Software Product Management – Staffing Ratios

Product Management is often an understaffed, overworked function.

Aix-en-Provence, Mascaron

Yet, the impact that this organization has on development is huge.  The best analogy is a lever.  One Product Manager can effectively move 10 or more engineers and focus them on the winning requirement.  Done properly, it is amazing!  Done poorly it is a disaster.

We recently performed a benchmarking study that included data from the following companies:

  • Apple
  • Ariba
  • Adobe
  • Cisco
  • IBM
  • HP
  • NetApp

The results we found were that most organizations had at a minimum 10 developers per Product Manager, and on the other end, had a maximum of 20 developers per Product Manager.  Outside this range was cause for concern.  Below is a chart that summarizes the data where 3 of those surveyed responded with a point estimate, and 3 gave ranges for the data.

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Here are some verbatim quotes:

Please qualify this as an educated guess based on the large company / large teams I’ve worked with: Engineering (including scientists)/Product marketing = ~14. My sense is that the number is lower for smaller teams, e.g. an engineering team of 10 would have ~1 product marketing person. I hope this is helpful.

If we’re talking specifically about (all) engineering to just product marketing , I would estimate something like 10-20 to 1.   I think the numbers can vary quite a bit depending on size of company, number/complexity of products, how much is outsourced.

At my former company, which is a SaaS shop, we had 1 product manager per major product line. For my org, which was about 170 in size we had 7 product managers.

This organization, which built an enterprise app suites, we had it a little better with 120 engineers and 6 product managers.

My take on this is that product marketing heads are proportional to product counts and not engineering heads. Product (ui, requirements etc) and project (schedule) management combined tends to run at a ratio of 1:5 against engineering total, 1 product/project manager per 5 engineers (dev or qa). This ratio may go from 1:5 to 1:20 depending on count and complexity of products, i.e. the lower the count the less product/project management, or the more complex the higher. I’ve tended to see closer to 1:5.

We don’t have that measurement at our company, in fact, we do not have my analog in Marketing (Process Management) so I would not even know who to ask. However, I do know that in the Operating Systems groups the ratio is too low. We hear complaints all the time, and we see the results in churn.

It depends on many factors: complexity of product line, newness of product line, and function (product marketing, product management), and roles (on team, independent, inbound versus outbound), etc. However, the range I have seen is rarely outside 10 – 20:1.

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