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Topics: Agile, Strategy, Talent Management
Project Manager vs Technical Project Manager
What is the difference between a Project Manager and a Technical Project Manager?
What do recruiters really mean when they say they are in need of a Technical Project Manager?
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When hiring say for a Technical Project Manager, HR departments will look for somebody who has the technical background to implement a specific project been a cloud implementation, network design or backup solution. They may also look for Industry standard accreditations such as Cisco CCNA or Microsoft MCSE or any of the many other Industry accreditations that exist out there.
If I think about projects as having four dimensions, people, process, technology, and infrastructure, the technical project manager would be responsible for ensuring the technology meets requirements. The overall project/program manager ensures the four dimensions solve the business objective. Depending on the organization this definition could be different, but this is the general distinction I see.
Project management is specilaized job and it can not be combined with technical Job. I have seen many project failures if PM takes ownership of technical aspects of project.
The technical project manager nothing but the domain experts with that particular techical knowledge area. They may doing dual responsibility.
A project manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring the project comes in on time and within budget which was traced in the initial phase.A project manager is someone who is managing all aspects of a project with all the different teams reporting into them with updates, progress, etc.
A project manager provides regular updates to the business leadership. A technical manager is simply focused on the technical aspects of the project and the associated deliverables.
...
1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
Jul 04, 2019 1:26 PM
Adrian Carlogea
...
"A project manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring the project comes in on time and within budget [...]"

Good project management is extremely important for the success of a project but not enough. Equally important if not more important are the technical decisions taken on the project as well as the skills and the dedication of the team members that are doing the actual work.

Having a brilliant project manager with no technical skills is not enough to ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget. Brilliant if not at least very good technical experts and technical leads are needed for the success.

Conclusion: if the PM is not technical he can't ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget as many critical things that impact the success are beyound his controll.
Jul 04, 2019 8:01 AM
Replying to André Cassule
...
A project manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring the project comes in on time and within budget which was traced in the initial phase.A project manager is someone who is managing all aspects of a project with all the different teams reporting into them with updates, progress, etc.
A project manager provides regular updates to the business leadership. A technical manager is simply focused on the technical aspects of the project and the associated deliverables.
"A project manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring the project comes in on time and within budget [...]"

Good project management is extremely important for the success of a project but not enough. Equally important if not more important are the technical decisions taken on the project as well as the skills and the dedication of the team members that are doing the actual work.

Having a brilliant project manager with no technical skills is not enough to ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget. Brilliant if not at least very good technical experts and technical leads are needed for the success.

Conclusion: if the PM is not technical he can't ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget as many critical things that impact the success are beyound his controll.
May 15, 2019 9:02 AM
Replying to Lily Murariu
...
I agree @Stanley, Technical project managers (TPM) are project managers(PM) with an additional layer of technical knowledge, expertise and competencies.
A TPM for example, manages project aspects related to performance, reliability, and availability, requirements that the project must meet.
In industries such as software projects, technical requirements refer to the make of the software, which language it's programmed in, the operating system it's created for, standards it must meet, etc.
totally agreed, "in some cases" technical project manager report to the project manager.
I have found an interesting book online that shows how a (non-technical) PM and a software engineering manager handle software development issues. I think we could replace software engineering Manager with Technical Project Manager:

NON-TECHNICAL PROJECT MANAGER - DEVELOPER

"PM: So, we need to make a decision about getting our web services redefined. I’ve heard that we’re missing a critical interface.

Developer: Yep, in case the calling application needs to rollback a transaction in progress without impacting other transactions already queued.

PM: Great. Will that take long?

Developer: Nope, shouldn’t take but a couple of days to implement.

PM: Let’s do it! I’ll adjust the schedule by two days.

ENGINEERING MANAGER (TECHNICAL PM) - DEVELOPER

Soft. Eng. Man.: So, we need to make a decision about getting our web services redefined. I’ve heard that we’re missing a critical interface.

Developer: Yep, in case the calling application needs to rollback a transaction in progress without impacting other transactions already queued.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Great. Will that take long?

Developer: Nope, shouldn’t take but a couple of days to implement.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Is the way that we’re storing transactions suitable to handle this? I thought once a transaction was inserted, it couldn’t be easily removed.

Developer: Now that you mention it, we should change out our method of storing transactions to use BEA’s MessageQ instead of the round-robin engine we developed. Its recoverable messaging features are really what we needed all along.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Changing out the queuing technology seems to require a considerable amount of work.

Developer: It is about two month effort. If we don’t do it now, we’ll probably have to down the road. YOU make the decision!"

This is what happens in reality and it proves that a PM without a technical background, when managing his/her team, is just a glorified secretary.

That's why it drives me mad when I hear people saying that in order to manage technical activities you don't have to be technical.

