The Secret Skillset that Drives Technical Program Success

There is often an assumption that Technical Program Managers (TPMs) are narrowly focused on requirements, project plans, and budgets. The reality of the work is far more diverse and well-rounded. As a TPM consultant, I’m seeing a growing need for us to have a balance of what I’ll call technical and soft skills. The ability to step into a client engagement, no matter the complexity of the role and goal, and bring that critical combination of technical competence and people skills to achieve the desired outcome—all while building trusted goodwill for everyone involved. 

Most of us have worked on a team that experienced an unexpected obstacle. Maybe a risk became an issue, or a change in leadership priorities created a scramble to hit new targets. It can be daunting to carry a team through a challenge like that. Strong TPMs have a robust toolbox to build momentum and lead their team through such challenges. They quickly apply their core project management capabilities and technical knowledge, while leaning into their people skills, too. These “soft” skills are actually quite tangible--listening to diverse perspectives, empathizing with your team’s concerns, and motivating everyone toward a common goal is integral to driving success.

A case in point 

Recently, I was engaged on a cloud migration project, and a few days before the planned cutover, the team discovered a problem. We immediately dug in to understand the root cause, map out a mitigation plan, and decide whether a revised cutover was needed. If so, we needed to identify the larger organizational impacts. All of that was essential to driving the project forward, but it wasn’t the only piece of my job. More importantly, I worked to understand the considerations of all the stakeholders, communicated the expectations, and rallied the team to stand behind our recommendation for a path forward. My ability to listen, create space for alternative perspectives and consensus building, and deliver the challenge and recommendation with calmness, set our team up for months of trust and success.

In simplistic terms, it’s the balanced ability to read a burn up AND communicate a clear, insightful risk analysis to the C-suite. — KP Peck

The demand is for broader, deeper TPM skills 

This year especially, so many of our clients stand at the crossroads of technical adoption and change management. COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the virtual landscape, demanding that growth companies make technical investments that adapt to the exploding role data and digital transformation play—not just for smooth-running internal operations, but to meet elevated customer experience expectations. It’s goal planning season for 2021 and beyond, and the stakes are understandably high.

In the midst of all this change, I was reflecting on my own career path and the various experiences that brought me to this moment. Even though my experience is heavily weighted in project and program management, it started on the marketing side. From there, my roles shifted into product commercialization, and then into technical program management. I can tell you that as a TPM consultant today, it’s critical for me to understand the software development lifecycle and Agile methodologies. My core project management skills still serve as my bedrock: facilitating cross-functional dialogue, asking questions to draw out and mitigate potential risks, and managing budgets. When combined with my ability to build strong relationships across teams—both horizontally and vertically—it’s a powerful combination that has seen me through many a challenge.

TPMs are in a sweet spot 

What that means for those of us with technical project and program management expertise, is that now is a great time to do what we do. We have a unique and highly rewarding role to play. An opportunity to help drive business value in a role that sits at the nexus of vision, implementation, and experience. We see this across industries and clients. It’s no surprise Amazon’s business model disrupted the consumer product market: consumers now want shipping and returns to be simple, free, and fast with every purchase they make. The impact of COVID-19 only accelerated this consumer demand for door delivery. 

A recent Propeller TPM client—a leading consumer product retailer—faced this challenge by rapidly growing their online business. In addition to ensuring their online products were delivered on time with a quality experience, they needed to build and scale their order fulfillment model to meet the growing demand, ensuring speed from a technology perspective, and adding new distribution centers to their existing network. As a TPM for this client, strong engagement and management of 100+ stakeholders were essential throughout the requirements gathering, development, testing, and operational readiness phases of this program. We were able to optimize existing global fulfillment capabilities and introduce new capabilities to improve the customer experience at 15+ distribution centers in North America, Europe, China, and Japan. Right now, we’re seeing opportunities at this scale across many of our clients. A sign of the times and the need. 

Propeller is fortunate to be experiencing high demand for TPM expertise. We are looking to grow our team with experienced TPMs who know the value of putting people first, delivering exceptional client service, and employing a growth-mindset. Take a look at our current open roles to learn more about Propeller’s services, opportunities, and why we’re a great place to work and grow.

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