TPM stands for Technical Program (Project) Manager, which is a role commonly found in many tech companies like Google and Amazon.
Before talking about added value, what does this role do? Short answer is a role to lead projects that involve many R&D teams or programs that are NOT suitable as products. While the responsibilities of TPMs may vary across different companies, we will focus on their primary responsibilities in this discussion.
Does TPM has the same responsibility as project managers? Yes and no. TPM needs to act as a typical project manager to secure engineers working the project (WHO) and deadlines to deliver it (WHEN). One added value for TPMs is to ensure that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards. However, the traditional project management method such as waterfall doesn’t work for software development, because it requires greater flexibility, faster iterations, continuous stakeholder involvement, and an ability to respond to changes. While agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban have become popular for their flexibility and proactivity, they do not replace the need for close oversight of the engineering team’s progress.
A high-level project manager may not be useful, which is where the TPM comes in. The TPM is responsible for monitoring the team’s progress and ensuring that they stay on track. In addition to the skills required of a project manager, the TPM must also have a deep understanding of the technical challenges facing the team. They must be able to challenge the current plan, identify risks, and communicate effectively. This can be challenging for TPMs as they do not perform the actual software development work but must understand the main problems and drive discussions towards solutions. Another value for TPMs is to play a key role in managing the risks and dependencies, ensuring that engineering teams are able to deliver the projects that meet the needs of their customers. Please keep in mind that customers could be inside the same company, for example another engineering team expecting a tooling delivery.
In some cases, this may sound like the role of an Engineering Manager (EM), who works closely with TPMs. However, they are different roles. In some small organizations, or to save costs, EMs may take on both roles. EMs owns resources, whereas TPMs do not. TPMs lead the projects and they are servant leaders who influence the teams without authority. We do observe career transitions from EMs to TPMs and vice versa in companies. For people willing to take people management and own technical subjects, they would prefer EM position. TPMs are enthusiastic about driving transversal projects and programs with larger scopes.
Last but not least, TPMs drives continuous improvement and innovation within their organizations. They actively seek opportunities to identify inefficiencies, streamline processes, and implement innovative solutions that enhance productivity and overall performance. By leveraging their expertise and collaborative approach, TPMs drive initiatives that promote a culture of continuous improvement, enabling the organization to stay competitive and adapt to evolving demands. Giving an example here, a TPM working in a engineering department can improve the collaboration between engineering teams by defining a transparent workflow, clear communication channels and team orgnization. They are the eyes of department heads and voices of engineers.