Managing an IT team when you’re not technical…or even when you are

I came across a great article by Alison Green called “5 secrets to managing an IT team when you’re not a technical person“. I don’t disagree with anything she said, but I think she sells it a little bit short. The leadership failures that I’ve seen in my career are rarely because the person wasn’t technical enough. If anything, too-technical leaders are a bigger problem.

I’ve known more than one technical leader who focuses too much on the technology, and not the business case for the technology. When a new shiny object comes along, they chase it, leaving projects core to the business to languish. This not only causes short-term harm, but it can lead to longer-term failures to keep up with changes.

As an industry, we often promote good technical people into management without any consideration of their management abilities. Having worked with a wide variety of managers, I can say that I much prefer the non-technical-but-good-at-management managers to the very-good-technically-but-completely-hopeless-as-managers managers. The best managers I’ve worked for have been both, but that’s not as common as one would hope.

In the meantime, all managers of technical groups should read those five secrets and understand them. The best success occurs when the business and technology are working together.

One thought on “Managing an IT team when you’re not technical…or even when you are

  1. Hear hear!

    In my experience, managers-who-tech tend to do better at the job than techies-who-manage. I’ve worked under both in the highly political academic environment and the latter is much more suited to the job. When you’re at that level, your main job-duty is to allow your people to get things done; and getting things done at that level involves convincing Other People that something is a good idea and they should get behind it.

    This is not a skill that evolves naturally out of the technician career path. Some do get good at it, and that’s awesome. But it’s often better to take a manager-type, someone with those skills as their primary work-skill, and get them the technical fluencies needed to be effective with their direct-reports. Doing it like that means you have a high-competence people-person in the role from the get-go. Putting a techie in there who has to learn the convincing-people thing will end up on the short end of the stick for several months, and will have a hard time climbing back up it (if they ever do).

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