Project Management

Starting a project management consulting business without coding expertise

Chip Camden weighs in on whether he thinks it's possible for consultants to manage a development project if they don't know how to code. Share your thoughts on the topic.

TechRepublic reader Kavita Bharadwaj sent me the following "Ask Chip" question:

I am struggling to start an IT Consulting practice.

I am not a developer. I do not code and ideally would like to set up a practice for doing business analysis and project management. Is that an unrealistic goal to have a consulting practice that does not offer any coding expertise? Going ahead I can hire a few developers but right now the economics don't permit it.

How do i get work with this kind of skill set? What is the growth path ahead?

My answer

If the projects you intend to manage involve coding, you need to have some coding smarts — even if you don't plan to do any of the coding yourself. I don't think it's possible to understand the constraints or leverage the strengths of the development process if you have never been on the coding end of a project. Either you need to acquire that experience or hire someone who has it.

I have worked on projects in which the project manager had never programmed, or had never been good at it. Two things invariably happen: (1) the project manager tries to force things down a pre-determined path that don't fit the development process, and (2) developers exaggerate their constraints in order to buy time. Even if the developers don't mean to deceive, the fact that they have to translate their issues into terms that the project manager can grasp will invariably lead to some framing — conscious or not. A project manager who understands coding will be able to apply a sniff test to these claims. More importantly, they'll be able to have reasonable discussions with the developers about what they need in order to succeed.

I'm sorry I don't have a more optimistic answer for you, but I think it's better to face the truth before you invest a lot of time, money, and effort into this venture.

What do you think?

A lot of our readers are PM consultants. Do any of you think it's possible to manage a development project if you don't know how to code yourself? What about our readers who are developers? How would you feel about working for a project manager who doesn't code?

Ask Chip

If you have an IT consulting question, email it to me or use the "Contact" link by my picture at the end of one of my articles, and I'll do my best to answer it. Read guidelines about submitting questions.


Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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