The Defining Role of the Product Architect

The Product Architect is a critical role that is responsible for product definition. At technology companies this role is assumed by an experienced technical and business savvy individual who frequently interacts with peer roles in both product management and product development.

Charts showing the product architecture place in product management

The product manager’s primary objective to constantly research the market problem, understand customers, and become a market expert is a colossal endeavor. Equally challenging and rewarding is the product architect role which is entrusted with envisioning a solution that bridges technology and balances the company’s strategic vision with the market problem.

Modern markets are characterized by sophisticated and demanding customers and superbly designed products that are based on advanced technology. In response to this phenomenon, the discipline of Product Architecturing and the role of the product architect have evolved to become more structured and formalized. Companies nowadays completely rely on the product architect to transform ideas, technology, strategy, and business context into a vision of winning products.

Career-wise, the product architect role has become a highly influential fixture at technology companies as product architecturing itself has become prominent. Very competent and creative individuals with deep technological expertise, business acumen, and a broad and unique skill set are required for this role, which has made it most respected.

This review describes the nature and importance of the product architect role.


Technology companies went through an evolution of roles in which the original job descriptions were much generalized and essentially an aggregate of several roles. The cause for generalization was that the technology companies’ founders previously undertook financial, executive, technical, developmental, sales, and marketing responsibilities all upon themselves. It was only natural for the technology companies’ founders to frame any individual capacity at their growing organizations as a reflection of themselves and how they personally worked. The founders often did everything related to the product. They understood the market problem, defined the solution, and developed the product—as individuals or team leads.

Roles at technology companies must be specialized nowadays due to scalability and/or complexity demands. Based on the principles of the Blackblot PMTK Methodology , product-related roles are consolidated around the boundaries of Problem, Solution, and Implementation.

The relevant conclusion from the role consolidation is that the overall Product Delivery Process, the making and bringing of a product to market, is comprised of three sub-processes:

  • 1. Product Planning—seeking, identifying, and articulating the market problem that customers need to solve.
  • 2. Product Definition—(a) devising a functional solution to the market problem and (b) designing product implementation.
  • 3. Product Development—implementing the design and manufacturing the product.

The Product Manager (aka Product Planner) role serves the key task of product planning. The role of Product Developer (aka Product Engineer, or Software Programmer, Software Developer, or Software Engineer in the software industry) is responsible for the task of product development.

In the absence of a dedicated and recognized intermediary role to perform product definition, technology companies wholly relegate the task of product definition to the product manager or to the product developers. Depending on the company and on the functional and technical complexity of the product being developed, some technology companies split the responsibilities within product definition between product management and product development, assigning to the product manager the responsibility of devising the functional solution and assigning to the product developers the responsibility of designing the product’s implementation.

This problematic allocation of roles and responsibilities was and still is being practiced by many technology companies.

Gap in Product Delivery

The product manager is utterly devoted to researching and studying the market problem and customers’ needs while the product developers are deeply focused on the technical and developmental aspects of the product.

The growing complexities of building technology products made technology companies realize that product definition could no longer be assumed by people from product management and/or product development. A dedicated role for performing product definition was required to bridge the gap between the product manager and the product developers. Accordingly, this internal dynamic inspired companies to recognize and create the discipline of product architecturing and the role of product architect.

Initially the newly formed role of product architect was responsible for the entire Product Definition sub-process, in defining the solution and the product’s functionality, and also specifying the product’s architecture (designing the product’s implementation).

However, it was soon made evident that one dedicated role is insufficient to handle the product definition of functionally complex products and/or where intricate technology is employed. Two roles are required—one role to devise the functional solution and a second role to specify the product’s architecture. The product architect role was thus split into two variants that together performed product definition.

Types of Architects

Based on the internal elements of the product definition sub-process, the product

architect role is fine-tuned into two role variants:

  • 1. Functional Architect (aka Product Architect, Solution Architect, Business Analyst, Requirements Engineer, Requirements Manager) who is responsible for devising a functional solution to the market problem according to how the market problem is described in the Market Requirements Document (MRD) or in any other similar technique which represents the market problem as provided by the product manager.
  • 2. Technical Architect (aka System Architect, System Engineer, or Software Architect in the software industry) who is responsible for designing the internals of the product (specifying the product’s implementation) in conformance to the prescribed set of measurable features which are outlined in the Product

Requirements Document (PRD) or any other similar technique which represents

the functional solution as provided by the functional architect.

