11 Differences Between Product Manager (PM) vs Technical Program Manager (TPM)

To many, the difference between a Product Manager (PM) and a Program Manager (TPM) may not be very clear. Even as Product Managers and Technical Program Managers in many cases work closely and share all project ownership equally, they normally have varied tasks that demand different skill sets and eventually, different ways and means for interview preparation.

Goals and Objectives

Product Managers are the ones mandated to define any Product Vision. This involves fully researching on product user pain points, defining the metrics to focus on that will result in success, and laying down product solutions and requirements that address and help to handle pain points. Product managers are responsible for the “what” and the “why” of the product.

The technical Program Managers are in charge of the execution of the needs set out by the Product Manager. TPMs mostly work closely with teams of Engineering Managers and Team Leads to clear out project implementation key details and resourcing, and together with other key stakeholders across the company to come up with project timelines. TPMs are incharge of the “when”, and work as well as with engineering managers on the “how” and the “who” of the product.

Both are rated and measured by the timing and the success of a product presentation.

Daily Routine

Product Managers have a responsibility to talk to product users and show data to decide what product problems to handle. They mostly spend their days in meetings with other stakeholders in the company talking about product requirements. Normally, their main output is key product requirements, with the requirements mainly being in the form of Product Requirement Documents (PRDs).

The Technical Program Managers have the responsibility of building and maintaining all key engineering delivery timelines, clearing engineering teams, defining and reshuffling cross-functional needs, and improving on efficiency and rate of the project execution. TPMs most likely spend their days in Agile, Kanban, or other common project planning gears, and while scheduling meetings with key relevant stakeholders to ensure projects keep progressing well. Their major yield is usually a program implementation plan and timeline, and project health reports that should be sent to project stakeholders throughout a project’s life cycle.

Both are likely spend most of their days in meetings, documents, and email, as both PMs and TPMs have the responsibility of ensuring all parties involved in a project are focused on a similar goal.

Key Skills

Product Managers are generally the connection between tech, business and strategy. Their responsibility as such is to bring together business requirements with possible potential solutions, highlighting solutions that will deliver the most benefit to project end users. Product Managers Need to be both creative and very analytical, making use of both sides of the brain in cycle.

Technical Program Managers are required to be technically savvy, as they should have learned deliberations with project engineers on the costing of several features so as to come up with correct timelines. TPM also need to have a verified track record of handling competing urgencies, resolving doubts, and delivering difficult projects on-time and delivering within budget.

PMs and TPMs should take up very strong communication abilities, and team building or leadership skills, as they are each mandated to keep everyone excited about the project and socializing important projects elements.

Interview Preparation

In terms of interview tips, PMs can expect the following types of interview such as estimation, analytical interview, product design, product strategy, execution, behavioral interview.

Technical Program Managers are on the other hand expected to show expertise in Project / Program Management and enough practical knowledge to talk about hard technical needs with engineering managers. These interviews are much more experiential than they are in theory, as you most likely be asked about previous experience and on how to apply that previous experience in the new and challenging work problems. Interviewers look out to see whether a TPM can succeed to get things done in a world that requires top resources. TPMs are expected to be technical enough to understand engineering operations.

TPMs can expect interview types such as Project/Program Management, Partnership, and Technical: Past experience interview, Technical: Problem solving demonstration and more interview phases.

Both PMs and TPMs should be ready to address case situations in an interview and apply their skills and knowledge accordingly. Both also need to be prepared to clearly show success in working with teams and demonstrate good communication.

In as much as both PMs and TPMs are responsible for a project’s accomplishment, their goals and responsibilities differ, and therefore the preparation for their individual interviews should be done differently. Both are leaders and are great communicators, but PMs are mainly responsible for “project ideas” and TPMs are responsible for “project execution.”

Understanding the distinctions of various delivery roles is key and crucial when evaluating the kind of skills your organization has and still needs. This can be quite difficult when responsibilities overlap and definition of different roles differ across departments and organizations. A good example is, expectations can become quite hard when differentiating a program, project, or product managing roles, like the roles of a technical program manager (TPM) compared to those of a product manager or even a technical product manager.

We begin by breaking down the basic behaviors and responsibilities of TPMs and product managers:

Product Managers need to have the following as key:

·         Be business focused

·         Have very strong project and program managing skills

·         Should help create the product vision

·         Manage all product finances, budget and planning

·         In charge of feature prioritization

·         Handle customer feedback for better customer experience

·         May decide to have product owners working under them, responsible for engineering work-streams.