If your PM is non-technical then you should keep him away from the technical team and should under no circumstances let him/her make decisions on the project. The fact that he/she has a team of technical experts is not enough.

Some companies correct this problem by having both a PM and technical PM, the technical PM has technical background and also is trained in project management. The PM can't override the technical decisions taken by the technical PM.
...
2 replies by Sergio Luis Conte and Thomas Walenta
Jul 20, 2019 10:53 AM
Sergio Luis Conte
...
Adrian, what you describe is not managing activities. That is the point. In fact, I have a Ph.D in Software Engineering earned in Cargnegie Mellon University. Each time I am managing a project where software/it people is involved i do not talk about things that are technical or related to software/IT in the same way they do not talk about things related to project management not matter they know about it. In the actual world is not way to survive as project manager if people do not understand that a project manager is like an orchestra director: you have to know about how to integrate all the players, to do that you have to know about each instrument including how to play it, BUT you must not be the expert and, if yoiu see how the orchestra director work with the orchestra, you will find that she/he never take decisions about how to play a particular instrument. That´s rest in the hand of people who will play the instrument. As I mentioned, I am not saying that you do not need to have knowledge on the matter. That is stupidity. On the other side, the key element to be successful is trust in people who are the subject matter expert. That do not mean that thanks your project management knowledge you will not review the way the subject matter expert get the estimations and all related. In the first part of your post the project manager is not doing her/his work.
Jul 20, 2019 11:53 AM
Thomas Walenta
...
Adrian,
I left behind technical capacity in 1988 and ran projects since acting as pure business PM. My reality.

I solved the situation you describe by having an architect and installing the checks and balances to make sure any key decisions are checked by a second pair of eyes. And yes, given the input from these at least 2 specialist, I reserved the right to make the final decision. The buck stops with the PM, as long there is accountability.

Also team checks work or a quality function.
Jul 20, 2019 10:20 AM
Replying to Adrian Carlogea
...
I have found an interesting book online that shows how a (non-technical) PM and a software engineering manager handle software development issues. I think we could replace software engineering Manager with Technical Project Manager:

NON-TECHNICAL PROJECT MANAGER - DEVELOPER

"PM: So, we need to make a decision about getting our web services redefined. I’ve heard that we’re missing a critical interface.

Developer: Yep, in case the calling application needs to rollback a transaction in progress without impacting other transactions already queued.

PM: Great. Will that take long?

Developer: Nope, shouldn’t take but a couple of days to implement.

PM: Let’s do it! I’ll adjust the schedule by two days.

ENGINEERING MANAGER (TECHNICAL PM) - DEVELOPER

Soft. Eng. Man.: So, we need to make a decision about getting our web services redefined. I’ve heard that we’re missing a critical interface.

Developer: Yep, in case the calling application needs to rollback a transaction in progress without impacting other transactions already queued.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Great. Will that take long?

Developer: Nope, shouldn’t take but a couple of days to implement.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Is the way that we’re storing transactions suitable to handle this? I thought once a transaction was inserted, it couldn’t be easily removed.

Developer: Now that you mention it, we should change out our method of storing transactions to use BEA’s MessageQ instead of the round-robin engine we developed. Its recoverable messaging features are really what we needed all along.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Changing out the queuing technology seems to require a considerable amount of work.

Developer: It is about two month effort. If we don’t do it now, we’ll probably have to down the road. YOU make the decision!"

This is what happens in reality and it proves that a PM without a technical background, when managing his/her team, is just a glorified secretary.

That's why it drives me mad when I hear people saying that in order to manage technical activities you don't have to be technical.

If your PM is non-technical then you should keep him away from the technical team and should under no circumstances let him/her make decisions on the project. The fact that he/she has a team of technical experts is not enough.

Some companies correct this problem by having both a PM and technical PM, the technical PM has technical background and also is trained in project management. The PM can't override the technical decisions taken by the technical PM.
Adrian, what you describe is not managing activities. That is the point. In fact, I have a Ph.D in Software Engineering earned in Cargnegie Mellon University. Each time I am managing a project where software/it people is involved i do not talk about things that are technical or related to software/IT in the same way they do not talk about things related to project management not matter they know about it. In the actual world is not way to survive as project manager if people do not understand that a project manager is like an orchestra director: you have to know about how to integrate all the players, to do that you have to know about each instrument including how to play it, BUT you must not be the expert and, if yoiu see how the orchestra director work with the orchestra, you will find that she/he never take decisions about how to play a particular instrument. That´s rest in the hand of people who will play the instrument. As I mentioned, I am not saying that you do not need to have knowledge on the matter. That is stupidity. On the other side, the key element to be successful is trust in people who are the subject matter expert. That do not mean that thanks your project management knowledge you will not review the way the subject matter expert get the estimations and all related. In the first part of your post the project manager is not doing her/his work.
...
1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
Jul 24, 2019 3:02 AM
Adrian Carlogea
...
Thank you for the message Sergio.

