The product management field has a wide variation of job titles and responsibilities. Consequently, companies have their product teams organized in many different ways.
Some companies have a product-dedicated team while others have product-focused people distributed through the other departments. For example, a product marketing manager on the marketing team, or a growth product manager on the growth team.
One of the most common variations of product management jobs is the technical product manager (TPM). Technical product managers are product specialists with the capacity to handle complex technological products.
You can find technical product manager jobs in every type of company -- from startups to large corporations. However, the job description changes a little depending on the company you decide to work for.
While every technical product manager’s specialization is product development, smaller companies require them to manage all product responsibilities. It’s just part of the startup workflow.
Difference Between a Traditional and a Technical Product Manager
The main difference between a traditional product manager and a technical product manager lies in their background.
A technical product manager is a person with a technical background as opposed to a cross-functional business background.
While traditional product managers tend to have a background in either marketing, sales, administration, public relations, or economics; technical product managers come from an engineering, computer science, or information technology background.
The word “technical” on the job title tells more about the individual performing the job than about the position itself.
What Does a Technical Product Manager Do?
Technical product managers have a deep understanding of how to bring products into the market in terms of development. They are responsible for translating the product roadmap into actionable steps for the product to be built.
To do that, technical product managers work closely with engineers, designers, and developers. Their strong technical know-how facilitates communication between strategy-minded product people and engineering employees.
What the Technical Product Manager Job Entails
The product field involves three main functions: strategy, positioning, and development.
In small organizations, all these functions are performed by one or two employees. But as companies grow there is the need to have a few employees dedicated to each function.
The first function, strategy, involves crafting the product vision and making sure that the product goals are aligned to the company’s purpose. In the case of early-stage companies, this is the founder’s responsibility. Larger organizations have senior product managers focusing on the product strategy.
Product positioning, which is the second function, entails everything from understanding customers’ needs to communicating the products’ benefits to the right audience. Startups tend to have the marketing team taking over these responsibilities. And as companies grow, product positioning and messaging become product marketing managers’ duty.
The last function, product development, is where technical product managers shine. This part of product management involves the action plan necessary for the engineering team to build the product.
Some large enterprises hire technical product managers to focus on specific product development challenges. In this case, the job description tends to include less engagement with strategy and marketing responsibilities.
However, in most companies, technical product managers are involved not only in the development part of product but also in the other phases of it.
Most technical product managers are traditional product managers with engineering capabilities.
To make things more clear, let’s explore what goes into a technical product manager’s job description.
Technical Product Manager Job Description
There are several variables that influence each technical product manager’s job responsibilities. For this reason, you will see different qualification requirements and responsibilities as you look into job postings.
If you’re looking for a TPM job, that’s good news. It means that if you take the time to do the research, you can find a job that perfectly matches your capabilities -- from your industry experience to your level of technical expertise.
Companies with technically complex products need technical product managers with not only with deep know-how expertise but also at least several years of industry experience.
The reason for these requirements is the need to communicate technical solutions to both internal teams and to customers. Moreover, industry knowledge helps technical product managers to find opportunity gaps and come up with new product features.
If you are considering a technical product management job at a startup, you will be expected to take a comprehensive approach to product responsibilities, from ideation to execution.
On the other hand, a technical product manager position at a larger company, such as Yelp, tend to hire professionals with more specialized knowledge.
Regardless of the type of company you desire to work for, these are the specifications of the technical product manager job description that you can anticipate:
Technical product managers have different mixes of the following job responsibilities:
- Represent customers by understanding their needs and product requirements
- Foster collaboration with product designers, engineers, quality assurance, and marketing to explore, prioritize, and launch solutions
- Work with the development team to ensure that product requirements are understood and built accordingly
- Explore competitors’ products and come up with new ways to improve the company’s products
- Translate product’s strategy into detailed requirements for prototype construction and final product development
- Outline the product vision, product strategy, and product roadmap
- Support engineering team to ensure customer satisfaction goals are met
- Ensure that user story content and prioritization is aligned to the larger strategic objective
- Use a software development methodology, like Agile, to optimize processes
- Recommend the scope of present and future product lines by reviewing product specifications and appraising adjustments
- Provide information for management by preparing product sales forecasts and reports
To ensure that TPM candidates will be able to successfully manage these responsibilities, most companies demand a thorough mix of abilities.
Most technical product managers need a combination of holistic business acumen and deep technical expertise to thrive in the position.
Each company requires a different set of qualifications, based on product needs and organizational structure. You will find different blends of the following competencies:
- Be able to explain features to customers with technical details
- Understand industry flow and trends
- Master the functionalities, benefits, and capabilities of the current products
- Has the ability to evaluating key metrics to optimize performance
- Know how to create high-quality product material, including brochures and PFS
- Has deep knowledge of every stage of the product life-cycle -- introduction, growth, maturity, and decline -- and understands how it affects development adjustments
- Is able to communicate technical solutions to both internal and external audiences
- Demonstrates track record managing successful projects from feature definition to project deployment
- Has the ability to discuss with customer experts in their field at all levels including C-level management
- Hold the ability to solve customers’ problems with innovative solutions
- Has a holistic understanding of product strategy and product marketing
- Has the ability to set priorities and resolve issues in initial stages
These competencies depend not only on the nature of the technical product management position you apply for but also on its seniority level. If you still need to develop some of the aptitudes above, you should look for entry-level positions.
The two main background requirements for the technical product management position are evident: technical know-how and product experience. This is what most companies look for when it comes to their potential technical product manager academic and experience background:
For entry-level positions:
- Bachelor education level in Engineering, Computer Science, Information Technology or equivalent experience
- 1-3 years of experience developing products
- 1-3 years of business transformation experience
- JIRA experience
- 1-2 years of industry experience (for example, SaaS, marketplace, or financial industry)
For intermediate-level and senior-level positions:
- Advanced level education level (Masters or MBA) or equivalent experience
- 5-15 years of experience in product management
- At least 4 years of development experience
- At least 2 years of industry experience (for example, SaaS, marketplace, or financial industry)
- Six Sigma certification
- Agile certification
- Experience with UX
- Experience scaling technical infrastructure to meet the demands of global customers
Find Your Ideal Technical Product Management Job
Technical product managers sit at the intersection of technology and business.
Even though the focus of the job is on product development, technical product managers still need comprehensive expertise in the product field.
A career in technical product management is the perfect path for software engineers or developers who also have a passion for growing businesses.
In fact, most technical product managers start as engineers, analysists, database administrators, or programmers. The business acumen can be gained either with an MBA or with hands-on experience.
The other way around is also possible -- if you have a business background but little technical experience, you can take a few technical courses and immerse yourself in the industry you desire to be. However, from personal experience, I recommend individuals with a business background to explore careers in product marketing or traditional product management.
The secret to a successful career in technical PM is knowing how to leverage your background and capabilities.