Same but Different? Technical Project Manager vs. Technical Lead

Same but Different? Technical Project Manager vs. Technical Lead

Are you interested in technical project management but not quite sure what it’s all about?

There are lots of titles that can add to the confusion, particularly if you’re looking at project management in the technical space: project manager (PM), technical project manager (technical PM), technical lead, and project lead. This article is here to dispel some of that confusion, so read on!

Note: All of the content and opinions here are those of the author and relate to project management at InfoTrust specifically. 

Starting from a Wider Lens

There are plenty of articles out there walking through traditional career paths for project management. In short, it goes like this:

Project Coordinator -> Associate Project Manager -> Project Manager OR Technical Project Manager -> more senior roles 

Notice how there’s a huge ‘OR’ between project manager and technical project manager. 

This is something fairly common; often the exact role/title depends on the type of company.

For companies like InfoTrust that operate in the technical consulting space, there is room for both roles. So let’s see what the differences are!

What Is a Technical Project Manager? How Is It Different from a Project Manager?

All project managers are subject matter experts in traditional project management areas such as initiation, planning, budgeting, risk management, monitoring, pivoting, closing, and Waterfall and Agile PM processes. 

A technical project manager is slightly different in that they would also be expected to have a broader knowledge of technical concepts, platforms, and flows. In addition, they would be comfortable working with technical team members and stakeholders (eg: engineers, data scientists, developers). Technical project managers are more likely to use scrum methodologies and/or work with the technical lead (more to come on this role!) to identify scope, issues, blockers, and ways forward.

How Are These Roles Different at InfoTrust?

At InfoTrust, we work with many of the world’s best-known brands and provide a variety of services relating to data privacy and governance, cloud services, analytics implementation, and data activation. Given the breadth of what we do, managing projects also spans a wide range of roles and responsibilities.

A project manager at InfoTrust will predominantly work on projects such as audits and implementation on well-known platforms such as Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, which, while being technical in nature, may not need a technical PM since the steps are clearly known and we have sufficient technical expertise in the teams. These are usually projects that have standardized processes and will only need the adoption of project management processes and methodologies to ensure success. 

On the other hand, projects that are new/unknown, such as server-side tag management, server-to-server platform audit, Google Cloud-based projects (or any other project involving a platform we have not used before or not integrated with before) would need a technical project manager to help navigate the unknown.

Isn’t a Technical PM Exactly the Same as a Technical Lead?

Not really—at least not at InfoTrust.

A technical lead on any InfoTrust project would be one of many technical specialists (engineer, advanced activation specialist, visualization specialist, data scientist, etc.) and would have deep subject matter expertise and hands-on experience in the technical platforms being considered. Their role is to primarily architect the solution that will be the foundation of the project, and will also include organizing the anticipated work, prioritizing, and delegating portions of the solution. They usually work very closely with the technical PM on some of these.

A technical PM is not expected to have this level of specialist knowledge nor are they expected to be a former engineer or developer (it doesn’t hurt though if you have some of these skills up your sleeve!). 

What is good to have is a solid understanding of a breadth of technical platforms, processes, services, and products across multiple stacks and some hands-on experience to be able to adapt traditional PM and analytics skills to more agile and unknown environments.

A Powerful Combo

A technical PM works very closely with a technical lead particularly in the planning, execution, and monitoring stages of a project ensuring that scope, platforms, and data flows are clear and in-line with the project and business goals for our clients.

The technical PM helps see the larger picture and keeps the end-goal in mind while the technical lead and project team deep-dive into details.

Why is this important for organizations like InfoTrust? We specialize in online measurement architecture and help break down silos to ensure our clients can make confident marketing decisions. The only way to break through the clutter is by looking at it from a 10,000-feet view and that’s where the technical PM adds massive value.

But that’s not all! When there’s an issue blocking the project which needs a bit of troubleshooting, the technical PM can step in to help ask the right questions or even roll up their sleeves to identify the root cause and solve as possible.

It’s truly a win-win!

What Makes a Good Technical PM?

At InfoTrust, we value horizontal growth and encourage employees to move into adjacent roles where their passion lies.

Having done this myself, I can confidently say that moving horizontally from an analytics consultant to a Discovery project lead to a technical project manager helped reinforce concepts and provided the opportunity to be a stronger technical PM who could also help coach other PMs to grow into this role.

Purely on the basis of my experience, a good technical PM must bring to the forefront the best of three worlds: technical knowledge, leadership, and project management.

Technical Knowledge

  • Has strong foundational knowledge of key technical platforms and associated nuances across multiple tech stacks (breadth vs depth) 
  • Translates technical requirements (together with technical lead) into clear deliverables
  • Identifies possible technical solutions that are repeatable and scalable
  • Identifies technical risks, blockers
  • Helps troubleshoot at a high-level, if needed
  • Handles technical conversations with stakeholders across a range of expertise levels
  • Can help make agile/sprint estimations and groom backlog
  • Is ever-learning and adapting to new technologies, platforms

Leadership

  • Sets the vision for the project; brings the big picture
  • Get the team moving forward towards mutual goals
  • Resolves conflicts
  • Motivates and inspires
  • Brings focus and stability
  • Shepherds change
  • Takes ownership 
  • Sets clear expectations
  • Builds trust
  • Makes clear and if needed, quick decisions

Project Management

  • Plans projects
  • Tracks progress
  • Holds teams accountable
  • Identifies issues, risks, blockers
  • Runs team meetings
  • Manages stakeholders
  • Communicates frequently
  • Applies the best process management methods
  • Manages documentation and artifacts
  • Balances the triad of scope, quality, and cost
  • Looks for ways to improve processes and efficiency

Sound Like a Great Fit?

At InfoTrust, we’re always on the lookout for technical project managers who can help create more raving fans. We believe they are valuable for our growth and enable us to take clients to new heights in their digital measurement journey. While still a relatively new role, it is fast becoming an indispensable one!

If this sounds like you, and you believe you have what it takes, head over to our careers page and send in your application today!

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