In this guide, we’ll define what a technical product manager is, distinguish between a technical PM and a regular product manager, and review the skills and competencies required to fulfill the technical product manager’s responsibilities.
We’ll also review how a technical PM spends their time on a day-to-day basis and share some tips to help you nail your technical product manager interview.
Table of contents
- What is a technical product manager?
- Product manager vs. technical product manager
- Where does the technical PM sit within the organization?
- What are the responsibilities of a technical product manager?
- How do technical product managers spend their time?
- How to prepare for a technical product manager interview
What is a technical product manager?
The product manager and technical product manager roles are broadly defined and sometimes it’s hard to understand the differences and nuances between them.
Technical product manager, sometimes called inbound product manager, is a product management role that comes with additional responsibilities that require technical knowledge and skills.
That said, a technical product manager isn’t expected to do any programming or coding; they just need to understand and appreciate the engineering and technical aspects of the product development lifecycle.
In this guide, we’ll explore more aspects of the roles and responsibilities, the difference between a technical product manager and a regular product manager, and what a typical day-to-day looks like.
Product manager vs. technical product manager
Often organizations have technical product managers and product managers performing alongside one another with little clarity as to the distinction between the roles. While there is some degree of overlap, the roles are designed to focus on different aspects of the product management lifecycle.
As mentioned earlier, the technical product manager is sometimes referred to as an inbound product manager. This means the person in this role is expected to understand, approve, and collaborate on aspects of engineering , technical architecture, and design for the product.
Therefore, a technical product manager must excel at working with engineers, architects, and designers. Though not expected to code or program the application itself, the technical product manager needs to understand and appreciate all the aspects of the technical design, technology architecture, user experience (UX) design, and decisions around these.
The matrix below elucidates some key differences between the technical product manager and traditional product manager roles:
|Technical product manager||Product manager|
|Alternativee title||Inbound product manager||Outbound product manager|
|Works with||Works with engineering, UX design, architects, product owners, system analysts||Works with customer success, sales, marketing teams , other product managers, business analysts|
|Activities/tasks||Approves and collaborates on technical designs, technology architecture decisions, UX designs, technical tradeoffs||Market research, sales demos, developing marketing collaterals|
|Background, skills, and qualifications||
|Focus||Product development||Product definition and go-to-market|
Common responsibilities of the product manager and technical product manager include:
Where does the technical PM sit within the organization?
The technical product manager is generally internally facing (hence the inbound product manager title). Therefore, the technical product manager falls under the same organizational structure as a product manager and reports, depending on their seniority, to a senior technical product manager, group technical product manager, staff/principal technical product manager, or head of product.
The technical product manager works closely with development teams, system analysts, and technical architects.
What are the responsibilities of a technical product manager?
A technical product manager is responsible for:
- Defining product goals and vision
- Creating and owning the product roadmap
- Working with cross-functional teams
- Understanding and proselytizing agile methodologies and practices such as scrum, kanban, and more
- Creating and owning the product backlog and product requirements document (PRD)
- Authoring epics, features, and user stories
- Working closely with scrum teams
- Understanding the software development lifecycle (SDLC)
- Communicating with diverse stakeholders, including product leadership, engineering leadership, technology teams, and system analysts
- Evaluating and signing off on technology considerations, technology trade-offs, and the product technology roadmap
How do technical product managers spend their time?
A typical day in the life of a technical product manager would be focused on meetings and interactions, managing tasks and tools, and preparatory work toward upcoming deliverables.
Let’s look at what exactly falls under these buckets and roughly what percentage of the TPM’s day is dedicated to each category of tasks:
- Meetings and interactions: 40–50 percent
- Managing tasks and tools: 35–40 percent
- Miscellaneous tasks for upcoming deliverables: 10–25 percent
Meetings and interactions
Given that the technical product manager works extensively with the engineering teams, the meetings they attend are heavily skewed toward interactions with engineering/technology teams and user experience teams.
Some examples of meetings a technical product manager might attend include:
- Sprint ceremonies (daily scrum, sprint review, sprint planning, backlog refinement, sprint retrospective)
- Technology and architecture roadmap and design review
- UX design review
A technical product manager would also attend meetings with product leadership and the peer product group, such as:
- Product vision and goal setting (usually at the stage of inception or product kickoff)
- Product roadmapping reviews and discussions
Managing tasks and tools
The technical product manager works individually on assigned tasks and on updating the tools (such as agile project management tools, etc.). Activities falling under this category include:
- Updating and maintaining the product roadmap using roadmapping tools
- Updating and maintaining the product backlog using backlog tools (such as Jira)
- Writing and defining epics and user stories using backlog tools
- Creating or approving UX wireframes, mockups, and prototypes using UX tools (such as Figma, Axure, etc.)
- Creating and maintaining product requirements documents (PRDs)
Miscellaneous tasks for upcoming deliverables
Technical product managers spend the remainder of their time doing miscellaneous work toward future deliverables. These tasks might include:
- Scheduling meetings
- Reviewing the technical debt
- Working on product thought leadership content (e.g., white papers, blog articles, etc.)
- Preparing the sprint backlog
How to prepare for a technical product manager interview
If you’re looking to move into a technical product manager role, you’ll want to demonstrate that you can fulfill all the responsibilities and competencies described above.
The technical product manager interview will likely touch upon:
Companies looking to hire a technical product manager will look for candidates who have:
- Experience developing products and a product portfolio leveraging a variety of technology suites and landscapes (e.g., SaaS and emerging technologies such as Web 2.0/3.0, AI, machine learning, blockchain, etc.)
- Basic knowledge of the domain for which the product or application is designed (e.g., healthcare, fintech, edtech, etc.)
- Experience working with technology architecture and technical design teams
- Experiencing working with engineering development (scrum) teams
- Experience working with UX design teams
- Qualifications and certifications in product management, software engineering, agile development, and SDLC methodologies
Strategy and decision making
The questions will likely be similar to those asked during a product manager interview. You should prepare to speak articulately with clear examples about your decisions around:
- Developing new product features, overcoming product feature limitations, and either meeting or strategically missing deadlines
- Technical feasibility, technology architecture, and issues related to the technology roadmap
- Tradeoffs related to technical debt
- User experience design and other considerations
- Any conflicts that arose while working with engineering/scrum teams
You should also be prepared to answer case study questions that cover one or more of the decisions outlined above.
Lastly, don’t be surprised if they send you home with a case study assignment.
The technical product manager interview will also likely include questions around your soft skills. Be prepared to talk about your skills related to the following:
- Problem solving
- Conflict management
- Time management
- Team building
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