Exploring Functional Competencies

Look at the details of functional competencies and practice it yourself.

Author’s experience: I’ve worked for most of my time as a TPM at the same company—as such, I was concerned about an unconscious bias of what a TPM is or should be. To combat this, I sought outside perspectives from as many high-profile companies as I could—Amazon, Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Apple. To help confirm the interviews I had, and to fill in gaps where interviews weren’t possible, I combed through the job boards of these companies to see what each was looking for in a TPM.

Insights into the TPM role from interviews

One thing that this matrix doesn’t cover extensively is style, which we were able to learn more about from the interviews we conducted. So, let’s talk a little about the things that stood out here.

Of the companies we conducted interviews at, Meta (formerly called Facebook) was the youngest, having formed in the mid-2000s. Due to this, their standards for project management are, as the interviewer put it, based on a “do what is needed” mentality. This is by no means bad, as many companies use this strategy to great success. There wasn’t much from the job boards that clues us in on this, but the focus on the SDLC does seem to agree with the bottom-up approach to management that the interviewee referenced, where the drive is from the engineering teams.

At the other end of the tenure spectrum is Microsoft. Some people may think about Microsoft’s own Project software and assume Microsoft is a highly regimented, PMP-style organization. As it turns out, this isn’t true! Though we are sure some people use Microsoft Project there, it isn’t standardized. The interviewee we talked to said many of the individuals they’ve worked with use Excel! Also, due to their tenure in the industry, they pre-dated the TPM job role and therefore mainly use the PM role title. Some organizations are starting to use the TPM role, both as seen on the job boards and also confirmed in the interview—the TPM title, and the matching compensation and requirements, are starting to be used in place of the PM title in areas that require technical expertise.

Author’s Experience: I’ve heard many people suggest that the TPM role originated at Amazon, and that does make some sense. Back in 2013 when I interviewed at Amazon, I had to ask what the TPM role involved, as I had never heard of it! A quick internet search didn’t turn up any results either. But, through some discussions and simply looking at the timelines, we can see that the TPM role pre-dates Amazon. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of the first to widely use the job role based on conversations internally and externally, but it is hard to say for sure. Amazon is also a “do what is needed” organization, where the TPM role can vary quite a bit from team to team based on the gaps and needs of the team.

An interesting takeaway in our discussions about Google is that they are heavily product focused. A good portion, up to 30%, of the TPM’s schedule is dedicated to working with product managers on the product roadmap and backlog grooming based on the roadmap. The job descriptions hint at this as well—they discuss that Google is product-focused and that cross-team communication with engineers and product managers is a must.

Lastly, we have Apple. As it turns out, Apple doesn’t allow interviews with current employees about Apple life, so for this iteration, we only have the job descriptions. However, one interesting takeaway is that they are the only company (of those that we researched) that lists having a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification as a desirable (as in nice to have, but not required) skill.

We consolidated the interviews and job descriptions into a matrix in the table below that we’ll dive a bit deeper into:

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