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Product Manager vs Technical Program Manager vs Producer

Product Manager vs Technical Program Manager vs Producer

This article was originally published on Medium.

Me outside my Microsoft office in Bellevue, WA

What are the differences, and does this matter for your long-term career?

Obviously, they do — but there are many nuances we should uncover regarding this whole topic.

I’m aware that many articles have been written to dig into this. Many may have dived into these analyses without chatting with real TPMs and producers to get a full comprehensive view. I’ve had the pleasure to speak with many game producers from studios like Undead Labs (Creator of State of Decay), product managers from Xbox, and TPMs from Zynga and EA to learn more about the various “PM” jobs within their cross-functional teams! Here, I’ll reveal what I’ve learned throughout my coffee chats.

We’ll dive into this via the following format:

1. Product manager job responsibilities

2. TPM job responsibilities

3. Game Producer job responsibilities

4. Should you only focus on one track?

I’ll flesh these pointers out at a high level out of respect for how vastly different responsibilities can be from role to role. These will be my general descriptions that attempt to open the umbrella as wide as possible.

Let’s get started.

1. Product Manager Job Responsibilities:

Being a PM myself for the Bing team at Microsoft, I can help give my input:

  • Define the strategy and general direction of your product/feature, and how that aligns with organizational direction, leadership, business impact, and goals for success.
  • Analyze data and customer/user feedback to improve product current functions and capabilities.
  • Evangelize the product/feature across various platforms both internally and externally.
  • Conceptualize and then collaborate with engineering, design, and other teams to strategize and execute projects that achieve product goals or KPIs.

Now, this is just a general slice of the pie. Many PMs, including me, do more than just this — some also manage and update backlogs, some help with marketing, some work with user research more, and some even dig into code.

2. Technical Program Manager Job Responsibilities:

  • Drive technical projects (high or low level) across cross-functional teams to achieve a product goal, internal necessity, or KPI metric.
  • Work closely with engineering managers and their teams to define project success and the execution plan on getting there.
  • Participate in internal scrums or project reviews to add feedback for software processes or unblock engineers on current tasks/issues.
  • Ensure timely product or project delivery within schedule while keeping track of progress with engineers, IT, or other technical members of staff.

3. (Game) Producer Job Responsibilities:

Here’s the fun one — I’m glad I interviewed several producers to help me with this!

  • Establish smooth and effective collaboration among cross-functional teams while mitigating friction in game development processes where possible.
  • Manage, schedule, and outline game development tasks together with game designers, writers, engineers, artists and other teams.
  • Support the execution of projects by ensuring that all tasks are delivered on time based on schedule by keeping track of progress with various teams.
  • Check-in with various teams across the project to understand technical and game details for a full picture on execution, all while upkeeping team morale and unblocking members whenever possible.
  • Analyze and work with gamer/customer feedback to incorporate and define improvements in new games being planned and developed.

Again, we’re just scratching the surface. Depending on the team size, your organization’s objectives, and other factors, these responsibilities are subject to thousands of nuances.

4. Should you only focus on one track?

Let me pass on a piece of advice I’ve received from numerous product and tech leaders:

Work on your core set of skills/crafts that define your career identity. Focus less on that “Title” and more on the actual skills which are valuable in the present and future job market for your domain.

This is definitely true to an extent. Why bother scavenging for the job titles if the job itself doesn’t exactly entail work that would be considered valuable for your career growth?

Well, I consider this a case where both sides of the spectrum have their flaws. For example, a fair argument to the quote above would be, “More and more folks want to jump into product now. Specializations on industry, fields, and even titles will definitely matter.

-and that also lays some truth. So now what?

My general advice to college students (and what I’ve received from mentors) is: in the early years of your career, focus on your craft. In the world of PM/TPM/Producing, that means maybe a mixture of the three groups of responsibilities I laid out above. Perhaps it’s taking a pointer from each section and combining them for your own career identity.

Focus on being so good they can’t ignore you. Then, once you’ve built that strong set of foundational skills, hone in on a specific career track in which you know you can achieve a balance of long-term growth and fulfillment. Basically, take all that career capital you’ve built (AKA the career or project accomplishments you’ve attained), and charge in on the specific direction you want to go.

And finally, there still exists the question of a specific industry focus. Gaming, life sciences, ML, search engines, healthcare, etc. — wouldn’t health tech recruiters prefer a PM that has healthcare experience rather than someone that comes from gaming?

Perhaps there’s a likelier chance that the one with a closer background bags the interview or even the job. But that shouldn’t deter you from focusing on that strong foundation — because after all, that strong craft of yours with a pedigree of achievements can bring you a wider window of opportunities both in and outside the industry. I’ll dig more into this topic within another article!

I’ve written multiple other pieces focusing on productivity and work/life! Be sure to check them out, alongside following my Author Twitter and connecting with me via LinkedIn!

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