Are you the first and only TPM on a team? Are you overwhelmed and don’t know where to start? Are you facing a lot of pushback? I hope this post will help you figure out the best path forward.
Firstly, congratulations on being the first TPM on a team. This challenge is actually a huge opportunity if you can stay focused and carve the path forward. I have been the first and only TPM on a team more than once and learnt a lot through those experiences; and it is how I found my passion for helping organizations understand the role of a TPM and helping other TPMs make the most impact. I will share some key pointers below that you should keep in mind and steps to help you think strategically.
New to the TPM role and team = NO!
If you are brand new to the TPM role, join a team where you have at least 1-2 other TPMs that you will be interacting with directly. Having access to people with prior experience as a TPM and learning from them will be highly beneficial and valuable in this situation. I won’t say it is impossible for a new TPM to succeed on a new team but it makes the job more challenging. My rule of thumb is to not change more than 1-2 variables at a time. You should be able to leverage your experience for at least 50% of your job.
Practice the TPM pitch!
Be ready to tell everyone what a TPM does over and over. Most people may not know what a TPM does or may have a negative impression of the role. Others may feel apprehensive about the impact to their day to day work.
This is your opportunity to ensure that they have a great working experience with a TPM so that they can support you and the TPM community in the future. Define what your role will look like. The TPM role is broad and open-ended, so define your TPM brand and how you want to establish yourself and the function in this organization. Evangelize the role, its core value and benefit to the organization.
Don’t just be a filler or glue Be a Catalyst and a Force Multiplier!
Leverage your sponsor!
You were hired because at least one senior person in the company values the TPM role, has worked with them in the past and sees the impact it can have on the current company. So make sure you stay in sync with them. Understand the goal of the team/org and their pain points. What are the hurdles that are preventing the team from scaling and being productive. Get their support as they introduce you to other team members. Make sure the two of you are aligned on what your role as a TPM will be. Work with them to ensure that they have your back and give your air cover if needed
Change is challenging!
Before you go off and implement new processes and best practices, understand the dynamics of key individuals on the team. What has been their experience working with TPMs in past workplaces? What are they struggling with and where do they need help? Change is like an elephant - extremely difficult if there is no willingness. People are more open to change if they understand the value it brings to them. You want to create goodwill and get buy-in. Make it an interactive conversation, get ideas from everyone and incorporate them where possible. Make them feel part of the decision making process. Prioritize which problems need to be solved fast and what can wait. Don’t try to do it all at once.
Learn to say No!
Now that you have made progress, implemented new frameworks and started to manage different programs, be aware of taking on too much, Depending on the organization’s size and goals, the scope of work will no doubt be large. There may still be a misplaced thinking that TPM does everything that engineering doesn’t want to do - like managing tasks. Be aware of the type of work you are taking on and make sure to prioritize in a way that helps you leverage your strengths.
Drop the right balls!
Once you have gotten past the initial challenges and established yourself as a valuable member of the team, start thinking about how you will scale yourself. How will you balance the big picture and breadth vs diving deep to problem solve day to day problems. Saying No will help you in the short term, but think about what does the organization need long term. When is the right time to grow the TPM team? Work with your manager/sponsor to establish the requirements for a new role. As the team sees value in your role, they will want more so make it your responsibility to set up a strong TPM team. Polish your leadership skills and be strategic on the next steps that will not just help your team/company but also pave the way for your career growth!