How to elevate your TPM Career

One of the questions new TPMs often ask me is how do I move up in my career, what is the strategy for getting that next promotion. It’s easy to get stagnant and feel like you are not growing as quickly as you would like.

There are few proven strategies that can help taking your career to that next level. Lets look at some of them:

  • Increase the level of ownership over the programs in your portfolio.
    • It’s easy, especially for new TPMs, to spend most of their time on their projects in organizing meetings, taking notes, sending reports, following up on deliverables’ status and performing other administrative tasks.
    • Take a different approach, think of your project as a business you are running, where you are entirely responsible for its success. Be more strategic, have a clear understanding of the problem statement. Know your customers and stakeholders. Create a charter for each of the programs that contains the vision, scope / problem statement, stakeholders, solutions, roadmap / timeline summary, etc.
    • Make sure stakeholder management is at the top of your to do list. Know who will support the program and who may have different motives. Provide them the information they need so it’s clear how the program is going, its progress along the roadmap, any blockers or risks you are experiencing and the path to green.
    • Continuously and clearly articulate the high level of objectives. Ensure these objectives are tied to company’s overall strategy (items being seen as high priority at the organization level)
    • Take responsibility for setting the expectations and communication up to the leadership team.
    • Work on ensuring the project’s sponsorship, alignment / buy-in is strong by articulating the vision for your program up to the chain and making sure all needed sign-offs are obtained at the program, product and the architecture levels.
    • Take initiative to understand dependencies on other teams. Work closely with those teams that are expected to delivery on those dependencies. Manage collaboration and working agreements required to ensure those dependencies are prioritized, budgeted and ultimately completed in a timely manner that does not impact the program’s critical path.
    • Make sure you are deeply involved in the design phase of the program and make sure the design is as closely aligned to addressing the program objectives and solving the problems your stakeholders care about.
    • It is extremely important that you are the one who is leading the program kick-off, where you set the tone for not only the program but also your role in it, your leadership style. This is a perfect time to get everyone energized with a strong sense of shared ownership and understanding.
    • Lead the roadmap and budget discussions, ensuring the program has the resources it needs to succeed in the timeline that is expected.
    • Talk to your team constantly, understand each persons unique motivations and concerns and be there for each and everyone of them.
    • You must create the rhythm for your program and own the regularly occurring communication with cross functional teams.
    • Be proactive in identifying any impediments and working with any external or internal stakeholders to unblock them.
    • Care about the development experience, make sure your engineers have access to tools, training, testing environments and 3rd party vendors they need. Making each and every member of the team better than they were before the program was initiated is one fo the most important objectives. Engineers who are learning from interesting challenges and growing professionally are happy. Happy engineers = successful projects.
    • Be the advocate of your program and protect your team from any political pressure, be the inspiration instead of a micromanager who is constantly asking for status updates. Have a strong backbone and push back when appropriate. Know your teams’ capacity and take care to make sure the deliverables’ timelines are feasible, adjusting expectations accordingly. Set your team up for success.
    • One of the important priorities for you as a TPM should be insuring the programs visibility is as high as possible, which is not only instrumental for the program’s success but also your personal growth within the organization.
      • One of the great strategies to do that is volunteering to present a session about the program in various forums. You are educating people within and outside of the program, you are crystallizing your own understanding of the important concepts relevant to the work being done, you are increasing the trust between yourself and the engineering teams as well as expanding the visibility of the program and your role in it.
    • Be the person who ties the program objectives with the business objectives. Maintain the dialogue with business stakeholders to ensure there is strong direct link between the solutions you are delivering and what the business needs to grow.
  • Work on Programs you are deeply interested and passionate about.
    • It’s much more difficult to take the level of ownership described above unless you are personally invested and passionate about the program and its objectives. Ideally, what you are passionate about also aligns with the highest objectives of your organization.
    • Take time to know the programs within your organization that may benefit from your TPM leadership.
      • If these programs don’t exist be proactive in identifying problems that require a programs build around them. Create proposals and ask for reviews and ultimately a budget to move forward. At the next level, you are not just expected to solve the problems that are known, but to also identify problems within existing processes and systems and then initiate programs to solve them.
    • You should make a strong, continuous effort to communicate with your management team, advocate for yourself and clearly express your desire and candidacy to lead the programs that are important to you, which ideally also have a high business value to your organization.
    • You must be proactive and see into the future. What are the next big rocks the business is prioritizing. Take initiative to work there if that is where your interest and passion is. Even if you are not formally assigned to those programs. Talk to your leadership team and express your desire to contribute on your own time. If you make a difference, it will not go unnoticed. You are setting yourself apart from everyone else.
  • Work with leaders who care and support you and your career
    • This seems obvious, but it is so hard to achieve sometimes. However, this is one if not the most important factors in your growth. The organization you work for isn’t nearly as important as the leader you report to. It’s very possible to work for some of the greatest and largest companies in tech and be unhappy about how your career is being handled. Your manager plays a huge part in your career. Will you be assigned the work that challenges you and pushes you forward? Will you be evaluated fairly? Will you be given feedback that is truthful, constructive and inspiring? Will you be given the necessary tools. Are you being set for success?
    • Here you have to act quickly, and decisively, don’t wait. If you feel like the leader you report to isn’t on your side, communication, honesty and trust-building can help, but it can only take you so far. If things don’t click and / or your manger is threatened by your ambition, your only choice may be to leave to another team. If you wait too long hoping things will change, your performance ratings may suffer, your level of frustration will increase, your level of personal happiness and performance will inevitably take a hit, making a transition that much more difficult with your options being more limited.
    • On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to work for a great leader who has your back and wants to see you succeed, it is often more valuable than money in the long-run. Help them succeed and they will help you grow and guide you, helping you manage your career in the direction that makes sense for you. They are your advocate, mentor and support system. Your work life will be dramatically enhanced but these amazing professionals. It just so happens that in most cases they are already incredibly successful, so your ambition to grow is something they would celebrate, instead of being threatened by it. This is pure gold, be careful not to throw it away.
  • Learn constantly
    • Pickup new technical and non-technical skills. Set learning objectives on a quarterly and yearly basis and stick with them. Read. Emulate great leaders around you. Talk to people within and outside of your organization to learn about best practices. If you can, create a forum for exchanging ideas and experiences. Work with great TPMs and see what they do. Be retrospective and honest about what did and did not go well in your programs and why. Learn from your mistakes. Seek feedback and learn from it. Make an effort to have great mentors. You would be surprised how very senior and busy people would be happy to share their time with you, this can be transforming for you on both professional and personal levels.
  • Speaking from personal experience, keeping these three goals at the top of your mind and striving toward achieving them will absolutely take your career to that next level.
    • Own as much of your program as possible. If you senior leadership has confidence that as long as you are assigned to something they don’t have to worry about it. Everyone wins.
    • Work on things and both you and your organization care about. It will only only ensure your job security, it will also uplift your performance and visibility.
    • Work for great leaders. Do your best to move where great leaders are. Learn from them and grow with them.
    • Always keep learning. As long as you are a little better today than you were yesterday, you are winning. Remember, in nature and in life, you either grown or decline, it’s binary, there is no space in between. Make sure you grow!

Published by Yev

Happy to meet you all. I am a Technical Program Manager who is passionate about learning, teaching and mentoring.

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