Because of the precision brought about by the more acute definitions of the types of architects, Product Architecturing can be properly defined as a discipline which describes the arrangement and internal interaction of the product’s components that collectively provide the product’s aggregate functionality. In lay terms, product architecturing is a discipline that is focused on the formation, structure, and design of a product. The Technical Architect is thus the role that truly owns and is responsible for product architecture. The primary deliverables of the technical architect are the product’s various technical specifications.

The functional architect and the technical architect roles both belong to the development team, and depending on the maturity of product delivery practices at the company, there can be some overlap at times between these two roles or they can be distinctly separate.

In the software industry the functional architect is focused on features, capabilities, and scope of the product while the software architect is a very proficient software developer who makes technical and structural design choices relative to the product and dictates technical standards, software coding standards, operating and development environments, and technical infrastructure and metrics.

Titles, role assignments, and their combinations vary greatly among different technology companies. At some companies the functional architect and the technical architect roles are both assigned to one individual who is titled Product Architect. At other companies the functional architect and the technical architect are decoupled and owned by separate individuals with respective titles. And at some companies the functional architect and the technical architect roles are partially or wholly assigned to the product manager, erroneously of course.

For historical reasons rooted in the interest of clarity and distinction, in the Blackblot PMTK Methodology the functional architect role is consistently referred to as Product Architect and the technical architect role is referred to as Lead Developer.

Product Architect Role Description

The Product Architect (aka Functional Architect) has domain expertise in a particular technology or product type, from an engineering perspective.

The product architect is a tactical role that is owned by a product expert who creates a high-level design for the product. The product architect understands the market opportunity, interprets market requirements, and is well-versed in technology and development processes.

The primary deliverable of the product architect is the Product Requirements Document (PRD), which is a high-level description of the functional solution, its intended use, and the set of features it provides that address the market problem and satisfy needs. Through the PRD, the product architect articulates the product’s architectural vision and structure, and specifies the features that the market requirements prescribe. The product architect often contributes to other supporting documents including the product features matrix, product roadmap, and technical specification documents.

The product architect must be able to communicate well with both external and internal organizations. External to the company, the product architect communicates and works with contract development firms, technology partners, and customers. Internally, the product architect communicates and works with organizational functions such as engineering, product marketing, and product planning. The product architect also acts as a communication interface between the product planning team and the product development team.

Product Architect Skill Set

The following set of skills, listed in alphabetical order, is essential to the Product

Architect role:

  • Business Skills—ability to comprehend the business context and market problem that drive the building of a product.
  • Conceptualization Skills—ability to create product architecture, and evaluate and foresee the applicability of diverse architectural designs relative to the product.
  • Engineering Skills—ability to advocate and relate to different product development methods and modeling techniques.
  • Leadership Skills—ability to rally and gain backing from internal stakeholders in order to build organizational support for the proposed architecture.
  • Mentoring Skills—ability to counsel teams and individuals to wholly understand and effectively implement the proposed architecture.
  • Technology Skills—ability to understand in depth, analyze, and select current and emerging technologies that are pertinent to the product and company.
  • Visionary Skills—ability to create and articulate architectural and technical visions for the product.

Product Architect Role Overview Table

Table 14.1 provides an outline of the Product Architect role’s general profile and a list of its key characteristics.

Table 14.1 Product Architect Role Overview Table


Product Architect


Functional Architect, Solution Architect, Business Analyst, Requirements Engineer, Requirements Manager

Expertise Type

Domain expertise

Expertise Focus

Product expert

Essential Function

Devise a functional solution

Primary Deliverables

Product Requirements Document (PRD)

Support Deliverables

Product features matrix, roadmap (contributory role)

Internal Interfaces

Engineering, product marketing, product planning

External Interfaces

Contract development firms, technology partners, customers


Technical undergraduate degree (specific or diverse subjects)


Technical, formalized, deterministic


The product architect is an extremely critical and distinct role that is responsible for devising a functional solution to the market problem and defining the product feature set, which creates the correct user experience and allows the user to complete the desired task.

Product architecturing is encompassing, dynamic, and multifaceted, and so are its practitioners. Regardless of the actual title or the selected software development method that is being employed, the product architect is a key influential role at the intersection of technology, business, and design. Companies’ and their products’ chances of achieving marketplace success greatly depend on a well-defined product architecturing process and very capable practitioners who possess a myriad of qualities.

In summary, the product architect is a key leadership position within the development team with this role providing the proposed product’s architectural approach and the required guidance to the product developers. The product architect is also the bridge and interface between the problem space and the solution space—between product management and product development.