How to Be a Successful Technical Program Manager

Let's look at the foundational skill sets necessary to be a successful technical program manager.

Technical program management skill set

The main goal of any technical program manager is to successfully deliver on program outcomes. That's it: get a big, complex project to the finish line. This should always translate to some type of business value or impact.

The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the top portion titled "Program Success"
The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the top portion titled "Program Success"

But what skills are necessary to deliver a successful program? How exactly can we do that?

In order to be a successful technical program manager, we must utilize four core components to help an us deliver on projects. We call these components foundations, and they are:

  1. Trust

  2. Program management

  3. Technical breadth

  4. Leadership

Each of these foundations supports, enables, and drives program success. This can be depicted as the foundations and scaffolding of a house holding up a roof.

The technical program management structure, with all sections filled in
The technical program management structure, with all sections filled in

This course primarily focuses on breaking down each of these areas into tactical skills and frameworks that you can apply daily.

The proper application of these skills will ultimately lead to successful program delivery. This could mean anything from a launched product, an implemented security compliance, a completed infrastructure migration, or an introduced API layer.

Program success also can also mean knowing when to shut down an initiative. To identify a failed initiative, a technical program manager should be able to identify poor program health and clarify the low probability of achieving strategic outcomes. This helps the broader stakeholder group to cut its losses. Shutting down a failed program can also be a successful outcome of effective technical program management. This is not usually the case, but it does happen. We'll explore this idea later in the course.

Trust

Trust spans all other skill set foundations. It is the bedrock foundation that enables effective program management, technical partnerships, and strong leadership.

The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Trust" foundation
The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Trust" foundation

The technical program manager is the connective tissue between everyone who is helping to deliver the program. Trust must be built to ensure high levels of quality communication, effective decision-making, and efficient risk management. A lack of trust can destroy a program more quickly and effectively than anything else.

Ultimately, if you don't build trust, then it doesn't matter how strong your program management skills are, how technically adept you are, or what you believe your leadership capabilities are as an individual. Program-wide trust is the fuel for forward momentum and progress.

Program management

The program management foundation constitutes the majority of the course content. The other foundations (technical breadth and leadership) support this one.

We can look at program management through two different lenses: the lifecycle and skill domains.

The structure of this course will walk you through the program lifecycle while equipping you with the necessary skills. Early in the program lifecycle, we'll only provide an overview of a specific skill domain, like stakeholder management, but we'll explore the given topic in greater detail later in the course.

The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Program Management" pillar
The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Program Management" pillar

The program management lifecycle will walk you through the phases of managing a successful program. It is meant to guide you from start to finish. This journey is very linear and simplistic.

The program management skill domains are broader management skills that can and should be applied throughout the entire program. The domains we'll cover are risk management, stakeholder management, communication management, process management, and staffing & resource management. These can be employed in any phase of the program lifecycle. We'll review these skill domains primarily in the program execution phase of the program lifecycle.

Technical breadth

In the technical breadth foundation, we'll review key concepts of system design that every technical program manager should know. We'll also highlight how to utilize this knowledge to make you a more trusted and valued partner for your program team.

The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Technical Breadth" pillar
The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Technical Breadth" pillar

Some of the concepts we'll review in this section include the basic components of system design, the general goals of sound system design, and the software development lifecycle. Bridging that knowledge into applicable skills as a technical program manager is the primary goal of this foundation.

While this course will cover these topics, it is not meant to be an in-depth technical review of system design. At the end of this part of the course, we will provide suggestions for courses that are dedicated to that topic.

Note: One thing we need to clarify is the usage of "technical breadth" in this course. We use this term to highlight the necessary, specialized knowledge in the software industry where technical program managers need knowledge beyond what's expected from a standard program manager title.

Leadership

In this final foundation, we'll review useful leadership patterns. Your role as the technical program manager will naturally put you in a place to (1) be a leader and (2) interface with other leaders. Let's make sure you're ready to lead.

The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Leadership" pillar
The technical program management structure, with an emphasis on the "Leadership" pillar

The other two foundations—program management and technical breadth—will be underutilized if you lack leadership skills.

What you will gain

By building skills in these domains, you can have a massively successful career as a technical program manager. You'll be able to deliver maximum value to your stakeholders and be a part of exciting programs. And most importantly: you will see yourself grow and develop both personally and professionally.

Quiz: Technical Program Management Foundations

1

What is the bedrock foundation of technical program management?

A)

Trust

B)

Leadership

C)

Program management

D)

Communication

Question 1 of 30 attempted