What Is the Ideal Ratio of Engineers to Product Managers?

If you’re running a SaaS product, there are hundreds of important decisions to make every day. And if you’re doing it for the first time in your life, it’s even more complex. How do you get new customers? Who’s the next person you need to hire? Bootstrap or raise capital?

One of the questions that you’ll have to answer at a certain point in time is: how many product managers do I need in my team? And how many engineers should you have for each product manager in your team?

We may not have all the answers, but today, we’ll tell you the ideal ratio of product managers to engineers in a SaaS company.

How Do Product Managers Work with Engineers?

While engineers (or developers) are in charge of building features and working hands-on with your product, the product manager is in charge of telling engineers what to build and how. Here are a few key ways product managers work with engineers.

Prioritizing features

With feature requests coming in by the hundreds every month, it’s hard to tell what needs to be developed and which ideas need to go to the bin. And even when you know which features you need to build, determining their order can be a hassle.

The role of the product manager is to learn which features are necessary and why. They determine which features align with the product mission and vision, how they fit into the overall strategy, how much time and resources they take and how much the end user can benefit from them.

Once they figure out what feature requests need to go into production, they create a backlog for the engineering team to work from and create a release.

Planning releases

While building features on the basis of necessity sounds like a good plan, it’s usually not in reality. The features you ship need to be grouped together in a way that makes sense so your developers don’t jump from one part of the product to the next all of the time.

Product managers plan releases so that new features are logically grouped together in a way that makes sense both for the engineers and the customers.

Defining features

An engineer needs good instructions in order to know what to build and how. Product managers create user stories to better explain to engineers how customers use certain features and what they need them for.

Armed with this knowledge, engineers can more successfully work on these features and build them in a way that meets the expectations of both the product managers and the customers.

Tracking progress

A good product manager stays on top of their engineers’ workflow. They make sure that the engineers build what they are supposed to and that they meet deadlines. A product manager collaborates with the entire team and ensures that tasks and processes flow smoothly.

Factors that Can Affect the Right Ratio

Before you decide how many product managers you need, there are several factors to keep in mind. Here they are, in no particular order of importance.

Do you have separate Product Managers from Product Owners?

Before we go on any further, let’s explain the difference between the two terms. Product owners mostly focus on nurturing the product backlog and making sure that the features from the backlog get shipped to the end-users.

product manager vs. product owner

Source

On the other hand, a product manager is the one collecting feedback from the customers, making sure that the product mission and vision are followed and that the features are prioritized accordingly.

If you have product owners in the team, you’ll need fewer product managers. Moreover, if you have a business analyst in your team, you’ll also need a smaller number of product managers. In short, if there are roles that overlap with the product manager, you won’t need to hire as many product managers - simple as that.

How involved is the PM in other aspects of the business?

As your product develops, your product managers will have to work on more than just managing a product. For example, they’ll have to collaborate on growth with the marketing team, handle customer communications, do extensive competitor research and more. If your single product manager is doing all this work, it’s time to hire someone else to help them out.

How self-sufficient and experienced is the team?

The seniority of your team will make a huge difference on how many product managers you need. This includes both their individual experience and the time they spent together on your product. 

In general, a more experienced team that has been building a product for a while will need less hand-holding compared to a team of newbies. For a team of experts, you’ll need fewer product managers.

A Ratio for Success

Different sources online will give you different ratios of product managers to developers in a typical SaaS company. Your specific number will depend on a variety of factors which we’ll cover below. However, the rule of thumb is that you should hire one product manager for every 6-10 engineers in your team.

Number of customer-facing products

This is an important aspect of every SaaS business - you may have one product per se, but you’ll have different customer-facing fronts. For example, if you run a talent marketplace (such as Upwork), you’ll have to interact with freelancers on the one hand and clients on the other. As a result, you’ll need at least two product managers for each side of the product.

The more audiences you have to interact with, the more feedback you’ll have to gather and the more product managers you have to hire.

How hands-on the Product CEO/Founder is

In some cases, the founder of a SaaS product has a technical background. They’ve been a developer, designer or a product expert themselves before embarking on the path to launch a product of their own.

In this case, it’s easier for them to manage a large portion of the product work themselves without hiring a product manager. In the early, startup stages of the product, they can handle the bulk of the work on their own.

Later on, these kinds of founders can postpone the hiring of a product manager and they’ll need fewer of them compared to founders with other backgrounds, e.g. marketing.

Product managers’ experience

A more experienced product manager is able to hold more weight on their own and work with more engineers (and customers) at a time. It may be worth hiring a more experienced PM to handle working with more engineers instead of several less experienced ones.

Stage of the product

Last but not least, some common sense. If you’re beta testing your product and you’re just in the MVP stage, you probably won’t even need a product manager at all. But if you’re in the advanced stages of a product’s lifecycle and you have hundreds of features that you’ve built and even more in the backlog, you’ll naturally need a good number of both engineers and product managers in your team.

Conclusion

Product managers are a necessity for every successful SaaS product team. While getting the right ratio of engineers and product managers can seem difficult to achieve, these general rules will help you determine what your specific product needs.

And if you’re looking for a tool that will help both your product and engineering teams, give FeedBear a try! Capture your customers’ feedback, create a beautiful and functional roadmap and keep everyone in the loop about what’s coming in your product. Sign up for a free trial today!

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