Managing to succeed with a technical project manager

By Lawrence McKenna
Thursday, 17 December, 2020

Managing to succeed with a technical project manager

Technical project management has both advantages and disadvantages, a few of which I will cover in this article. But first, what is a technical project manager (TPM)? A TPM is a project manager who has the skills and training of professional project management but who is also an expert in the particular field in which they are engaged.

Project management courses train project managers to ask good questions rather than suggesting answers, and how to align big, important goals with clear deadlines. This is important because organisations have realised that in technology fields, the ability to ask good questions is dependent on strong knowledge… and so are the abilities to determine goals, deadlines and risks.

Consequently we are seeing growth in demand for TPMs for IT, data centre, smart building, telecommunications and radiocommunication projects. TPMs are insurance, used as a protection from financial loss and managing risk; primarily against contingent or uncertain loss.

What are the advantages of using a TPM? Efficient goal setting, improved communication, higher organisational satisfaction, increase of expertise and accurate risk assessment.

What are the disadvantages? Primarily higher initial project costs, although in saying that, organisations are seeing a reduction in TCO and a reduction in project contingency.

This generates an important question — why don’t all technology projects use a TPM? It comes down to organisation project maturity, size, complexity and risk.

The key factor is organisation project maturity. TPMs will usually be found involved in projects for organisations that deliver technical projects frequently and have developed a project culture that is focused on the lowest cost delivery and maximum return.

So that’s what a TPM is and why they are utilised. But what is the actual role of a TPM? A TPM is there to: discuss, determine and capture the organisational requirements; discuss, determine, test and capture the engineering requirements; and determine the feasibility of the project and look after costings and cost management.

A TPM is there also to determine the project program and program management; develop either a detailed brief, concept design or a reference design; and conduct a design review and provide overall management.

In addition, a TPM will conduct overall management of a construction and installation review, as well as overall management of a testing review.

Finally, a TPM will be intimately involved with acceptance — does the delivered solution meet or exceed the organisation’s requirements?

TPMs are not the only ‘technical’ managers present on a project. On large projects there may be up to three sub-managers, each focusing on a specific phase of the project, in which case the supervision of these sub-managers is the responsibility of the TPM. But in most cases, these roles and responsibilities reside with the TPM.

A final word. I suggest that if you are involved in construction or delivery, it would assist you to update your processes and procedures to include a Construction Manager and a Testing Manager. You already do this work, but in an ad-hoc way. Just improve the process. The technology is becoming complicated and integrated, and projects are becoming less forgiving with cost and schedule overruns. So this kind of improvement is something to consider.

In conclusion, TPMs are an asset of any technical project, and more organisations are using them to deliver projects. Expect to see one on a project near you.

Lawrence McKenna is Principal Engineer (Manager) with Cumarsáid. He has extensive ICT/telecommunication experience acquired from working 16 years with Queensland Rail, three years with Project Services (Qld) and five years with SKM. He is a member of the Standards Australia (Standards development) CT-001 (Communications Cabling) and CT-002 (Broadcasting and related services).

Image credit: ©

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