June 13, 2023

Technical Product Manager vs. Product Manager: What Sets Them Apart?

Explore the distinctions between a Technical Product Manager and a traditional Product Manager, and learn when it's beneficial to hire a TPM for your tech business.

Product management is a crucial function in many tech companies, and the role of a product manager (PM) is to ensure the successful development and launch of products. In recent years, a specialized PM role has emerged, known as the Technical Product Manager (TPM). The TPM role differs from the traditional PM role in several ways, and this distinction is essential for tech businesses to understand when building and scaling their teams.

The Core Functions of a Product Manager

Before diving into the specifics of a Technical Product Manager, let's first explore the core functions of a Product Manager. A PM is responsible for guiding the development and marketing of products, focusing on the following tasks:
  1. Defining product strategy: The PM sets the vision, goals, and roadmap for a product, aligning these elements with the overall business strategy.
  2. Customer research and needs assessment: PMs spend time understanding customers and their needs, using this information to create a product that addresses those needs.
  3. Feature prioritization: PMs determine which features to include in a product and prioritize them based on factors such as customer needs, competition, and resources.
  4. Cross-functional collaboration: PMs work closely with various teams, including engineering, design, and marketing, to ensure a smooth development process.
  5. Product launch and iteration: PMs oversee the product's launch and subsequent iterations, making improvements based on customer feedback and market changes.

Technical Product Manager: Bridging the Gap between Technology and Business

What is a technical product manager?
A Technical Product Manager is a specialized type of PM who focuses on products with a strong technical component, such as machine learning, APIs, or cloud infrastructure. While a TPM shares many of the core functions of a PM, their role is more focused on the technical aspects of product development. Below are some key areas where TPMs differ from traditional PMs.
In-Depth Technical Knowledge
One of the most significant differences between a TPM and a PM is the level of technical knowledge required. TPMs need to have a deep understanding of the technology behind their products, as well as the technical constraints and opportunities that come with it. This allows them to make more informed decisions and communicate effectively with engineering teams. For example, a TPM working on a machine learning product would need to understand how different algorithms work, the data requirements for training models, and the limitations of the technology.
Close Collaboration with Engineering Teams
Technical Product Managers work more closely with engineering teams than traditional PMs. Their technical expertise helps them bridge the gap between the product vision and the actual implementation, enabling them to communicate more effectively with engineers and make better decisions about technical trade-offs.
Technical Product Roadmapping
While all product managers create product roadmaps, TPMs focus more on the technical aspects of the product development process. A technical product roadmap highlights the technical milestones that need to be achieved for the product to be successful. This might include things like developing a new API, integrating with third-party services, or building specific features using particular technologies.
Balancing Technical and Business Priorities
One of the most challenging aspects of the TPM role is balancing technical and business priorities. TPMs must weigh the technical feasibility of a feature or solution against its potential impact on the business. This requires them to strike the right balance between optimizing for short-term gains and investing in long-term technical infrastructure.
Evaluating New Technologies and Trends
Technical Product Managers need to stay up-to-date with the latest technology trends and innovations. They are responsible for evaluating new technologies and determining their potential impact on their company's products. This involves researching new tools, frameworks, and methodologies, and making recommendations on their adoption.

When to Hire a Technical Product Manager

While Technical Product Managers can provide significant value to tech companies, not all businesses need a TPM. It is crucial to consider the following factors when deciding whether to hire a TPM:
  • Complexity of the product: If your product has a high level of technical complexity or is built using cutting-edge technology, a TPM may be better equipped to handle the challenges that come with it.
  • Size of the engineering team: Larger engineering teams may require a TPM to facilitate communication and collaboration between the product and engineering functions.
  • Rate of technological change: If your industry is rapidly evolving or your company needs to stay at the forefront of technology trends, a TPM can help ensure your product stays competitive and relevant.

Key Takeaways

The Technical Product Manager role is a specialized PM position that focuses on products with a strong technical component. While they share many core functions with traditional PMs, TPMs differ in their depth of technical knowledge, close collaboration with engineering teams, technical roadmapping, balancing technical and business priorities, and evaluating new technologies and trends.
Hiring a TPM can be a strategic decision for companies with complex technical products or rapidly evolving industries, ensuring that their products stay ahead of the competition and continue to deliver value to customers.
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