What is a Technical Program Manager? 🗺️
A primer about this crucial but often misunderstood role.
A few weeks ago I had a good chat with a friend of mine, who has a technical leadership role at a mid-size company (~50 engineers).
He told me they finally managed to create cross-functional teams that are fairly independent, and that he is happy with how fast they are able to ship new things. However, he also told me he is struggling with a couple of projects that — necessarily — span the work of many of such teams.
Coordination is tricky and so is resource allocation, because ownership is somewhat distributed and each problem goes back and forth like a hot potato.
I asked him if they ever thought of introducing Technical Program Managers to run such projects. He answered that he wasn’t sure, because he wasn’t familiar with the role and how it would fit the organization.
This was an honest confession, and it struck a chord with me. The TPM role is often misunderstood, I believe for two main reasons:
⏱️ Timing — as with many roles that aren’t useful until your team reaches a certain size, it is tricky to figure out when it is the right time to add one.
🔬 Scope — TPMs sit in your product / engineering org while having no direct authority or ownership of engineering or product teams or components. Many people are baffled at this.
So how does Technical Program Management work? To shed light onto this crucial role, I asked for help from my friend Aadil Maan, who graciously co-authored this piece.
Aadil has a tremendous experience having led programs at companies like Humane, Apple, Nike, and Google. He is also a fantastic writer — he is the author of the Building Romes newsletter, where every week he explains and demystifies specific aspects of the TPM role. You should check it out!
So, this article wants to be a primer on Technical Program Management where we cover the why, the what, and the how.
Today we will talk about:
📖 What is a TPM — and how they differ from other managers.
🤹♀️ Skills of a good TPM — let’s talk project management, tech knowledge, and communication.
🔍 Signs you may need a TPM — to figure out when it is the right time to add one.
💼 How to break into a TPM role — career advice for people interested in the role.
Let’s dive in!
Hey 👋 this is Luca! Welcome to a 🔒 weekly edition 🔒 of Refactoring.
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