Technical product managers have a similar role but only for highly technical products.

Technical Program Managers are required to:

·         Be Focused on engineering implementation, planning, and the design

·         Usually be a former software engineer due to the nature of the work

·         Often work closely with project/ product developers

·         Maybe be more associated the business side of the value stream subject to how technically savvy the TPM is and what the delivery need is.

·         Be In charge of tackling all deliveries of one or more technical projects for their company

·         Typically work with technical companies that use SOA (service-oriented architecture) and micro services architecture technologies.

·         Be Responsible for driving programs for success, following program progress, and providing support when needed to

·         Often drive technical dependencies that require to make changes for their project so as to launch

·         Often work the complete and entire cycle of projects from the beginning and idea generation to the very end

·       Be able to help meet the technologies, tools, and processes that can help an organization attain Continuous Integration and Deployment and a DevOps operating model.

·         Often get involved in non-functional features of software delivery like application performance, reliability, resilience, security, and compliance. 

Technical Program Manager (TPM)

Primary Goal – Get things done. Basically, TPM’s are responsible for delivering success within a set time span and with a specific quality bar. Technical Program Managers vs Product Managers vs Product Managers – Technical vs Engineering Managers

A Technical Program Manager (TPM) generally has the following Responsibilities –

1.      To adapt to working within a development team

2.      Being in charge and driving the development team to initiate various features.

3.      He/she drives the cycle, gathers key requirements from the product managers.

4.      Sets up and manages architectural evaluations with teams consuming the service.

5.      Manages and leads the team to accomplish the key performance indicators the team is mandated to achieve.

6.      Helps sole issues as they arise on the project.

7.      Resolve blockers. 

8.      Is responsible for all communication and is the main face of the team

9.      Manages inter-team needs and delivers well on the set date.

Product Manager (PM)

Primary Goal – Defining the Vision & Planning the Product roadmap

To clearly describe the main goal and strategy of a given product the Product Manager is required to understand the product and what he believes product users would love to see. If the product is a B2C kind of Product, Product managers should have goals to add their Daily Active User Rate and MAUs (Monthly Active User Rate). They work very closely with their TPMs mostly as a contradicting force to deliver value to their customers sooner. PMs Run A/B tests, they carry out surveys, key groups when decisions need to be made. Technical Program Managers vs Product Managers vs Product Managers – Technical vs Engineering Managers

Product Manager Mandate

Depending on the company and project, PMs have different levels of authority to make decisions on where they wish to take the feature or product they are in charge of. Sometimes organizations like the sales and marketing teams may have an input. The level of mandate to make decisions differ by organization.

In organizations such as Microsoft, Product managers also serve as program managers and are responsible for product/project execution. At a place like MS, you would own both the vision and the execution. While the architecture and delivery are owned by the engineering manager. Technical Program Managers vs Product Managers vs Product Managers – Technical vs Engineering Managers

Strategic Thinking and Analysis

Product Managers think tactfully. They clearly understand their end users and how their customers interact with the product, they also have a deep understanding of the competitor in the market. Competition does not necessarily need to look as if a product is doing the same thing. For instance, if you are a product manager who owns the sign in flow for your app, you may find yourself looking at each other app out there that has a more efficient and impactful sign in flow.

If there happens to exist a competitive product in the industry and market, then the product managers keenly monitor the competitive gap to ensure that the product they are in charge of has comparative features.  

Good Communication & Detail Oriented

One very key skill of a Product Manager is the ability to communicate very well as they need to attract their organization’s internal workforce to believe and buy into his/ her vision and plan. This is important, as it also helps to captivate the main developers and the leading management team that there is a well-planned strategic value or that there is more ROI in the effort that must be pursued. This is mainly with the help of numbers of exactly how it would help the product and it is mainly also measured by releasing the product to a selected set of the audience and then often measuring to see if the change had a significant impact and originally thought of.

Another important factor to be a good Product Manager is to be detail oriented. The successful Product managers seem to pay a lot of attention to all details. They are always very intrusive, they want to know everything in great detail and make sure not to miss out any information. They care so much about protecting the end product.

Prioritization

The most important aspect is the ability to prioritize for a Product Manager when compared to a Technical Program Manager as a PM is hit with loads of feature requests frequently. Everyday there are very important decisions that must be made. A PM has this key ability to make important decisions and stick to them to the very end for the good of the end product as well as the good of the end product user.

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