Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding your role, part of Managing Technical Teams.
- Have you ever been to a dinner party with a group of people who began talking about another event which you didn't attend? Or a movie you haven't seen? It can be very difficult to feel part of the conversation because you don't have the same level of knowledge as everybody else. Managers of technical teams can sometimes feel this way if they don't have the same technical expertise as their team members. That is because managers of technical teams are required to spend the majority of their time operating at the tactical level rather then being focused solely on technical detail.
As a manager operating at the tactical level, you need to channel your interest in understanding the business and techinclal trends that might impact your department. Your concern with how to respond to the demands placed on your technical teams, you manage budgets, and ensure technical deliverables are produced in accordance with estimates for costs and schedule. This tactical focus can be very interesting or very frustrating, particularly if you are once producing technical deliverables yourself.
The emphasis, focus, and skills required to work as a technical manager are very different from those of a technical team member. The adjustment can be very stressful so as part of being a manager of technical team members, versus being a technician yourself, here are a few tips to help you along. First, develop trust in your technical experts. Allow the experts to determine the best way to do things. Their approaches might be different from what you would do, so try and be patient and understand that the best way for them to accomplish things is the way that's most comfortable for them. Not necessarily the most comfortable for you.
Second, focus on outcomes. Be focused on ensuring you are clear on what has to be achieved to meet your customer's needs. Third, focus on eliminating obstacles that may hinder your team from accomplishing their tasks. Ensure they have the tools and training they need. If you have relevant experience from your time as a technical team member, share that experience. However, don't insist your team mirror your own history. Let them use your experience and build upon it for themselves.
Good technical managers ask good questions, such as, Have you done this before? Does my team know enough about the business and environment to make their approach or ideas fit? Are there inconsistencies surfacing in their ideas or deliverables that can introduce risk, such as unconfirmed assumptions? Does my team have enough details about what the business wants or needs? Here is an example. Let's say your team is manufacturing cars and the business asks them to make the car safer for pedestrians by making the hood more flexible upon impact.
Someone might come up with what seems like a great idea, like, let's start making the hood from more flexible aluminum. Jumping in and starting this might achieve the objective of making the car safer for pedestrians. But that is not the sole purpose of a car. We may end up causing greater problems. There are other considerations that we would need to look at. The hood still needs to provide crush zones for the passengers and also must protect the engine. So, to create a solution that not only makes the car safer for pedestrians, but also protects the passengers and the engine, we need to find a balance point.
Clear assumptions, getting the details, and thinking through actions to prevent inconsistencies is your role as the technical manager. Not to know everything about the technology. That way you can produce that car that everyone is happy with.