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Managing the Next Step September 8, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.

I’ve written before about some of the differences between technical and managerial skills – a condition that shouldn’t come as any surprise to someone who works with technical teams.  All too often, project manager roles are filled by people who happened to be very good engineers or designers, but who lack the additional skills required to motivate the team.

So it is with consulting, illustrated quite well by this article by Wayne McKinnon.  His number one statement stands out, as it describes perfectly some of the mental blocks that engineers deal with, especially when moving into managerial or other influence roles.  He says,

In school, technical specialists are taught that there is one best answer, not degrees of better. Buyers like options, and technical people are often too focused on the theoretical “right way” versus achieving objectives to varying degrees.

This has been my experience as well.  A good project manager will often absorb the changes in scope or deliverables and pass them along to the engineers who must then ‘simply execute’ them to the best of their abilities.  If that is the limit of the engineer’s involvement however, he misses the compromises and trade-offs that led to the change in the first place – exactly the personal interactions and business decisions required to be able to become a manager or consultant later in his career.

So, McKinnon’s advice to technical folks applies to their managers as well – make sure to expose your technical team to the decision making processes.  It will pay dividends in both of your careers.



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