Differentiate between TPM and PM

Distinguish between technical program managers and program managers in this lesson.

In professional settings, many people find the terms “TPM” and “PM” confusing. This confusion is valid because the term “PM” describes various roles, such as Product Manager, Program Manager, and Project Manager. However, all of these are distinct roles with different responsibilities.

Let’s start by understanding these roles better.

Technical Program Manager (TPM)

Technical (T): The TPM position is a technical one, which is why it is unique. Also, TPMs make strategic and technological decisions in their daily work.

Program (P): TPMs focus on developing and managing technical business programs with specific goals and timelines.

Manager (M): As the owners of their programs, TPMs must be able to manage them.

Product Manager (PM)

Product (P): PMs are like the CEOs of their product. They communicate the product’s vision and roadmap to its stakeholders. PMs decide which product features should be launched or removed, and prioritize among them. Also, PMs communicate these features to the business operations or customers, and address their requests.

Manager (M): PMs are managers for the product, as they own the product from its conception to delivery.

Project Manager (PM)

Project (P): The PM position is for the champion of the product release, who is more like a release manager. This person ensures that a project meets quality standards and is delivered on time by working cross-functionally with all stakeholders.

Manager (M): PMs must be able to manage their projects through its cycle. They are the owners of their project.

Program Manager (PM)

Program Managers are similar to Technical Program Managers, but lack the “technical” part. That is why they manage mostly non-technical programs.

Program (P): The PM position focuses on developing and executing technical business programs.

Manager (M): PMs are managers who own their programs from start to finish.

Due to the confusion caused by these terms, some companies refer to Technical Program Manager as “TPgM”, Program Manager as “PgM,” and Product Manager as “PM.”

The following table will help us understand the difference between a Technical Program Manager (TPM) and a Product Manager (PM):

Product Manager (PM) Technical Program Manager (TPM)
Define the product requirements Execute the requirements
Determine the “what” and “why” Determine the “when,” “how,” and “who”
Develop the product requirements, often in the form of product requirements documents (PRDs) Develop the program execution strategy and timeline, as well as the project health reports

Technical Program Managers (TPMs) have sharp technical skills that help translate product requirements into technical specifications. They also bridge the essential stakeholders to complete an initial set of specialized assessments and put a project/program plan together. This means that sometimes TPMs need to coordinate with people working on different stacks to ensure a smooth product delivery.

However, product engineering is not the only team that TPMs must work with. In fact, TPMs work with a whole village of cross-functional teams.

Basically, the work type and organizational goals shape the duties of TPMs. They may work with teams such as the marketing, legal, operations, and vendors. Sometimes, TPMs also work alongside other TPMs and PMs—especially in big organizations.

Technical programs are complex, and usually involve more than one team. Hence, TPMs naturally depend on many stakeholders to assist them throughout the execution of their programs.

This means that the ideal Technical Program Manager ensures that the flow of information between different stakeholders is efficient. Also, they help in shipping products on time.

An effective TPM must have the skill sets of a Product Manager, a release manager, and a software developer to drive the project and deliver it on time.

Comparing Program Managers to Project Managers

Programs are much larger in scope than projects, and comprise several related or interlinked moving projects. On the other hand, projects are usually small and focus on single, specific deliverables at a time.

For example, consider any top-tier tech company that wants to build a product or feature in an existing product. For this, it would put together a program that a TPM would manage and deliver on time.

This program consists of several projects that lead to a bigger goal. There are different phases of the program lifecycle: initiation, planning, execution, delivery, and retrospection.

TPMs handle these different phases of complex programs. They usually own different stages in the program life cycle—from the very initial idea, to the closure or post-closure monitoring phases where they conduct a post-mortem.

Skill sets

  • Product Managers are at the core of the business. They are the bridge between technology, business, and customers. They address customers’ problems with potential solutions, and prioritize the solutions that offer the most benefit to end-users.
  • Technical Program Managers are technically sharp. This is because they must have detailed discussions with engineers about the status and progress of various features. They also need to handle competing priorities, negotiate with other stakeholders, and resolve conflicts to deliver complex projects on time and within budget.

The Technical Program Manager (TPM) and Product Manager (PM) are the leaders in an organization. Both are essential to project elements, as they keep everyone informed about the project status.

What is expected of each role

Product Managers (PMs) display a problem-solving mindset, strategic thinking, creativity, user empathy, and the prioritization of solutions and needs. They need to understand the user issues and find solutions for them. For this, they divide the problem into small parts that are easier to understand and solve. Then, the Product Managers offer solutions and run them through other stakeholders. Also, they need to have enough technical knowledge to understand the problems and enough business knowledge to propose solutions from a business perspective.

Note: Product Managers do not execute the solutions. Rather, they set the goals and vision for the team.

Technical Program Managers (TPMs), on the other hand, have deep expertise in program management and have enough technical know-how to discuss any issues with the management and come to the right decisions. For the TPM position, interviewers may be interested in our experience in solving such issues in the past. Most times, questions about this are asked in the behavioral interview round where we have to give examples from our experience.

Candidates for both positions, PM and TPM, must prepare to answer scenario-based questions in an interview, and apply their knowledge as per their experience. Since PMs and TPMs lead a team, they’ll need to show successful teamwork and communication skills effectively.

Since the goals and responsibilities for these positions are different, the preparation for their interviews differs as well. However, both are accountable for the success of the project, as both of them are leaders. In summary, PMs are generally responsible for ideas and TPMs for their execution.

Which role is right for you in the below scenario?


You have a tight release schedule and must follow up with different engineering teams and developers.


Technical Program Manager


Product Manager


Project Manager