What are the differences between a hardware PM vs software PM

I’ve always believed that great PMs are product agnostic. However, I recently realized that hardware PMs have longer product-life cycles and therefore can’t A/B test as easily as SW PMs.

I’d like to hear from other PMs on how the two jobs differ as well as what skills are specific to either.

Hi, I have a background in PaaS/SaaS. I basically went from a cloud team to a data storage team to try something new.

My product is a niche hardware solution that enables clients to offload their cold data in a way that keeps the data accessible and lowers their total cost of ownership to keep that data stored while also providing a grid so if one goes down it does not stop mission critical applications from reading and writing data.

What I’ve noticed: planning is key, and a lot more far out with hardware. And while that argument is understandably made from both sides, hear me out:

Agile software is rapid CI/CD, and typically high turn around is not too far out of reach. I’ve worked on features that went through various A/B testing, design, etc - and got pulled due to a competitive roadmap change. It happens.

However with Hardware, our plans are made for a year in advance in most cases. It’s not that we move slower, but it’s that we have to deal with supply chains, manufacturing, test, development, client input - and I have also found that client roadmap briefings are a lot more frequent. When I have a box the size of a refrigerator that clients pay nearly half a million for (not including to cost of feature code enablement that allow it to perform other storage capabilities and enable it to basically talk to other machines in their data centers for optimization) - you basically have very limited room for error. They need to know how it will fit in their data centers (dimension wise), they need to know what’s coming so the CIO can plan for this spending, they need it to align with their future IT direction, etc… where as a subscription based model can be much more forgiving when you’re talking about onboarding and off boarding.

And on top of that, when the box gets in there, you have service maintenance requests and such. You deal with warranty if there are issues…

It’s everything you could imagine of building a car and then getting it to a dealership for it to be sold, while knowing that some customers would rather you build a customized version of it for them to fit their specific needs. And also, car shows are very important too.

Our hardware does have firmware/software, so we use “agile” on the dev/design side when it comes to functionality/GUI enhancements… but manufacturing and test is very much a waterfall approach because at a global scale it just works better. So there is a balance of dealing with both, which may not sound ideal but it has worked very well for us.

We still have a very high regard to stakeholders. We still have very planned releases. We still have an operating budget.

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