Summary: Technical Project Managers and IT Project Managers provide different, but overlapping expertise and value. This article focuses on the differences and similarities between these roles.
You need a project management solution. Your projects are technically advanced or complex, your timelines are unpredictable, and your project teams are too in-the-weeds to self-manage. How do you know what kind of project management professional to hire?
Organizations differentiate between general project managers, technical project managers, and industry-specific roles such as Information Technology PMs aka IT project managers. While more technical work often calls for more technical hires, it’s not always worth the additional cost. Hiring for the right role can save you tens of thousands of dollars every year. According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a technical project manager is nearly 40% higher than a general PM, and nearly 20% higher than an IT project manager. When choosing a project management partner, whether a team of experts like Tuck Consulting Group or an individual, it’s important to understand how these roles compare to ensure you don’t overspend.
Technical PMs share the same broad skills and responsibilities of project managers generally, yet also command a deeper knowledge of the processes, systems, and risks most common in their fields. Alongside these generalist and specialist roles, you will also find industry-specific PM roles such as the Information Technology (IT) project manager. While not necessarily demanding the same specialization as a technical PM, the responsibilities and expertise of an IT project manager overlap with a technical project manager in many key ways.
Technical Project Managers:
Technical project managers oversee the technical aspects of a project. They work closely with development teams to ensure that the project is meeting technical requirements and specifications. With their implicit understanding of the industry and common causes for project success and failure, technical PMs should have a better awareness of project risks and logistical issues. They often must wield an advanced technical vocabulary to communicate effectively both with those executing the project and with higher stakeholders. PMs who cannot understand, let alone lead dialogues among their project teams are relegated to messengers, severely limiting their ability to manage proactively.
Technical project managers typically have a strong technical background, with expertise in areas such as software development, coding, and testing. Like all PMs, they must also possess the ability to manage budgets, timelines, and resources effectively. You can read more about the specific responsibilities and selection criteria for identifying a good TPM on our other blog post.
IT Project Managers:
IT project managers are responsible for overseeing all aspects of an information technology project – think, deploying new software across an organization, installing server hardware at a new office, or leading cybersecurity initiatives to prevent ransomware attacks.
IT project managers are responsible for managing the project team, coordinating with stakeholders, and ensuring that the project is delivered on time and within budget. They are also responsible for managing project risks and ensuring that the project meets business objectives. The stakeholders of an IT project, including project sponsors, are often less technically-minded (i.e. business leadership, or big picture strategists) and necessitate a different communication style. At the same time, those executing these projects are often more technical, thus an effective IT project manager must be emotionally intelligent and skilled at code-switching to coordinate among various groups. Unlike a ‘messenger’, a successful IT PM will serve as a translator of sorts, communicating business objectives from the top-down, and technical details and implications from the bottom-up to ensure all stakeholders are in alignment.
IT project managers require a strong understanding of both technical and business aspects of the project. They need to have a strong understanding of IT infrastructure, systems, and software development methodologies. They may not need to know enough to execute the work, but must understand broadly what is being executed to mitigate risks and ask the right questions.
In short, a key difference between a technical project manager and an IT project manager is that the former focus more on the technical aspects of the project, and thus must command appropriately deep knowledge. IT project managers focus more on the broader aspects of the project, including business objectives and stakeholder management, and must be fluent in multiple levels of technical communication, catering their delivery to more- or less-specialized audiences.
Whether you need a technical PM or an IT project manager, or even if you aren’t sure, Tuck Consulting Group can help you identify the best fit. Book time with us to learn more!
Founder & Managing Principal
Alex Tuck is the founder and managing principal of Tuck Consulting Group, a firm that specializes in project management consulting for small businesses. After several tenures at large and regional management consulting firms, Alex set out to create a firm that was focused on better client outcomes through diverse teams with less focus on profit realization rates. Through the pandemic, the firm has experienced 15x two-year growth, landing it at #12 on the 2022 Inc. Northeast Regional list and the Forbes Next 1000 list.
In addition to Tuck, Alex has served as a nonprofit board member for several organizations, including a microlending nonprofit he co-founded that operates in Central America. Alex runs his remote-first firm from a farm in Vermont where he lives with his wife and four children. Feel free to reach out to book some time with him.