If Engineers Tackle How, and PMs Tackle Why & What, What About TPMs? A Look at Where TPMs are Positioned in Mercari Product Development
The role of a Technical Product Manager (TPM) goes beyond product management and involves managing and driving the technical aspect of products. Starting in 2020, the Mercari Group has also fully incorporated this role, and now a variety of our members work as TPMs.
However, you may be wondering about the position of TPMs in the organization. While the title TPM gives the impression of a position situated somewhere between a product manager (PM) and an engineer, it may not leave you with much of an idea of the sort of work that a TPM actually does.
In an effort to fill you in, Mercan spoke with two members who joined Mercari as TPMs involved in product development. Meet Sora Maruyama (@Sora) of the Foundation Product Team, and Camy Tsukamoto (@camy) of the Platform Products Team.
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Sora Maruyama (@Sora)Having worked for companies such as ReachLocal and Moneytree, @Sora has 7 years of experience as a B2B and B2B2C product PM in the fintech and adtech fields. She continues her craft of making things on international teams on account of her roughly 13 years of experience of living in Europe. She joined Mercari as a TPM in January of 2020. She is now on the Foundation Product Team where she leads areas such as marketing automation and Braze. @Sora steps outside her job description to take part in development while involving herself with engineers and marketers. She also took to the podium at Mercari’s Women in Tech Online Meetup Vol.1: Product Management.
Camy Tsukamoto（@camy）@Camy was born and raised in the USA. Since coming to Japan in 2014, she has spent 7 years working as a PM for such companies as Rakuten, freee, and Moneytree. At her previous place of employment, in addition to implementing strategies for improving the subscription model of a B2C app for managing household expenses, she led the release of the MVP edition of “Moneytree Grow,” a new subscription-based service. In August 2020, she joined Mercari as a TPM in a fully online environment. She now leads the construction of a data platform on the Platform Products Team. A psychology major with an interest in HR, Camy also studied engineering and has taken it on herself to tackle coding challenges and app production.
Regular information sharing between TPMs across teams
ーYou both said that you worked the whole time as PMs in your previous work, correct? How did you end up joining Mercari as TPMs?
@Sora: Up until I joined Mercari, I had worked as a PM at multinational IT companies. So I wanted a position where I could observe diverse PMs who would become my role models. Of all the possible positions out there, I was aware that a TPM’s position involved troubleshooting as a partner for engineers.
I decided to join Mercari because I took an interest in the company after hearing CTO Namura say that engineering companies “change a company to have the best possible organizational structure for making things.” I felt that if I worked at Mercari, I would be able to experience both having PMs as role models and working with an organization best suited for making things. I also wanted experience working in e-commerce, and so I joined Mercari.
Sora Maruyama (Foundation Product Team, @Sora)
@Sora: At Mercari, we currently perform development in separate camps: Product, Foundation, and Platform. (Mercari has adopted this unique organizational structure to maintain the productivity of our engineering organizations at a high level.) Within that structure, I work on Camp4’s Foundation Product Team, providing a tool that can customize messages sent mainly from Mercari to users. I am involved in feature development that diversifies and personalizes our messaging feature to enhance our users’ experience.
ーWhat about you, @camy?
@camy: I was a heavy user of Mercari. So I was always coming up with ideas about how to make Mercari easier to use (laughs). And then one day I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if I could implement some of the features that I’ve come up with, and so I joined the company. Because I had experience working with data, at the interview they told me I was more suited to be a TPM, so I made a career change. Currently, I’m not directly involved in feature development. Instead, I’m on the Platform Products Team in charge of operations to organize our service platform which will enable development to become data-driven.
@Sora and I are on different teams, but our work overlaps in a lot of places. When it does, we share things like our knowledge of product development as well as reports on testing methods and results; we communicate fairly closely. We have a lot of chances to meet, such as for lunch or coffee or when TPMs get together!
Camy Tsukamoto (Platform Products Team, @camy)
@Sora: At Mercari, it’s easy to talk about issues with other TPMs. The other thing is that @camy and I knew each other from before, so we catch up about once a week. We talk about difficulties we’re having with the product, our daily product management activities, our relationship with the engineers… We pretty much talk about anything we want, like things that we would like to work on from a career perspective.
