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Leading and managing technical programs as a TPM

Part of the Responsibilities section.

As a Technical Program Manager (TPM), you are responsible for leading and managing technical programs. This means that you are responsible for everything from planning and executing the program to managing the team and ensuring that the program stays on track.


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Here are some tips on how to lead and manage technical programs as a TPM:

  • Plan carefully. Before you start any program, it is important to carefully plan it out. This includes identifying the goals of the program, the scope of the program, the resources that you will need, and the timeline for the program.
  • Assemble a strong team. The success of any program depends on the people who are working on it. As a TPM, you are responsible for assembling a strong team of engineers, scientists, and other professionals. (See the first sidebar below for ideas if you are working with an existing team.)
  • Communicate effectively. Communication is key to the success of any program. As a TPM, you need to be able to communicate effectively with your team, your stakeholders, and your manager.
  • Be flexible. Things don't always go according to plan. As a TPM, you need to be able to adapt to changes and make adjustments to the program as needed.
  • Stay organized. There is a lot of information to keep track of when you are leading a technical program. As a TPM, you need to be able to stay organized and keep track of everything that is going on.
  • Be a good listener. Listening is just as important as communicating. As a TPM, you need to be able to listen to your team, your stakeholders, and your manager.
  • Be a good decision-maker. As a TPM, you will have to make a lot of decisions. It is important to be able to make good decisions based on the information that you have.
  • Be a good leader. A good leader inspires others to do their best. As a TPM, you need to be able to inspire your team to do their best and achieve the goals of the program. (See the second sidebar below for ideas of how to be a leader if you are not a people manager.)

Leading and managing technical programs can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of success.

In an ideal world, a Technical Program Manager (TPM) would have the luxury of handpicking their team members, assembling a group of skilled professionals who are perfectly suited to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. However, reality often presents a different scenario, in which a TPM is handed an existing team and must make the best of the resources at their disposal.

Assessing your team's skills and expertise

Start by assessing the skills, expertise, and experience of each team member. This can be done through one-on-one conversations, examining their past work, and seeking feedback from colleagues who have worked with them. This evaluation will help you gain a better understanding of the strengths and grow areas of your team and how each individual can contribute to the program's success.

Establishing communication and trust

Building open communication channels and fostering a culture of trust is crucial when working with a given team. Encourage an environment in which team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. This can be achieved through regular team meetings, providing opportunities for members to discuss their progress and challenges, and promoting a collaborative atmosphere.

A wise woman once taught me that "trust is the residue of promises kept." Building trust is about making and keeping promises to your team. This means don't make promises you can't keep. It also means that you need to be aware of implicit promises that you (or perhaps the company / organization) are making. An implicit promise is as powerful, if not more so, than an explicit promise.

Identifying areas for improvement

Once you have a clear understanding of your team's capabilities, identify areas where improvements can be made. This may involve providing additional training or resources to help team members develop new skills, addressing any gaps in knowledge or expertise, and refining existing processes to boost efficiency and productivity.

Empowering team members

Empower your team members by involving them in the decision-making process and giving them a sense of ownership over their work. This will not only boost their motivation and commitment but will also help them grow and develop as professionals. Recognize and reward their accomplishments and provide constructive feedback to help them learn from their mistakes.

Adapting your management style

Finally, adapt your management style to suit the needs and dynamics of your given team. This may require a more hands-on approach for less experienced team members or a more consultative style for those who are highly skilled and autonomous. Be flexible and willing to adjust your approach to ensure the best possible outcomes for your program and your team.

By embracing these strategies, a TPM can make the best of a given team, maximizing their potential and ensuring the successful completion of the program at hand. While picking your team from scratch might be easier, helping a team you are given to succeed is ultimately more satisfying.

Technical Program Managers (TPMs) often find themselves in situations where they are expected to lead, even when they don't have direct people management responsibilities. This unique position requires a different approach to leadership, focusing on influence, collaboration, and communication. Here are some tips for TPMs who need to lead without the formal authority of a people manager.

Cultivating influence and credibility

As a TPM, your influence and credibility are key to your ability to lead. This involves demonstrating your technical expertise, understanding the intricacies of the programs you're overseeing, and staying up-to-date with industry trends. By cultivating this credibility, you'll gain the respect and trust of your team members, making it easier to guide them towards the program's objectives.

Fostering collaboration

Promote a collaborative environment by encouraging open communication, active listening, and the sharing of ideas and knowledge. Facilitate teamwork by creating opportunities for team members to work together, learn from one another, and develop a shared understanding of the program's goals and requirements. This collaborative approach will empower your team to take ownership of their work and support one another in achieving success.

Developing emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a crucial skill for TPMs who are not people managers. This involves the ability to recognize and understand the emotions and motivations of your team members, as well as your own. By developing emotional intelligence, you'll be better equipped to address interpersonal conflicts, motivate your team, and foster a positive working environment.

Communicating effectively

Clear and effective communication is a cornerstone of successful leadership, particularly for TPMs who don't have formal authority. Make a conscious effort to communicate in a way that is concise, transparent, and accessible to all team members. This includes actively seeking feedback, addressing concerns, and ensuring everyone has a clear understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and expectations.

Leveraging relationships

Build strong relationships with both your team members and stakeholders, including product managers, engineers, and executives. Leverage these relationships to advocate for your team, secure resources, and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. By fostering these connections, you'll be better positioned to drive your program forward and achieve its objectives.

The best time to have built a relationship is in the past. The second best time is now. Trust your intuition on this. People that you need to build relationships will often be obvious in retrospect so pay attention to your gut in the moment and go a bit extra to build relationships early.

By focusing on these strategies, TPMs can effectively lead their teams without formal people management responsibilities. Embrace this unique leadership style and use it to guide your team to success.