Product Management to Development Ratio

Question: "What is considered to be a good ratio of product engineers to product managers? I know this will depend on many factors so am not expecting one answer. However, I am looking for some industry data that represents a good practice."

Answer: Unfortunately there is no credible industry data about the recommended or actual ratio between product engineers to product managers in technology companies. Over the years there have been some surveys conducted by different entities in an attempt to uncover the optimal ratio but these surveys are not statistically valid.

There is a prevalent and unsubstantiated estimation that the actual ratio between product engineers to product managers in software companies in the USA is at about one product manager to every seven product developers (1:7). Another unsubstantiated estimation is that the actual ratio between sales managers to product managers in software companies in the USA is at about one product manager to every three sales managers (1:3).

The primary factors which affect the ratio between product engineers to product managers are:

  1. The scope of product functionality that is needed in order to satisfy the user needs. This functionality is planned by product management.
  2. The intricacy level of the technology that is required to provide the desired product functionality. This technology is developed and/or implemented by product engineering.

Rationalization of these primary factors means, for example, that a functionally limited but technologically complex product will command a higher product engineers to product managers ratio than a functionally broad product that relies on simple technology. To a lesser extent, the ratio will also depend on secondary factors such as the product manager's level of professional competency and the number of products managed by the product manager.

Since all these primary and secondary factors vary greatly between different companies, the ratio will also vary greatly. Therefore, attempting to search for or calculate the recommended or optimal ratio between product engineers to product managers will always prove to be an elusive task.