@camy: I joined the company online after the Mercari Group had shifted to working from home. @Sora met with me weekly to help me catch up and lent her support when there were things that I didn’t understand so that I could get used to my work seamlessly.
A TPM “works in pursuit of the essence of the entire product,” and “pairs up with engineers to create something even better”
ーBoth of you joined Mercari as TPMs. What do you think of your position at the company?
@Sora: For me, I think that the role of a TPM is to organize information logically and pursue the essence of the overall product from a novel perspective. At the same time, this job type raises the bar of what a PM is overall. However, TPMs are not currently thought of systematically as a group, and so I think we need to market our very purpose.
When I joined Mercari, people’s level of awareness of TPMs within the company was also not all that high. At the time, there were even fewer teams requesting TPMs compared to now. For that reason, soon after I joined the company I helped solve issues and worked to win people’s trust little by little while thinking about what I could do and what I could contribute to the team.
And you, @camy?
@camy: In my case, the position of TPM has meant pairing up with engineers to create something beneficial. They say that a PM takes care of answering the why & what part and an engineer the how part. However, the role of a TPM is to look into why a product is necessary, who will use it and how, and what other use cases would deepen people’s understanding even more.
Right after I joined the company, I really felt that gaining people’s confidence early on was critical. In my case, the team of engineers I was assigned to when I joined the company were very talented, and to be honest, there were a lot of situations where it was hard to tell what the value of a TPM was for them. This is precisely why I invested a lot of time into winning people’s trust. But when it comes to trust, there’s the trust you have to gain from the leadership of engineering and the trust you have to gain from the engineers on the ground; there’s also the trust you have to gain from stakeholders including the other PMs, and gaining the trust of all these different people is not easy.
ーHaving a relationship of trust with the other people on your team while forging ahead with work is essential, and that’s true for everyone, not just TPMs. What is something that you strive to do particularly in your frequent communications with engineers?
@Sora: In my case, I don’t make any unquestionable statements about things, and I make it a point to ask people for their opinions. With respect to the more crucial points, my stance is to state what areas I will be careful not to address and what areas I think I should not get into regarding how engineers execute their work.
@camy: Like @Sora, when I communicate with the engineers, I also make a point of respecting their wishes and strive to to work well with them. To create a truly good product, it is crucial to collaborate with the engineers, PMs, and designers. In order to summarize the product vision while winning the approval of the engineers and designers, it’s crucial for me to adjust how I communicate to align with the people I am speaking with.
To match our users, the members of our company should also be diverse
ーYou both said that when you first joined the company, “people’s level of awareness of TPMs within the company was also not all that high.” So then, how can we increase people’s awareness of TPMs internally going forward?
@Sora: A TPM is one of the extended roles of a PM. It has an array of definitions and interpretations, so it can be hard to figure out what sort of value this role can provide. That is precisely why I want people to be aware that TPMs are partners in making things. To date there have been instances at Mercari where the engineers alone have proceeded with development specifically for improving features. The task of trimming (deleting logic that is not used and redundant and removing deprecated features) when improving features is an important process that has about as much impact on the product as adding new features does. Going forward, I would like more opportunities to be involved at the planning stage.
@camy: Like @Sora, I honestly would also like early-stage involvement in things that will affect the product. In addition, there is rich diversity among TPMs, but there are still few female members who hold this position. From the perspective of leading product development, incorporating diversity is very important, and so I would like to see members from even more backgrounds involved.
@Sora: It’s just like Shintaro (Mercari CEO Shintaro Yamada) says: For us to align with our users, we also have to increase diversity at our company. I think that if the percentage of women increases, not only at the ground level but also in management, the discussion will be a little more active and bring reform more quickly.
ーWhat sort of person do you think is suited to become a Mercari TPM?
@camy: A person who has a proactive mindset and can pick up on issues independently, who will not give up even if they encounter obstacles when they try to resolve an issue for a user, and who has a strong desire to make good products. In addition, I think that people who are business-minded and good with numbers, as well as enthusiastic, are well-suited to become TPMs.
@Sora: To be a TPM, I think it’s more important to be a little more enthusiastic than other people rather than to excel at any one skill. Also, I think a person who can dive right into their workplace by themselves and blaze a trail, regardless of what their previous position was, is suited for this job. I think to be a TPM you have to be the kind of person who ponders the true meaning of what a valuable product is and pursues this, and you have to have an overlying perspective of things.