Have you been considering transitioning into a technical project manager role? Whether you’re actively pursuing a career change or just curious to learn more, this article will help you learn more about the role and responsibilities of a technical project manager.
Read on to learn:
- What exactly a technical project manager does
- The difference between a technical project manager and a technical program manager
- How to become a technical project manager
- The tools you’ll likely need on your career path
Let’s get started!
What does a technical project manager do?
A technical project manager oversees teams and projects to ensure their team meets goals within the project’s timeline, scope, and budget. They’re responsible for project planning and communicating with stakeholders to ensure everyone stays in-the-loop as the project progresses through each stage.
The key difference between a project manager and a technical project manager is that the latter has a technical background — typically in IT or Engineering. Technical project managers are able to use this expertise in the execution of deliverables.
This means they oversee technical teams such as development teams, software engineering teams, or others in the IT or engineering fields. Because of this, many technical project managers have a degree in computer science and an in-depth understanding of mathematics, computer programing, and software development.
What are the responsibilities of a technical project manager?
The responsibilities of a technical project manager include project scheduling, problem-solving, leadership, and orchestrating collaboration between multiple teams.
It can be a demanding role — and the ideal technical project manager is creative, great at communicating, and confident that they can lead a team through turbulent times.
Another important component of a technical project manager’s role is making sure that projects continue to align with the organization’s overall vision and mission. It can be easy to start drifting from the main focus, especially once the daily execution of a project is underway, so it’s important to have technical project managers to recenter the focus on the organization’s main goals.
What is the difference between a technical program manager and a technical project manager?
While these roles have similarities, there are several distinct differences between technical program managers and technical project managers.
Primary among these differences is that technical project managers work on leading teams throughout the entire lifecycle of a single project. Meanwhile, technical program managers oversee multiple projects and ensure they align with company goals, stay within set budgets, and ensure their teams meet deadlines for deliverables across several projects.
If a company employs both roles, typically the technical program manager will oversee several technical project managers. This means the technical program manager does not get into as many of the details of what is going on, but orchestrates more collaboration between teams to help achieve deliverables for customers and reach targets for stakeholders.
4 steps to becoming a technical project manager
Getting started as a technical project manager can be challenging, but definitely not impossible. Use these five steps as a general roadmap to help you make the shift!
Step 1: Research
The first step before any big career change is to research a role to see if it’s the right fit for you. It can be helpful to hear the experiences of others. Do this via reading articles or watching videos of people who are transparent about the highs and lows of the field and by having informational interviews with established professionals in the field.
Here are some topics to research:
- Does the position match your natural skillset?
Everyone has things they are naturally good at and/or things they’re interested in learning more about. Work takes up a large amount of energy and time in the week, so it’s nice to work in a position where you feel confident in your abilities to accomplish the required tasks.
- Do you enjoy doing what the role requires of you?
If the thought of creating Excel spreadsheets makes you queasy, or overseeing teams is your biggest nightmare, being a technical project manager might not be the right fit for you. It is important to spend your work hours doing things you are not only skilled at, but also enjoy.
- What type of additional training or certifications will you need?
After talking to a few professionals in the field and assessing your own skills, start researching if you will need any additional education or certification to hold a position in this field (more on this below).
- What’s the earning potential of this role?
Since education and certification can be quite the investment, it’s important to question if the earning potential matches your lifestyle and future goals.
Step 2: Earn a certification
Once you’re certain this is a field you want to pursue, help yourself stand out from others by getting certified as a technical program manager. Certifications demonstrate to hiring managers that you’ve invested time and care into making this career shift, and can help prove your technical chops.
The following are some of the best certification programs you can invest in to show your skills to potential employers:
- Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) — AXELOS Global Best Practice
- Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) — Project Management Institute
- Professional in Business Analysis (PBA) — Project Management Institute
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) — Project Management Institute
- Professional Scrum Master™ Level I — Scrum.org
- Certified Scrum Master (CSM) — Scrum Alliance
Adding one of these to your resume could help open doors to new opportunities.
Step 3: Get some experience
If you’re struggling to find a position, consider getting some experience by volunteering or shadowing an established professional.
If you did an informational interview, try reaching back out to the individual you talked with and asking if you can help them with any of their projects. It’s also sometimes possible to volunteer with a startup that may not yet have the budget to employ a technical project manager. By volunteering for a limited amount of time, you can help them out while also gaining experience to use in future interviews.
Step 4: Land a role as a technical project manager
Use your certification, experience, and other work history to land a job as a technical project manager. Companies looking for a technical project manager will likely view past experiences such as software development, product development, resource management, software engineering, or other technical skills positively.
If you don’t yet have a lot of experience, remember to highlight your soft skills and the ways those will help you accomplish the role and responsibilities.
Once you’re established in a position as a technical project manager, remember to help others along the path — do the occasional informational interview, or create an internship program for others interested in gaining experience.
Soft skills that benefit a technical project manager
Especially when first pivoting into a technical project management role, highlight the soft skills that will help you fulfill your role as a technical project manager well.
Technical project manager roles require you to work collaboratively with others and lead them through good and hard times. These are some of the soft skills that will help you do that:
As a technical project manager, you will need to know how to inspire and work with groups of people. There may be disagreements between team members that it will be your responsibility to help mitigate. Knowing how to bring people together is an important skill of a technical project manager.
If you enjoy helping groups navigate conflict, inspiring others with your leadership, and unifying people towards a single goal, then technical project management could be the right fit for you.
Communication skills are imperative for a technical project manager. You need to be able to address the concerns of stakeholders and investors, give clear direction to a team, and inspire team members via good communication.
It’s also important to be able to clearly communicate expectations and create frameworks that help team members fulfill their roles. Some technical project managers may opt for accountability via various time tracking platforms so they can help their team members improve in time management.
