5 mins

Technical program managers help bridge the gap between teams to achieve alignment and streamlined processes.

Technical program managers (TPMs) help engineering teams gain a competitive advantage in a landscape where it’s difficult to keep up with technological advancements – let alone stay ahead of the pack. With a combination of technical knowledge and project management skills, TPMs are force multipliers for engineering teams.

What is a technical program manager?

A TPM is responsible for the planning, execution, and delivery of complex projects. They work closely with teams like engineering, product, and stakeholders from other organizations to ensure that the programs are completed on time and within budget. They play a crucial role in prioritization, coordination of resources, and mitigation of risks to achieve project success. With acute technical expertise, TPMs are expected to understand complex engineering challenges or bottlenecks and proactively line up solutions. 

TPMs are force multipliers connecting product vision, customer asks, and engineering effort. A force multiplier refers to any factor or capability that enhances the effectiveness, efficiency, or impact of a project. In a general sense, a force multiplier is either a tool, technology, or an individual that enables greater output or achievement with the same or fewer resources. For TPMs this means taking ambiguous requirements, working with product and other teams to gain clarity, and turning those vague instructions into clear goals. Furthermore, they establish timelines, ensure punctual execution, and provide visibility with updates to leadership.

The technical acumen expected in this role

TPMs are expected to have extensive technical and domain knowledge. For example, if you are a TPM working in data engineering, your understanding of data engineering concepts must be developed enough to sustain impactful and meaningful conversations. 

Elsewhere, TPMs may join architecture discussions to make sure that product requirements are considered during design so that systems are built in a reliable and scalable manner. In these conversations, they might evaluate the latency aspects of the systems and challenge designers on whether this is acceptable for the end user. 

Crucially, TPMs can align the technical roadmap with business objectives. They ensure that engineering teams are focused on high-impact and high-priority tasks. For example, if a company’s goal is to expand on AI capabilities and deliver an AI feature by the end of the year and the engineering team is torn between two initiatives, a TPM could encourage the team to pursue the avenue that most aligns with the company’s roadmap and business objectives. By doing this, they keep engineers contributing to the company's success, making teamwork more effective and outcomes more valuable. 

Efficient resource utilization

TPMs employ available resources to achieve specific objectives, often under constraints, by identifying the right team members for projects and ensuring everyone's skills are put to good use. By teaming up with engineering and product managers, TPMs streamline workflows and ensure that resources are utilized efficiently. For example, if one engineer has two high-priority tasks a TPM might suggest having them focus on the most important task and assign the other to someone else. Contextual understanding of ongoing projects will allow TPMs to highlight potential bottlenecks

How technical program managers mitigate risk 

In any engineering project, there's always a chance of hiccups and roadblocks. TPMs keep a sharp eye out for risks and devise mitigation plans. For example, if a company chooses to deprecate data, the ideal approach involves working with engineers to identify all downstream systems affected. Sending communication about the program status, risks, and blockers two weeks in advance of the initiative kick-off gives downstream teams enough notice to fix their pipelines and minimizes escalations to leadership about potential delays in delivery data. 

Timeline execution is another area TPMs have responsibility over. If a team’s tasks or processes rely on external dependencies i.e., they involve other projects, teams, or organizations outside their direct control, TPMs monitor their progress, and communicate updates to ensure timely completion. If a team plans to deploy a product within the next two weeks, but approval processes for certain aspects take longer, a TPM will flag this and get them started promptly. 

Product adoption tactics are another area where TPMs bring immense value to both engineering teams and senior leadership.  For example, if an org has recently adopted a tool, TPMs can analyze the data, generate key performance indicators (KPIs), develop adoption strategies by partnering with product managers, measure progress, and help improve adoption incrementally. These insights empower executives to optimize resource allocation, mitigate risks, and capitalize on emerging opportunities.

How technical program managers streamline cross-functional collaboration

TPMs excel at establishing cross-functional partnerships and winning their trust. This could include kickstarting biweekly/monthly syncs with cross-functional teams (engineering, product, design, or other stakeholders) and providing updates on the progress of projects that affect all members. For example, if the research and analytics team regularly engages with data engineers for a specific project, TPMs could facilitate a monthly meeting to provide updates on program statuses, communicate any delays, risks, or blockers, and supply visibility thereby establishing trust and strong partnership.

Understanding the long-term vision, immediate needs, and current gaps of cross-functional partners is crucial to make sure that priorities are aligned with people’s needs

A technical program manager’s career path

Typically TPMs start as associate technical program managers and as they gain experience, TPMs may advance to senior TPM positions or transition to leadership roles. The career path for this role varies depending on the company and org structure. It’s not uncommon to see engineers with previous cross-functional experience who have led the delivery of projects transition to TPM roles as well. 

Final thoughts

TPMs are force multipliers for engineering teams, making everything run smoother and faster. They help use resources better, spot and fix problems before they get big, and bring teams together to work as one. TPMs are the glue that holds engineering efforts together and help scale teams.