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Project Manager : Project Manager June July 2012
34 Project Manager IT’S EASY TO ASSUME THAT THE FOUNDER AND CEO OF A business called eNerds actually had a healthy amount of IT train- ing before he started the company. But Jamie Warner, the dynamic entrepreneur behind one of the Australian tech sector ’s greatest success stories, simply had a business degree when he launched eNerds in 2000. Along the way he has learnt many vital lessons about the management of what he calls “techos”, or the technical IT staff whose skills are central to the success of his organisation. “ We all need to interact with techos,” Warner says. “It’s really important that you get it right because you need them to be engaged. The systems they build will have a massive effect on your project’s chances of success.” Understand and acknowledge First of all, Warner says, managers must truly understand the role and purpose of the technical person, whether that person is in IT or some other technical function. The manager must understand how the technical person’s role affects the broader business and fits into the specific project. “Once you have that understanding, show it by acknowledging what it is that they do,” Warner says. “So often, because they don’t have a good understanding, managers heap praise on others but just expect the techo to go off and do their job. You need to demonstrate that you can relate to what they do.” Lee Ward, Vice President and General Manager of IT Outsourcing and Services at Unisys, agrees. “The technical people have a very different skill set to me and I respect that,” she says. “I’m not afraid to ask dumb questions and in some ways that breaks down the barriers between people. They realise it’s not hierarchical and I’m genuinely trying to understand what they do. They respond well and explain things to help me understand. “It’s a matter of getting to a personal level with them and really trying to understand what problems they’re coming up against. When you do that, they will share information with you.” Listen then communicate Warner says the next and most important step is to really listen to your technical staff and to make sure you know what they’re talking about. “At the same time, integrate the business/project strategies and goals to make sure that what they’re talking about really fits in with what you need them to do,” he says. “It’s not unusual for a techo to think 10 steps ahead, so you need to ensure they land in the same place you do.” Along the same lines, Warner says, it’s imperative that you communicate fully and clearly the technical person’s role in the specific project, and all of the parameters of the project itself. If you’re not completely clear then the specialist could well go off and do their job brilliantly, but will end up in a different place to you. They need to know the end point before they even begin their job because it’s something that often can’t change once the job begins. “ To support this point, documentation is very important,” Warner says. “The agreement on paper should show everything clearly, should be regularly updated and regularly referred to by all involved. This ensures everyone is, quite literally, on the same page.” Show your appreciation Ward says that you, as a manager, must be sure to let your technical people know that you value the contribution they’re making; that their work has genuine worth. “Do this first by letting them know how they fit into the big picture of the project,” Ward says. “ You need to paint this picture for them because they’re simply one of many people on a team. If you can illustrate to them how they’re making a genuine difference in a project then I think that really brings something important home to them. It helps them realise that you recognise their importance and it helps them realise their own importance.” Sometimes managers hold back on giving their technical staff the business context of their work, Ward says. “But especially if a project is not going well then my view is that you should always share the big picture with people, show them the business impact, to your business or your client’s, of why it’s important to meet a deadline or deliverable,” she says. “ Ver y often it’s the technical people who will identify what should be done differently to remedy the situation.” ••• Tech respect: managing in a digital age Gone are the days when a manager was always more technically proficient than their staff. With technical and It specialists becoming a central part of every project team, how does a manager adapt to engage these vital experts? By chris sheedy career centre
Project Manager April May 2012
Project Manager Aug Sept 2012