Every day, more and more companies rely on product managers. They have become an increasingly important role for organizations in a wide variety of industries. However, those who work around software or technology in general might have seen that a variation of the role has become popular lately: The Technical Product Manager, or TPM. But what is really the difference between a Product Manager and a Technical PM? More importantly, do you need one or the other, or both?
So what is really the difference?
As frustrating as it might sound, it depends. Sorry. Companies name their roles differently based on their needs, size and capacity, so what they might expect and how they call who does what might differ from organization to organization. However, there seems to be some common ground. So let’s start with that.
Usually, Product Managers, as you would expect, deal with the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’. They deal with strategy, long term, prioritization, and users or customers. The product managers could be called the CEOs of the product and deal holistically with it. They are in charge of vision.
TPMs, on the other hand, would deal more with the ‘hows’. An important note here is that this does not mean that they wouldn’t be taking into account the other aspects of product management, but would center more on the execution of the product.
Having to handle the execution, though, does not mean ‘grunt’ work or lack of strategy. TPMs have to be up to the task on how to handle the backlog as well as the frameworks to build the products, being knowledgeable on API’s and data schemas, and face more inwards towards the team developing the product.
Should companies have both?
Again, it is a grey area. Structural hierarchies in companies might dictate the need for a TPM and a PM, or just one of them. They might have both on the same level, or one with more responsibilities than the other. One of the roles could be divided perhaps in some smaller roles or just absorb both into one. It all depends.
If we are talking about a huge organization, you will probably find not only a Technical Product Manager, but also more laser focused specialists in this area, like core or growth product managers. This way, tasks of each specific area are handled with extra care, focus and time.
Big companies also could prefer to have a Product Manager handling the usual, meaning: talking with users, prioritizing tasks, having long term vision, etc., and instead of a TPM have Product Owners, Engineering Managers and/or Delivery Managers.
Finally, Startups probably won’t have both roles and the Product Manager will handle the tasks by themselves. If required, the hiring process will state the technical aspects that would be needed for the role, but most likely it will still be called just “product manager”.
That being said, PMs life could be easier and less technical, if they had the tools that already took care of that, wouldn’t you agree? Wouldn’t it be best —either for PMs or TPMs— for them to invest their time and effort in strategy and execution, than to spend time writing queries, or on troublesome data aggregation and visualization?
Food for thought.