Technical Project Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s the difference?

Published on
September 29, 2023

Leading, planning, and executing highly-detailed technical projects takes a special set of skills. I’ve seen these types of projects in action throughout my career and I can tell you firsthand: in order to successfully lead advanced technical efforts such as a cloud migration, software development lifecycle (SDLC), infrastructure upgrades, and cybersecurity initiatives, a leader really needs to have deep knowledge of software development, IT operations, and system integrations (and that’s in addition to the people and process capabilities needed for all high-performing project managers). 

Of course, we’re talking about the nuanced world of Agile and Scrum, so naturally we have a special name for these specialized leaders: they’re known as Technical Project Managers. If you already understand the role of a generalist Project Manager, you get the idea. Technical Project Managers need to have a high level of IT expertise and experience managing complex IT projects like the ones I listed above, plus the same leadership, mentoring, and managerial skills of broader project management roles. 

In this article we’ll lay out the differences between a Technical Project Manager and a generalist Project Manager. From skills and tools, to common industries and responsibilities, we’ll explain the similarities and distinctions. Plus we’ll show you how Spinach, your AI Scrum Master can supercharge the effectiveness of any Project Manager, no matter what they’re working on.

What is a Technical Project Manager?

A Technical Project Manager combines the strategic oversight of a regular project manager with deep technical knowledge. Their role shines when overseeing complex tech projects, ensuring every bit of code and system aligns with the project goals. 

What are the required skills of a TPM

Browse through any TPM job postings and you're likely to spot these skills:

  • Technical expertise: Familiarity with software development methodology, hardware configurations, and IT infrastructure.
  • Project management expertise: From setting timelines to risk management, they rally team members around all types of technical projects and deliverables.
  • Stakeholder communication skills: They're the bridge between tech gurus and business minds, ensuring smooth communication.
  • Problem-solving skills: They’re adept at solving tech challenges and finding creative solutions.
  • Leadership: They have the mentorship and people-leader skills to help grow the employees on their team, and lead everyone in the right direction.
  • Attention to detail: Missing even a tiny bug can mean big problems down the line.

Tools Technical Project Managers Use

To overcome the tech chaos and stay organized, TPMs have some common tools they rely on to keep technical projects running smoothly. 

  • Jira: For issue and project tracking. Makes sprints a breeze!
  • Slack: Seamless team communication, because who has time for endless email chains?
  • Zoom & Google Meet: Virtual face-to-face meetings to ensure everyone's on the same page.
  • Spinach: The go-to AI Scrum Master, integrating with major tools for optimal Agile meetings

Types of companies TPMs work for

Here's where you'll often find them:

  • Tech startups: Needing TPMs to juggle fast-paced innovation without dropping the ball.
  • IT consultancies: Where complex client projects require a specialized touch.
  • Software development firms: Crafting apps or software? A TPM ensures smooth delivery.
  • Large corporations with IT departments: Big companies need big tech solutions, guided by a knowledgeable hand.

What is a generalist project manager, then?

Similarly, project Managers (PMs) ensure that every part of a project stays on track from beginning to end. While they might not dive as deep into the tech side as a TPM, they master organizing tasks, managing resources, and ensuring projects are completed on time and within budget.

You can think of it like this. All Technical Project Managers are Project Managers, but not all Project Managers are Technical Project Managers.

Required skills of a general Project Manager

Read through a PM job description and you're bound to find these skills on the list:

  • Strategic planning: Crafting the roadmap and navigating it confidently.
  • Team leadership: Inspiring and guiding teams to success.
  • Budgeting and financial management: Making sure the numbers always add up.
  • Risk management: Anticipating challenges and having a game plan ready.
  • Excellent communication skills: Making sure everyone, from the team to the stakeholders, is in the loop.
  • Time management: Making sure everyone uses their time wisely to deliver results. 

Tools General Project Managers Use

PMs have their own toolbox, from project management to AI tools. Here are some of the most common tools to be familiar with:

  • Microsoft Project: Keeping projects on track with detailed planning.
  • Trello: Organizing tasks in a visual board, making priorities clear.
  • Basecamp: Centralizing project communication and documentation.
  • Asana: Task management with a sprinkle of collaboration magic.
  • Spinach: Streamlining Agile meetings and keeping the team energized and in sync.

Types of companies Project Managers work for

PMs are far-reaching beyond just tech companies! Here are some of the most common industries to employ them.

  • Construction companies: As the buildings go up, PMs help keep things running on-time and on-budget.
  • Marketing agencies: Crafting campaigns that resonate requires structured project management.
  • Manufacturing firms: Where precision and timing lead to the perfect product.
  • Consultancies: Assisting clients means juggling multiple projects with ease.

Recommended Reading: Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?

Key Differences between a Technical Project Manager and a Project Manager

Here’s a helpful breakdown of high-level differences between the two terms - Technical Project Manager (TPM) and regular Project Manager (PM).

Scope of Expertise:

A TPM has a deep understanding of tech topics. They understand code, software development, IT operations, and system integrations. 

A generalist has a broader horizon. They might oversee a tech project, a marketing campaign, or the construction of a building. It's all about managing resources, timelines, and goals, regardless of the industry.

Depth of Tech Knowledge

A Technical Project Manager is your go-to for intricate tech questions and understanding the nitty-gritty of software or hardware projects.

While a PM should be well-versed in the basics, they won't necessarily dive deep into the code or technical configurations. Their capability lies in the broader strokes of project management.

Tool Preference

A TPM’s toolkit is also tech-heavy, with software like Jira, and of course, Spinach, assisting in Agile workflows and tech-centric projects.

PMs might find a wider array of project management tools more compatible depending on the industry they’re working in.

Primary Role

Your TPM’s role is to bridge the gap between technical teams and stakeholders in addition to overseeing the entire lifecycle of the project as a generalist would. They ensure that technical solutions align with project objectives.

Types of Companies

TPMs are often at tech startups, IT consultancies, and software firms. You can find project managers almost everywhere - from construction sites to marketing agencies.

All project manager types need an AI Scrum Master like Spinach

For PMs and TPMs out there, having the right skills and tools is crucial to driving results. Spinach is the AI Scrum Master that enhances your workflow, seamlessly integrating with the tools you already use, so you can add Spinach to your team without any added complexity. Spinach keeps track of the details, so nothing falls through the cracks. 

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