The PM does not necessarily have to be the best expert in everything related to the work the project team members are doing. This would be impossible. Functional Managers are not such experts either. Not to mention that many project teams are cross-functional.

In order to be credible as a project team leader the PM must have worked as a productive project team member in similar projects. If it is a software development project the PM must be a former developer, QA analysts or BA.

Becoming a PM should always be a promotion and the PM most be either the most senior employee on the project team or among the most senior.

Nowadays it is possible to start your career as a junior project manager and manage projects with team members that are more senior than you and at a much higher pay. I saw a case in which a 24-25 years PM was "managing" a project were all the team members were more senior than her in the organization and one of them was a line manager in his 60s. It would be ridiculous to assume that in this circumstance you can lead the project team. In order to be a leader you need experience.

PMs with no previous work experience in a domain related to the project, when it comes to working with the project teams they just ask for tasks progress and pass messages to the team from other stakeholders. When it comes for them to take decisions they always ask someone from the team to take the decision and they blindly accept it without even understanding it.

Hope this is more clear and you now do understand what I wanted to say.
Jul 20, 2019 10:20 AM
Replying to Adrian Carlogea
...
I have found an interesting book online that shows how a (non-technical) PM and a software engineering manager handle software development issues. I think we could replace software engineering Manager with Technical Project Manager:

NON-TECHNICAL PROJECT MANAGER - DEVELOPER

"PM: So, we need to make a decision about getting our web services redefined. I’ve heard that we’re missing a critical interface.

Developer: Yep, in case the calling application needs to rollback a transaction in progress without impacting other transactions already queued.

PM: Great. Will that take long?

Developer: Nope, shouldn’t take but a couple of days to implement.

PM: Let’s do it! I’ll adjust the schedule by two days.

ENGINEERING MANAGER (TECHNICAL PM) - DEVELOPER

Soft. Eng. Man.: So, we need to make a decision about getting our web services redefined. I’ve heard that we’re missing a critical interface.

Developer: Yep, in case the calling application needs to rollback a transaction in progress without impacting other transactions already queued.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Great. Will that take long?

Developer: Nope, shouldn’t take but a couple of days to implement.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Is the way that we’re storing transactions suitable to handle this? I thought once a transaction was inserted, it couldn’t be easily removed.

Developer: Now that you mention it, we should change out our method of storing transactions to use BEA’s MessageQ instead of the round-robin engine we developed. Its recoverable messaging features are really what we needed all along.

Soft. Eng. Man.: Changing out the queuing technology seems to require a considerable amount of work.

Developer: It is about two month effort. If we don’t do it now, we’ll probably have to down the road. YOU make the decision!"

This is what happens in reality and it proves that a PM without a technical background, when managing his/her team, is just a glorified secretary.

That's why it drives me mad when I hear people saying that in order to manage technical activities you don't have to be technical.

If your PM is non-technical then you should keep him away from the technical team and should under no circumstances let him/her make decisions on the project. The fact that he/she has a team of technical experts is not enough.

Some companies correct this problem by having both a PM and technical PM, the technical PM has technical background and also is trained in project management. The PM can't override the technical decisions taken by the technical PM.
Adrian,
I left behind technical capacity in 1988 and ran projects since acting as pure business PM. My reality.

I solved the situation you describe by having an architect and installing the checks and balances to make sure any key decisions are checked by a second pair of eyes. And yes, given the input from these at least 2 specialist, I reserved the right to make the final decision. The buck stops with the PM, as long there is accountability.

Also team checks work or a quality function.
...
1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
Jul 21, 2019 8:52 PM
Adrian Carlogea
...
Thank you for you message Thomas.

In my opinion people should not be allowed to take work related decisions if they don't have good knowledge in that specific line of work.

This is where the PM in my example made the mistake. If you don't have the proper technical background you should not get involved in technical decisions at all. Also she was too quick to accept the developer's response but this was because she couldn't challenge it as she lacked the required technical expertise. If this had been a real scenario most likely she wouldn't have known what a web service is in the first place.

The developer also made a mistake as he should have never committed so quickly to the PMs request. The fact that the PMs usually have no formal authority over the project team members is a big advantage as the team members can reject the PMs requests and take the right decisions.

Unfortunately software developers don't do this too often and are too quick to commit to work without too much analysis even when nobody puts pressure on them.

PMs with no technical background "feel" the project differently that those that are performing the actual work. If there is no technical PM or overall technical lead on the project then functional managers should supervise their direct reports and ensure they don't end up adding technical risk to the project or perform useless work.

Letting non-technical people alone to manage projects may end up in something like this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg . That's a real funny sketch I recommend you to watch it. This is what some project team members have to suffer when talking with non-technical PMs about their work. :P
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