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What is a Technical Program Manager (TPM)?

A Technical Program Manager (TPM) is a special type of program management role often found in the tech field. The definition of TPM largely varies from company to company or even team to team. You have most likely heard of the titles Technical Project Manager and Technical Product Manager, both of which can be abbreviated to ‘TPM’. However, for this topic, I will focus on TPM as in Technical Program Manager.

To get an understanding of the TPM role, let’s start with the basics - projects and programs.

Project - is an endeavor with finite start and finish, with primary focus on execution and a goal to create specific product/service.

Example: Launching Google Maps to one new country/locale

Program - Collection of interdependent projects that need to be managed and coordinated together. Scope is usually larger and can last longer through multiple phases

Example: Launch Google Maps in multiple languages in a region with specific plan to increase available features over time.

A Project Manager generally manages a single project and the teams responsible for fulfilling that project at any given time. The goal is to achieve deliverables with resources available within schedule and budget. A Project manager’s role is more tactical, with focus on operational elements such as meeting deadlines, staying within budget and delivering on time. A Project manager’s work is complete when the project is complete.

A Program Manager manages collection of projects, ongoing iterative changes and/or multiple programs. They track interdependencies across programs, creating program level plans to achieve a combined goal. They collaborate across teams and other project managers to understand status across the projects and support action to improve delivery.

Program Manager is usually seen as a leader for the entire program. They can articulate goals and objectives and its impact on the business. Role extends beyond completion of individual programs and looks at long term goals.

Technical Program Manager is a type of Program Manager where the primary focus is on managing technical programs. TPM role is highly complex with three main axis - T for Technical, P for Program Sense, M for Management specific to Leadership and Communication.

The TPMs typically have domain expertise in specific technology that is leveraged to design, create and deliver business objectives. The programs can vary from deeply technical to large, complex multi-year strategic initiatives. They often span multiple teams, organizations or even companies.

TPMs are problem solvers with excellent leadership skills who can motivate the team to reach all business objectives. They understand team dynamics, product ecosystem and technical landscape. They often work on product/features that are technically complex and require extensive cross functional collaboration

Using the example of Google Maps, a TPM will create an internationalization plan for launching to multiple countries and work with global teams (engineering, testing, marketing, legal, policy etc) across the company including other program and project managers to manage and track towards the desired business outcome - making Maps available in local languages in a certain region within specific timeline.

TPMs come in many flavors and their role is very nuanced. Over the next few posts, I will dive into various aspects of being a TPM such as responsibilities, expectations, strategies to be successful and so on.

Feel free to comment below with any questions you have about the role and I will try to answer them in future posts. .

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