Matt Basile • September 1, 2023

What makes a really good non-technical product manager

You don't have to be technical to lead effectively.

Bald eagle gliding over a lake.

I’m often asked, “Matt, how did you get into tech?” I then lay out how I went from a coding bootcamp, to my first dev job that turned into a design and product management role, and eventually starting Markham Square.

I mention this journey, because along the way I’ve had every role on a product team. Coming to these roles with a technical background was helpful. But I often wonder, did I need that context to be successful? Experience helped me, but I’ve met many product leaders along that way that excelled but had never coded or designed.

Here are some of the skills that I found elevated non-technical product managers:

1. Technical and design literacy

Not knowing how to code or design didn’t prevent these folks from learning what's needed from those teams. They all had a rich understanding of the macro context that allowed them to plan effectively and communicate with teammates.

For example, they couldn’t code a database but they knew how one worked. How data is retrieved from the database, processed by an API, and then displayed on the frontend. This knowledge allowed them to estimate better and more importantly know the needs of the technical team. Having this power allowed them to answer technical questions without bothering the tech team, keeping everyone as efficient as possible.

From a design side, the best leaders emphasized the value of design and getting designs in front of users. Some of them even understood the fundamentals of good design. Allowing them to articulate why specific decisions didn't work for them in a design. Having a shared language fostered understanding and clear expectations.

2. Crush the communication game

The best product leaders deeply understand their product and effectively share that knowledge. How do they disseminate this information?

First, they're excellent at articulating requirements. They provide clear instructions with visibility into why this matters for the product. Fostering a shared understanding of the importance of a feature and why it needs to happen now.

Second, their documentation is robust. Meaning throughout the development process they're trying to create meaningful artifacts. This allows them to become a hub of information which they can distribute to the right people at the right time.

Lastly, as previously mentioned, they excel at delivering the right information to the right people. The best product managers discern when and whom to involve, ensuring critical workflows remain unblocked.

This balance, when done right, allows product teams to work with immense context and speed.

3. Reps are important

If we wanted to become a bodybuilder, we’d start going to the gym every day and change our diet completely. In product, it's not so different. Except instead of doing deadlifts we are writing product requirement documents.

The common thread is consistency and dedication. It's about showing up daily, striving for improvement, and accumulating knowledge. The best product experts I've encountered have prior experience building digital products. They can discern when to request more time, identify scope creep, prioritize bugs over features, and communicate these decisions effectively to users and stakeholders.

Throughout your career, experience is gained on the job. However, you can broaden your horizons by creating your own products, participating in hackathons, or studying product development. Each product you build will present unique challenges, and overcoming them prepares you for future hurdles.


An outstanding non-technical product manager excels by effectively connecting product teams with the broader business vision.Their success stems from a comprehensive approach, unwavering curiosity, and a dedication to value. For both new and experienced product managers, it's the combination of soft skills, strategic thinking, and product passion that distinguishes you. Embrace these traits to thrive in your role and lead your team to remarkable achievements

Looking to build or improve your own digital product? We'd love to help.

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