their order status? Put an API!
That is a clear example of knowing about technology.
Knowing how a tap works is knowing that when you turn the knob, water flows out. Understanding how a tap works is understanding the complex system of pipes that bring the water from the tank to the tap and the various pipe sizes that ensure pressure is increased as you get closer to the destination.
I guess… I don’t understand plumbing.
Nonetheless, our job as PMs is to focus on that experience — turn the knob and get water.
Or if you’re the weird type — take your hand close to the tap, wave it around and get water for an arbitrary amount of time (Obligatory Seinfeld clip).
Finally, if you have a background in technology, make it a point to leave it at home.
Read more: Do product managers need technical skills?
Btw, I think it’s unfair PMs ask only about technical skills. What about design? It’s important too! I wager that’s due to design skills requiring high creativity, whereas technology requiring just logic/rational thinking to know.
Flutter & the ever closing gap between native & cross-platform
I’m late to the party to talk about this. Last month, Flutter announced support for Windows applications, taking the framework from ‘just’ mobile apps to now true cross-platform.
I admire the cross-platform philosophy, especially as it sits in tune with my philosophy when it comes to serving customers — go where they are… that’s why this newsletter is published on both Linkedin & Substack.
Nonetheless, I expect Flutter to go from a hobby framework to a more mainstream one, in the coming year. It’s pretty much the most popular framework on Stack Overflow:
Whether you’re a developer/designer/product/business person, this is an interesting option. I’ll list down why:
Let’s face it. Your idea doesn’t really need OS specific features. You can create a cross platform tool that can be accessed across the web and mobile using Flutter. Cheap and easy way of getting your idea into battle-test mode.
Abundance of support
Dart, the programming language that Flutter is based on, is the 13th most popular language on Github. There are people out there who can help you out. There is a good chance that the problem you’re facing has been faced by someone else.
I know the biggest complain you’ll get from tech folks is that Flutter (or for that matter any janky initial implementation) won’t scale or will introduce technical debt. Big whoop! Technology folks will always flock to the technically best solution, costing you valuable time. Despite that, Flutter is production ready. It can work as seamlessly as you want — across multiple platforms.
There are definitely alternatives —Kotlin Multiplatform/React Native/Xamarin. If you have expertise in that, go for it.
Ultimately, the best tool is the one you have right now.
Also, YSK: you can find trends through Stack Overflow here. Have fun!
I have not done the survey results this week as I am recovering from a bout of sickness. Next week, we’ll do both!
On Writing And Engagement
I was asked last week by a former colleague on how I can get engagement on Medium. I wrote a small essay on this (you can read that here), which got me thinking… I know most of you have written something or the other.
The question I ask myself and you: Can I help you get the exposure you deserve?
See, I know how much it sucks to see no engagement after you’ve penned a 1200 word article on the importance of good sign up forms. It hurts. I want you to know that it’s ok.
So, starting this week, we’ll feature an article from one of you. Please comment with an article that you’ve written (preferably on either of the tridents of the Trifecta) and I’ll feature it here.
I think it’s a win-win-win:
Win for you, my reader with ambitions to write. You’ll get an audience and potentially new subscribers. I won’t critic the article (though if you want advice, I can give) — I’ll merely provide a link.
Win for you, my reader satisfied in consuming content. You’ll get newer ideas from other readers and who knows! your next startup inspiration (less likely) or a solution to a problem you’re facing (more likely).
And finally, a win for me: Dopamine hits from returning the gift of time that you’ve invested in reading my content.
As a treat (and an initial kick off) here is an article from Sarnath K, a dear friend, a brilliant mentor, a great teacher and colleague, on how to measure the impact of COVID:
I really hope this kicks off.
Thank you for reading! See you next week!