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The future of technical program management

Part of the Introduction section.

As we contemplate the future of Technical Program Management (TPM), it is clear that the role will continue to evolve in response to the ever-changing technological landscape. In this section, we will explore the trends shaping the role of the TPM and the challenges that lie ahead for these navigators of technology, business, and leadership.

future trends

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  1. Increasing reliance on technology: As organizations continue to embrace technology as a driving force for innovation and growth, the demand for skilled TPMs will only increase. TPMs will play a critical role in guiding the successful execution of complex technical programs, ensuring that organizations are well-positioned to capitalize on emerging opportunities. It's said that traditional automotive companies often employ more software engineers than mechanical engineers now.
  2. Growing emphasis on Agile methodologies: The Agile philosophy has gained significant traction in recent years, emphasizing iterative development, cross-functional collaboration, and rapid response to change. TPMs will need to be well-versed in Agile methodologies and adapt their management approaches accordingly, ensuring that projects remain nimble and responsive to changing requirements and priorities.
    1. Perhaps an equally important skill will be choosing or advising when not to use an Agile methodology to get things done.
  3. Increasing focus on data-driven decision-making: As data becomes more readily available and organizations strive to make more informed decisions, TPMs will need to incorporate data-driven insights into their strategic planning and project management efforts. This will require developing skills in data analysis, visualization, and interpretation, as well as a keen understanding of how to use data to inform decision-making.
  4. Greater emphasis on cybersecurity and privacy: As the world becomes more interconnected and organizations grapple with the ever-present threat of cyber-attacks and data breaches, TPMs will need to prioritize security and privacy considerations in their project planning and execution efforts. This will necessitate a deep understanding of security best practices and emerging threats, as well as the ability to communicate the importance of security to project stakeholders.
    1. TPMs will need to work alongside security professionals to implement the right level of security for their programs. They will also have to communicate the level of risk their programs assume based on the organization's investment in security.
  5. The role of AI in technology programs and the TPM role: With the introduction of large-language models, e.g. ChatGPT, Gemini, Claude, and their like, the role of a TPM rapidly changed in 2023. We must now both anticipate and integrate modern AI concepts in our programs and consider how to leverage the technology in the effective execution of our programs. We may be both building AI and using AI to build.
    1. Many TPMs will add "prompt engineering" to their list of skills. How will you, as a TPM, make the most of AI to advance your programs? Here's an introductory tutorial from Microsoft Learn about using AI chat and image generation.

Challenges for the future

  1. Navigating the complexity of emerging technologies: TPMs will need to stay abreast of emerging technologies and their potential applications and implications for their projects. This will require a commitment to lifelong learning and a willingness to embrace the unknown.
    1. Developing the judgement to know when to stick with a proven or already-implemented technology and when to abandon it and switch to something new is a key skill for TPMs.
  2. Managing the human element: As technology continues to advance, TPMs must not lose sight of the human element that is essential to the success of any project. This will involve fostering a culture of empathy, collaboration, and open communication, as well as ensuring that the needs and well-being of team members are prioritized.
    1. Often TPMs play a role within a team well beyond technology. They can be the glue that helps form and hold a team together. Being inclusive, and expecting the same of others, can help make a great team.
  3. Balancing innovation and risk: TPMs will need to strike a delicate balance between embracing innovation and managing the inherent risks associated with new technologies and approaches. This will necessitate a deep understanding of risk assessment and mitigation strategies, as well as the ability to make informed decisions in the face of uncertainty.
  4. Driving sustainability and ethical considerations: As organizations become more conscious of their impact on the environment and society, TPMs will need to incorporate sustainability and ethical considerations into their project planning and execution efforts. This will involve understanding the environmental and social implications of various technologies, as well as advocating for responsible and ethical practices within their organizations.
    1. An example of this is customers and stakeholders requiring carbon emission assessments of proposed or implemented solutions. How will you determine the carbon impact of the program you're helping to build?
    2. For an example of a tool to help build sustainable programs see the Carbon Aware SDK from the Green Software Foundation.
  5. Balance the positives and challenges of AI: AI brings many new questions including equity, fairness, attribution, bias, and correctness. How will TPMs both ensure that the programs they run are leveraging the best of AI while countering the challenges? How will TPMs leverage these new AI tools to assist directly with the delivery of their programs while not introducing new risks?

remote and hybrid work

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The trend towards remote and hybrid work has significantly impacted the future of the Technical Program Manager (TPM) role, demanding a shift in how TPMs coordinate and lead technical projects across dispersed teams. This evolution emphasizes the need for robust digital communication and project management tools, as well as the development of new strategies for fostering team collaboration and cohesion without the benefit of regular, in-person interactions.

See the section on communicating with stakeholders for more about tools that enable remote and hybrid work.

The ability to manage projects effectively across different time zones and to maintain high productivity and morale in a remote setting has become a critical skill for TPMs. Moreover, this trend challenges TPMs to be more proactive in identifying and mitigating risks that may arise from the lack of face-to-face communication, ensuring that technical projects remain on track and aligned with organizational goals. As the work environment continues to evolve, TPMs are also becoming key players in shaping the policies and practices that support a healthy and productive remote or hybrid work culture within their organizations.