Armed And Ready
How much technical acumen does a project manager need to have in order to effectively manage a software-intensive product development effort? Are Spreadsheet, Gannt chart, PERT chart, EVM, Microsoft Project skills, and a golden certificate from schools like the vaunted PMI the only tools needed to lead a multi-disciplined, technical crew of engineers to so-called victory? I think not, but you may think differently – especially (and understandably) if you’re a project/program manager.
I think effective technical project managers are rare and they sprout from the trenches of one or more of the technical disciplines: software, hardware, test, and systems engineering. Wrestling with technical problems in the mud while under schedule pressure from multiple managers to keep costs down and to deliver quality promptly is the hazing experience needed to appreciate both the financial and technical aspects of a project or program. It may seem that project and program managers are under pressure themselves from executives above them in the command and control hierarchy, but unlike the dudes at the bottom of the food chain, they can easily pass the buck when financial and technical goals aren’t met. Who do ineffective BMs pass the buck to when the execs in the heavens demand accountability for poor project performance (usually way downstream after project execution has been supposedly progressing splendidly)? Why, the dweebs in the cellar of course.
“You have to know a lot to be of help. It’s slow and tedious. You don’t have to know much to cause harm. It’s fast and instinctive.” – Rudolph Starkermann
Cranking fat heads off the project management education assembly line and arming them with the necessary but insufficient skills to lead technically smart people into the raging battle against complexity is like arming firefighters with squirt guns to put out a 5 alarm fire. All it does is perpetuate the illusion of control and prep the graduates for moving higher up on the Plan-Watch-Control-Evaluate ladder – even though they don’t have a clue as to what they’ll be planning-watching-controlling-evaluating. But hey, I like to make things up and I’m not fit to lead anything, so don’t listen to a word I say 🙂