When it comes down to responsibilities in a company or a team, the world of product development as we know it always provided a pretty clear structure: CEOs have to lead, designers have to design, developers have to code and product managers have to…well, actually manage everybody by writing tickets, preparing presentations or thinking about new features and the future product roadmap.
But it was sometimes around last year when the web suddenly started to discuss wether designers should know/learn how to code or not.
The reasons for this question were obvious. Designers and developers work closely together but often really never understand each other which leads to pretty much waste in communication, mostly caused by missing knowledge about the work from the other.
Advantages would be that designers could on the one hand make an early reality check on their drafts and impress developers a little bit more on the other one while the developers would start to value design work more.
Though there were a lot of opinions for and against that statement and it sometimes also depends on what kind of designer you are and what you’re working on, I felt like the essence was: »Yes, designers definitely should know how to code.«
So, if designers learn how to code so they maybe don’t even need a developer to launch a product and developers would vice versa learn more about photoshop, who would need someone else to make awesome digital products? Depending on the size of your company or team you probably still need a project manager to structure the work with scheduled meetings and caring about some orga stuff like reports or having an eye on the budget.
But do you then still need a guy who can’t design or code pushing wireframes around, writing tickets and testing the latest version all the day in addition?
When I take a look at many great new products which are made by awesome solo people like Drew Wilson, Marco Arment or small teams like the ones behind Evomail, Authentic Weather or Day One I’m pretty sure the answer is no – at least not the classical way anymore.
But let’s take a closer look at this. Can’t we just put up the same question that rose last year on designers who code? Isn’t it time to ask: »Should Product Managers know how to design and to code?« – I think it is.
If product managers would gain a deeper understanding of what’s really happening inside “their” teams by having practical skills in both disciplines, it would be a huge win for the product itself. So in my opinion we should rethink the role of the product manager. He or she should become someone who’s really involved in the actual process of building things.
As a consequence, skills in teams could become more concentrated on fewer people and team size could be reduced to iterate even faster.
Seeing how small teams gain so much traction with their products without including a personal “overhead” like a product manager really made me think about this role (which is what I do for money, too).
One of they key learnings I took away from a journey to the US this year was that I simply had to learn how to design and how to code (of course I know that just don’t »learn« design, but I think you know what I mean), if I want to stay relevant for the process of digital product development in the upcoming years.
So I headed over to treehouse.com and started learning. It’s been a fun journey so far which gave me a lot of new insights and skills. And though I know, it will still take a while until I’m on a really productive level in one or both disciplines, I’m pretty thrilled to continue.