After years of trial and error, I have come up with a few proven ways to manage technical teams with the goal of everyone wins. The result is a happy, collaborative team and satisfied client. Here they are in no specific order:
Tip #1 – Empower the team and give them a long leash
Engineers, industrial designers, software developers, system architects are technical experts and passionate about their work. They get into their own worlds in order to solve complex technology problems and generally do not appreciate being interrupted. So, let them be!
Tip #2 – Share accountability
Along with this independent way of working comes shared accountability. While the Project Manager is respectfully staying at a distance from the technical expert, the accountability for effective solutions needs to lie with the technical team, not the project management one.
Tip #3 – Schedule regular touch base meetings and include them in project risk analysis
The Project Manager is typically the unique point of contact for sponsors and clients. There is a real need to track product development progress so it can be reported to the client. Book regular (weekly) touch base meetings. Take advantage of these meetings to address risks and issues and bring the technical team in line with the product vision.
Tip #4 – Speak the technical language
Technical experts are confident about their skillset and may not fully appreciate the merit of project management. A well-suited fit for the project manager role would be a technically trained professional interested in managing project activities and channelling energy of their human resources. Even without a technical background, the project manager can still be effective at his/her role by learning basic technical principles and terminology.
Tip #5 – Listen to their management ideas, but continue to consider yourself the project management expert
I have received much well-intentioned advice from technical resources on how to run projects. Some of these suggestions are incorporated in the project plan and execution, while others are rejected because I know they are not effective through experience and training. My approach is to listen and welcome input, but continue to lead the team based on solid PMI principles.
At the end of the day, everyone on the team has a common objective: to develop and deliver a product solution that will satisfy the business needs of the sponsor or client. Critical success factor definition may vary, but the elements of cost, quality and timeline (assuming an effective technical product) are constant. The effective technical project manager will always support, lead, and inspire their technical resources in a manner where everyone wins.
Martine Janicki, PhD, PMP, is a StarFish Medical Senior Project Manager and Clinical Project Manager at Provincial Health Services Authority. She was the first StarFish Medical PMO and her initial work on StarFish project management systems and philosophies continue guide our product definition and development.