As a seasoned project manager, and years of trial and error, I have come up with a few proven ways to manage technical teams with the goal for everyone to win. The results are usually a happy and collaborative team and a satisfied client. Here are five practical tips for managing technical teams.
Tip #1 – Empower the team and give them a long leash
Engineers, industrial designers, software developers and system architects are technical experts and passionate about their work. They get into their world 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. With the project manager respectfully staying at a distance from technical decisions, accountability for effective solutions needs to lie with the technical team, not the project management team.
Tip #3 – Schedule regular touch points and include them in project risk analysis
The project manager is typically the single point of contact for sponsors and clients. There is a real need to track progress on product development so it can be reported to the client. Schedule regular (i.e. weekly) touch points. Utilize 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 project manager will have technical training, be interested in managing project activities, and be adept at channeling resources. Without a technical background, the project manager should learn the basic technical principles and terminology in order to be effective in their role.
Tip #5 – Listen to team management ideas, but maintain the role of expert
I have received much (well-intentioned) advice from technical resources while managing technical teams on how to run projects. Some of these suggestions are incorporated in the project plan and execution, while others are simply rejected as ineffective. My approach now is to listen and welcome input, but continue to lead the team based on solid project management principles.
A technical team has a common objective: to develop and deliver a product solution that will satisfy the business needs of the sponsor/client despite recurring variations in critical success factor definition, cost, quality and timeline (assuming an effective technical product). At the end of the day, the project manager must support, lead and inspire in order to successfully manage technical teams.
Martine Janicki was our first full-time Project Manager and PMO. She has a wealth of experience in the Project Management world, specifically medical devices and healthcare, and her education is in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering.