Thursday, March 09, 2006

PM - Is it necessary to have technical knowledge ???


Yesterday, while talking to one of my customers , he mentioned that he has followed a Prince 2 course recently. while talking about the topic I realised that he was very strong with his opinion on that a PM doesn't need to have any technical knowledge., But my argument was that PM should be able to get on with techies, understand them, handle politics, manage conflicts and not allow the team to take the PM on a ride. In this case a PM should have a very good understanding of the technical aspects to make the project successful. Any way we paused the discussion as we met for an official meeting,
He is right when I think of PM theories, But in Practical I think when you are in to IT project Management, Guys …No matter whether you handle the biggest project in the world or the smallest ....Don't be lazy to update your technical knowledge….( Im not saying you should have knowledge to design a class diagram right or to code a component, But at least you should know what it is and should be able to understand the complexity of it.


Lately, I participated same type of discussion in a tech forum and the question was whether it's necessary for a PM to be technical ?. Though I wont agree 100% ,I find the following post is very interesting and it talks about most of the concerns we have in this issue. So I just thought to paste it here
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There has been an on-going discussion for years as to how much technical background a project manager needs and I suspect it will continue through all of our life times.

First let me say that all project areas believe that they are different and unique. To a certain extent this is true. However, all projects have the same requirements for planning and control to some degree. In softer projects while the structure of good planning and control may not be as rigid as say a construction project, some form of structure is still needed. It becomes critical in large multi-disciplined technology projects, that the PM not only be able to lead the team but also to handle all of the internal political situations that will occur and to be able to sell and handle the corporate change that will occur. They simply cannot become too mired in the technical work.

Having said that my experience across a large number of technology projects in addition to other types tells me several things.

The smaller the project, the more technical background is needed. When a project of any technical type gets beyond a certain size of effort and team size, the more the PM needs to be more generally and business oriented. However, even in a very large project it would be best if the PM has some overview technical knowledge. They need enough to understand the project and to gain the respect of the team. But they do not have to be a highly skilled developer. Think about it, in a large, complex technology project, such as an ERP, we are usually dealing with a number of specialty areas within the technology and the PM cannot be conversant in-depth with them all and still have had time to become a highly skilled people manager.

I propose that what is needed on a larger project is a Technical Lead
working with and for the project manager/project director. the Technical Lead should have a technical architectural background and provide technical oversight of the product during its development. Is this not the same concept that engineering projects have. They will usually have a PM and a project engineer. Both are likely to be engineers of some variety.

The more experienced a PM is in managing projects, the longer they will have been away from any type of hands-on technical work and the less likely they will have in-depth knowledge of the latest tools and languages. This is the role of the Technical Lead. An expansion of the Technical Lead role is into what I call a Product Integrity Manager on the project responsible to the PM. In the expanded role, architecture is still key, but now we add all areas concerning the product, such as change control, documentation and quality.


Bill Bates
Principal
P3M Governance Inc.
bbates@p3mg.com
www.p3mg.com

What do you think? is it nessasary for a PM to be technical ? Developers.. Do you prefer to have a technical PM? feel free..my blog is open for your comments...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

My opinion on this is that a Project Manager should definately have at least an acceptable amount of technical knowledge. In today's IT environment you are destined to perform various diverse tasks and be able to control and manage different types of people - customers or developers.

On one hand, a developer should have trust on the manager and respect his authority. This can only be accomplished by posessing enough technical knowledge in order to draw development guidelines (together with senior development manager) as well as being able to perform at least basic (let's say 60%) of quality control on the deliveries.

On the other hand, the project manager should always be able to understand the technical requirements of a project better than the customer's technical team in order to be able to draw the lines and boundaries of the project. Knowing your team's actual technical capabilities in terms of quality and production time is the only way to successfully lead a project to its correct path and finally to an accepted delivery.

A project manager, in my opinion, should be close to the development team, yet far enough not to allow himself being taken advantage of the team members. He should be able to have a good technical opinion on core issues without needing to go into technical (development) details. He should be able to gain trust of the customer's technical team and be the leader of the project, most of the times opposing to the decisions taken by the customer. Some times, he should also oppose to his own development team; This is a good sign since it shows that he has full control over the project, believes in himself and is capable of deciding and leading a project.

Vassilis Stathopoulos
CTO
Phthia Communications LTD
London / United Kingdom

razor said...

yes acctually, we do. its really annoying when our PMs have unrealastic expections. software isnt magic u kno. :D then again when PMs dont have technical knowledge we COULD use to our advantage and make even the simple things appear to be mighty complicated.

 

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