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Achieving Excellence as a TPM

The most common mistake I have seen TPMs make is not understanding the difference between doing work and achieving meaningful impact. As a TPM, checking off a list of tasks seems fulfilling and we often naively think of it as achieving results. Every TPM spends some amount of their time doing tactical work such as jira backlog grooming, writing status reports or creating timelines. However, in order to grow and learn how to achieve excellence as a TPM, you need to demonstrate strategic thought leadership and execution.

how to achieve excellence

What do successful TPMs do that set them apart from the rest? What makes a good technical program manager great? What are key traits and skills for TPMs that help achieve excellence.

Creating a Successful TPM Career Path

Here are key actions and skills to build and demonstrate to level up your impact and create success for yourself and your teams.

Demonstrate thought leadership

There are variations in the definition of this term based on which dictionary you refer to, but in its simplest form, thought leadership refers to “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking”.

TPMs work in a variety of domains and industries and there are consistent opportunities to influence product/technical direction and simplify complexity by asking the right questions or rallying alignment towards hard decisions.

Focus on meaningful impact and strategic execution

Don’t drown yourself in busy work and think it will get you the success or the recognition you want. Working hard is important, but you also need to work smart. Value your own time and prioritize the work that will achieve the right results through the right actions.

Marie-Kondo the tasks that don’t give you joy!

Block off time each day to think about the next day or week and plan out what will make your day/week effective. Purge, automate or transform them if they are absolutely required, but don’t keep doing them for the sake of it or just because that’s how it was done.

Demonstrate bias for action

At Facebook, there was a poster that said “Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem”. This mantra applies to every company and individual.

Don’t wait for someone to come and tell you what to do next, define the problem for you or ask you to find the solution. If you truly want to be a successful TPM, you have to proactively identify gaps, define the problem statement and provide solutions and recommendations. Taking on a problem does not mean you have to do all the work to solve it. That is where you will leverage others, but the fact that you were willing to go that extra mile, sets you apart.

Drive accountability

TPMs often have to influence without authority and that is really hard. Holding yourself accountable is important but you have to hold others accountable as well. This will help you manage your time more effectively. Oftentimes it’s easier to do the work because it's in your control, so learn how to let go! Set ground rules and mechanisms in place so people proactively come to you as things get done.

Find the balance between seeing the big picture, being rigorous and diving deep

As you take on projects with increasingly broader scope, achieving excellence will require balancing breadth with depth. You may not know every single technical detail but you need to know when is the right time to jump in. You want to be thorough and systematic in your approach while being able to connect the dots and context switch between multiple programs. This will take some practice but with experience, it will come to you. Some of the other points made here will actually help you with finding that right balance.

Set expectations and communicate in a timely manner

You will be working with a number of different stakeholders - your core team, your peers, partner teams or other functional teams, manager, leadership team. Everyone has slightly different expectations of you, so it is important to set expectations in terms of your role, responsibilities and deliverables. Remember, reading this post doesn't mean you can simply drop tasks and claim a "strategic" focus. To truly improve work performance, you need a plan to hand off responsibilities and ensure everyone understands your focus shift and its rationale.

Communicate early and often, utilizing a data driven approach with a focus on the audience.

Build strong trusting relations and rally the team

Sometimes I feel working with code is easier than working with people. You have a set of rules or syntax to ensure the result is right. The compiler will let you know if there is an error and you can fix it without being judged.

People are highly complex beings and having high emotional intelligence and ability to assess people dynamics will go a long way in building strong and trusting relationships. Find what motivates people, what irks them and work in a way that will help you rally these folks especially during crunch times or delicate situations and negotiations.

Have a passion for system design and architecture

Last but not the least, what sets apart a TPM from other roles is the deep technical/domain expertise and leveraging it to influence technical decisions/design and build robust, scalable systems. As long as you have the willingness to learn and grow, you can build expertise in any domain. It is fun and challenging to learn about a new technology every few years. Irrespective of your technical expertise, as long as you enjoy getting into the technical details while keeping an eye on the program, you will enjoy your work as a TPM. Learning how to achieve excellence in this balance is what truly counts at the end of a hard workday!

As systems and programs get highly complex, there is a need for excellent TPMs who can think big and deliver results for these ambiguous and cross-functional programs.

The career track for highly effective TPMs has never looked this promising!

Success will follow Excellence!


Want to level up your leadership skills and build a successful career. I can help. Contact to set up an introductory consultation.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the key responsibilities of a TPM?

Key responsibilities include managing cross-functional projects, aligning stakeholders, resolving dependencies, ensuring program execution aligns with business goals, driving accountability, and facilitating communication and collaboration. TPMs also provide thought leadership and strategic direction, ensuring the achievement of meaningful impact.

What skills are essential for a TPM to excel?

How can a TPM effectively manage cross-functional teams?

What tools are commonly used by TPMs to manage projects?

How can a TPM ensure they are aligned with business goals?

What are some best practices for risk management in technical projects?How important is technical knowledge for a TPM?

What strategies can a TPM use to handle project delays?

How can a TPM measure the success of a project?

What role does communication play in the success of a TPM?

How important is technical knowledge for a TPM?

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