One thing which is rarely talked about in the PM or upper group is about one of those competent folks who grew up though the technical ranks and took his place as a project leader though wit, skill, and the ability to communicate clearly to non-technical audiences.
These folks can maintain a tremendous bridge among non-technical, QA and all people relevant. These guys assess technical risks, assist with technical problem solving, and cut through the layers of bull-feathers surrounding any given technical project to determine what is really going on. Within their own technical areas they can estimate project time-lines to within hours of actual work whereas a non-technical PM will always rely upon the schedule given to him by the resource for which he’ll never be able to take justification.
More importantly, technical project managers think like IT professionals. They just need to save technical face for the team even when it would be easier to hang someone out to dry. This allows them to get straight answers and good work out of employees who would be classified as hopeless, negative, or uncooperative by non-technical project managers.
In any project, there are situations where the team struggles depending on the complex dynamics of the project and customer requirements.
Most important at that particular instant is get to the core root cause and start providing detailed answers and also put into consideration what should not be provided to the client protecting the interests of the organization.
On any given day a technical project manager will:
1. Track the project progress
2. Raise alarm if something is going wrong
3. Conduct a meeting
4. Compose dozens communications emails
5. Write a status report
6. Help his team prioritize technical issues
7. Find the best alternatives to any technical issues and will not be single minded to solve a problem.
8. Employ one or more mitigation strategies for technical risks
Now, this starts a confusing state. What role do they play after couple of years in technical project management or when they change company? How they can fit themselves in process oriented organization? Do they need to change their style?
Now I try to answer some of the above questions.
Are Technical Guys Ready to be Project Managers? : People who have spent some years in the project management profession know that not everyone can be a good project manager. Knowledge, Experience, Skills, Instinct, Passion for Processes and People Management Skills make great project managers and not MBA, PMP or PgMP :). These degrees or certificates just align your knowledge to the global standards of project management.
I believe that the main problem is that there is a lack of knowledge about project management in organizations and it’s just considered as next step in the professional career of an individual contributor.
I experienced many times how people (good individual contributors) were totally frustrated being promoted to project managers. Most of the time, a good techie would like to continue to be technical and still manage certain part of management. There’s hardly any need of out and out Project Manager unless he’s not technical and if company requires pure project manager then there should be technical project managers working for him who can help “Pure” Project Manager to analyse the information in right ways and I’d be dumb not to call those “Pure” as Morons in technology aspect.
Generally it starts when somebody presses the panic button and company thinks that they have more than they can chew and they start hiring “Pures” without even calculating the losses in efficiency, cost and time for putting wrong person for the job.
Nobody likes to be project manager by accident. Project managers must be trained for managing projects and they don’t do it like a moron, they have to understand every bit of technology. A “Pure” will always avoid meeting in which he’ll be the anchor because he won’t be able to approve or disapprove any argument. My argument is that if somebody ready for just the “Pure” role then he must be ready to take help of SMEs, team members and even QA people to understand all challenges and foresee challenges but WHY? Try a good technical guy who is flexible enough to learn processes and good at people management and see the change.
Training, practice and learning on the job are the right ingredients to achieve a good skilled professional in project management. Organizations should have a clear career path for project management, forums should be set to discuss experiences and training should be provided.
The biggest advantage of having a technical project manager is that a good technical project manager can build a great technical team. He can understand ins and outs of technical mindsets. He focuses more on solving technical issues, optimizing codes, setting standards for best practices and aware of all round latest technology happenings.
Another advantage of having a TPM is that a TPM doesn’t allow any bottleneck to happen. Most of the meetings will be inconclusive if PM doesn’t have a say or has to rely upon other heads to guide him. Whenever an issue is stuck, TPM makes a decision and rest sails smoothly. A TPM bears the maximum pressure so in a way he works like a transformer who takes the whole supply and distribute smoothly to the resources. A good TPM is always on top of the situation so what looks like a problem from one angle can be an easy go for a good TPM.
It’s not that having a TPM is all goodie goodie so what can be the disadvantages of having a TPM?
A TPM usually focuses more on solutions then problems. They generally tend to address the problem in front and they may oversee the global repercussions because of that. A TPM should mature at that level where he can see the overall system as one and not only specific part or module or problem.
A major issue with TPM is that they don’t project every issue they encounter. They try to handle what they can and reduce what they cannot and project only the impossible stuff. QA guys are villains for them too but over the period of time, they learn to appreciate transparency and significance of QA.
Now, we go back to the original question: Should we be Project Managers or Technical Project Managers? I'd personally prefer to be Technical Project Manager and would love to convert many technical guys into Technical Project Managers and I'm sure that I won't be able to make "pures" understand about technology.
Labels: PgMP, PMP, Risk, Technical Project Management