Effective time management
As a technical project manager, there are many things to keep track of as well as many different responsibilities to oversee. Effective time management is an important skill to master.
You can improve awareness of personal time usage by using a time tracking software like Clockwise. Once you know how you’re spending your time, you can incorporate various time management strategies to improve on efficiency.
Some other methods of improving time management are to-do lists to keep tasks organized, automating recurring tasks, and creating templates that help decrease the time you need to spend on regularly repeating projects.
It’s inevitable that throughout the course of a project, you’ll face various challenges. Being able to stay calm and collected and think of ways to overcome obstacles is a necessary trait of a technical project manager.
There will be times when technical project managers run into situations where they need to assess risk management. While this can be challenging, risk management is a helpful tool in problem solving.
As a technical project manager, one of your responsibilities is to create and improve upon processes.
Oftentimes, product management involves various dependencies, which is when one task has to wait for another task to reach a certain level of development. These types of situations often result in a bottleneck in product development. When technical project managers minimize the effects of these, they help the process move more smoothly and efficiently.
There are also times when a technical project manager may decide to introduce exciting new technologies to streamline projects and improve team collaboration. Know how to ease team members into new ways of working and improve buy-in.
In order to lead a team of people and enable them to execute projects on a deadline, you need to have strong organizational skills. It’s important to be able to use various organizational tools like spreadsheets to track metrics, create and communicate task lists to team members, and handle task management.
Having good organizational systems will also help you communicate clearly with stakeholders. Transparency helps build trust with investors, so being organized enough to transparently share progress, timelines, and other details of the project is an important element.
What tools do technical project managers use?
There are many collaboration tools that can help a technical project manager fulfill their role. The following are some of the best project management tools and how they can promote teamwork — organized alphabetically.
Asana is a web-based project management tool. With Asana, teams can collaborate and keep track of projects using Kanban boards, to-do lists, or calendar views to help team members keep track of everything going on.
Asana makes it simple to see what other team members are working on so that, as a technical project manager, you know where everything is at a glance. This makes it simple for you to offer help on any project tasks that may be lagging behind schedule, or assign a new project to someone who is almost finished with their work.
The pricing for Asana starts at $10.99 per user per month.
Clockwise is a time orchestration platform that helps you make time for what matters. The Team Analytics feature allows team leaders to get insight into team members’ workloads by seeing how much Focus Time they have in their schedule. This allows technical project managers to know where they can step in and help someone versus who has the capacity to accept additional tasks.
Clockwise also uses AI technology to schedule meetings at times that work well for everyone. Technical project managers need to attend many meetings with team members, team leaders, and stakeholders. Intuitive meeting scheduling can make a big difference in optimizing the time in the day.
Clockwise’s business plan starts at $11.50 per user per month.
It’s hard to beat a well-made spreadsheet when it comes to staying organized and communicating metrics to stakeholders and investors. Proficiency in Microsoft project execution via Excel can help technical project managers keep track of data and statistics that will help them gain the trust of those they collaborate with.
Microsoft Excel pricing starts at $5 per user per month.
Flow has fewer project management features, which can benefit those who want software that keeps things simple and streamlined.
The platform is easy to use and doesn’t have a steep learning curve. That makes it nice for teams who may be a bit resistant to changes in their workflows. On the other hand, if you need more customization, you’ll probably need something more robust than Flow (see Asana, Jira, or Wrike).
Pricing for Flow starts at $6 per user per month.
Jira is an agile project management tool that allows teams to collaborate effectively while keeping an eye on the broader progress of projects. You can view projects in a variety of frameworks, though Kanban boards and Scrum are some of the most popular.
The versatility of this online software makes for a steep learning curve, and there are more roadmap viewing options than most teams need. However, for those willing to invest the time, the flexibility of this project management software can make it a valuable resource for teams.
If your team is smaller than ten people, Jira is free. For larger teams, pricing starts at $7 per user per month.
Slack is a real-time communication tool that helps teams collaborate by streamlining communication methods. Every company from small startups to larger corporations can benefit from having a centralized communication platform.
Slack allows you to easily find past communication via the search bar, message a large group of people, and integrate with thousands of other apps.
While using Slack, you can also turn off notifications to help you focus on the work at hand.
The pricing for Slack starts at $8 per user per month.
Trello is a project management software based on the Kanban style of task management. Simply organize your tasks into cards and columns, which you can then drag and drop. These cards can expand to include due dates, to-do lists, team members, and comments where collaborators can easily communicate with one another.
Trello is great for project sprints, but for larger teams working on multiple complex projects, the simplicity of Trello can become a hindrance in itself. You might end up needing multiple dashboards, which can result in lost tasks or team members overlooking deadlines because they’re on a board they don’t regularly check.
Trello pricing begins at $9.99 per user per month.
Wrike is a highly agile project management tool. Depending on your needs and preferences, users can view projects as Gannt charts, Kanban boards, or task lists. With all of these options, Wrike makes it easy for project managers and their teams to look at the workflow from many different angles and keep track of all the milestones.
For smaller teams of less than 15 individuals, Wrike’s professional plan starts at $9.80 per user per month.
If you’re considering a shift into technical project management, think through your personal strengths and weaknesses. Technical project manager roles are great for individuals who have both an analytical mind and creative, problem solving capacities.
It is also an ideal role if you are able to keep perspective for the bigger picture of what the company’s mission and vision are. A great technical project manager is also skilled at communicating with various groups of people — stakeholders, investors, and team members.
It is a highly collaborative role that also includes a lot of technical elements such as computer science and mathematics.
Consider using tools like Clockwise to help you keep an overview of what various teams are working on, which team members may have capacity to take on new projects, and schedule meetings at the least disruptive times for everyone involved.