Balancing the power between the technical and non-technical

Given recent events, the balance of power is definitely on peoples’ minds. As a female technical project manager, I’ve definitely seen my share of bad behavior as a result of an imbalance of power. But today, I’ll be discussing the power differential between a technical PM and a non-technical PM in managing a project.

I fully believe that everyone deserves a shot, and if you work hard and are smart, there’s really not much you can’t do successfully. That said, it’s a lot easier to manage a technical project if you have some exposure to the subject matter or technology. Hopefully you’ll get paired with another project manager who meets this criteria. Each project manager, the technical and the non-technical, have a core set of responsibilities we need to fulfill to our project teams. More importantly, I think we have a set of responsibilities to fulfill between each of us.

Three of the most critical include:

  1. Leverage your resources – Both project managers, the technical and non-technical need to figure out the respective strengths of each other very quickly post kick-off. As Victoria Yashchuk describes in her blog How is it to be non-technical project manager among technical developers?, not every technical term will be understandable. This could refer to both true technical terms but also subject matter terms. Ms Yashchuk reminds us that people are typically passionate about what they do. It’s important to recognize that and ask lots of questions. It works better for both project managers, if they can leverage each other’s strengths, but also work together to minimize their weaknesses. Ultimately, they both should be on the same team, with the same goal of delivering a successful project.
  2. Revert to the basics – At its most core, delivering a successful project comes down to relationships and removing obstacles. Leading People When They Know More than You Do by Wanda Wallace and David Creelman describe these as critical components for managing teams when you end up in unfamiliar territory. Software integration projects rely on both an implementation team with internal or external the service provider, but also guidance and engagement from the customer. If your non-technical, its even more important to appreciate the entire team and recognize that you are dependent on them for successful delivery. Further, each project manager should be constantly surveying the situation to identify obstacles that will derail the project.
  3. Get out of your way – The most important thing to realize as a non-technical project manager, or even as a technical one delving into something new, is when you are in over your head. It’s worth repeating that the success of a project is dependent on everyone involved. It’s important that you do everything you can to follow along (i.e. reading the contract in detail, following up with questions to make sure you understand each component, getting the details on what needs to happen from the team, etc), but not so much that you end up hindering the team.

Each project is different, primarily as a result of different people, context, etc. Embrace it, learn from it and contribute to its success!