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.

About

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...

53 comments
Kelly_C
Kelly_C

I think some perspective is needed. I myself am an IT Project Manager with no true programming experience. My education is in Computer Engineering where my highest level of programming was 2 classes of 'C' and 2 classes of Assembly...not the most relevant when working with web developers who are discussing CSS, HTML5, JQuery, etc. The important thing is in my opinion to be technical enough (and I know plenty of non-programmer's who are very technical) that you can sniff out a bad estimate and either ask the right questions or do some research for yourself...you don't have to know the answer...just how to find it. You also have to be able to motivate a developer, respect them and their knowledge, and earn their respect. If I respect their opinion/estimate when they tell me it "can't" be done, or they have to change the underlying structure which takes an extra week then they in turn will usually respect me when I say...we can't do it right now, but lets fix it later in the project. This is simple management 101, which a good PM should have. I also earn their respect by finding a better solution that turns their 2 week task into 2 days...Google can reveal amazing things. I have had to manage things which were outside of my realm of expertise...and guess what...in those instances, a little Googling taught me just enough to be dangerous :) but I definitely understand the value of having the technical skills if possible. All in all, I think some perspective is needed, did the person asking the question have any technical background? Can they ask the intelligent question and do the necessary research? If not...then it will fail...but if they can do that, then I believe they can be successful, even if it might be rocky in the beginning.

dpickles53
dpickles53

I have managed development projects for 15 years. I haven't written a line of code in those 15 years. My coding skills are dated and pretty much irrelevant in today's tool sets. However, the concepts I learned in my days of coding still apply. I have the logic and problem solving skills that I can apply to new development environments. And that experience has enabled me to smell out the unrealistic explanations - purposeful or not. A few well placed questions can get the coder back on track. I would never claim coding skills today, but manage development projects - you bet!!

w210676244
w210676244

A Consultant, project manager needs to know a lot more than coding. This is because many things are possible in theory, but not practical in practice. That is; one must work within available technology. Unless, of course you have unlimited budgets and no time deadlines. This is, in fact exactly where I am at with my current project. I am trying to find out about everything that it available that I can incorporate so that I can then evaluate what can be applied and customized and what I need to develop from scratch. This involves analysis of networking capabilities and communication between devices. Perhaps in more simple applications these skills would be less necessary. In fact there are some users that can work out their own little projects all by themselves. Such projects would not need a "Project Manager" at all. The thing is that it is sometimes hard to see what the potential complications are. You have to know or half to learn. Max Maxwell

ksyed0
ksyed0

There are lots of PM roles within organizations that don't require IT skills. There is such a thing as a Business PM. I have had a successful PM consulting practise for the last 12 years. I have had probably half of my career as an IT PM and about half as a business PM. The general PM skillset is the same, but your domain experience will greatly determine your success in the domain you want to consult in. I think the key is that you've said you're already a BA/PM (in a fulltime role I presume), so you're asking if you can be successful as a consultant. Of course, you can do the job! The bigger challenge then is how you will get work, and adjust your mindset to treat this as a business rather than as a job. I've written some articles on this on my website, StartRealWork. Going into business for yourself can be very rewarding, but you will have to make a lot of mental adjustments. You will also need to prepare yourself to deal with alot of small business responsibilities, including book-keeping, sales and marketing, relationship management, staffing, payroll, self-education, and all of this on top of delivering the actual work to your clients. Its a great journey, make sure you have a roadmap and a good vehicle before starting the trip! MKS

Kavitab
Kavitab

Thanks Chip for your response! I have experience in both these roles for almost 10 years hence have a fair idea of what should be possible in terms of feature feasibility and timelines of delivery. The consulting work done by me so far always had the coding part outsourced and my deliverable was in the capacity of a BA and PM. However keeping your suggestion in mind i have also set about acquiring some basic coding skills while keeping the work as a BA and PM on simultaneously.

StevenDDeacon
StevenDDeacon

I can honestly say that because your a certified PMP, it does not make you a middle-manager. Project management requires a delicate balance between being business savvy and technically competent. As a PMP you would be reporting to a project manager. Project managers don't have time to track every phase, task, event, and milestone of a project. They are too busy managing the process. If you want to be a project manager than take some programming courses and try to become immersed in the programming culture of your projects to gain some experience. This will go a long way when complemented with your business management and project management skills. Know the beast your trying to tame before you try to ride it. As a consultant/contractor I have to know the difference between the two. Many times I am asked to wear both hats at the same time. Since I have been both manager of technical services and director of data center operations I have gained a solid business/economics acumen, project management skills, and middle-management skill sets to compliment my technical skills. When I consult I usually act as a system architect, engineer or project manager. When I contract I act as a system programmer, system administrator, application programmer, and/or application designer.

blhelm
blhelm

Two qualifying points: 1. If the projects you are selling yourself on involves coding - you should have some experience at coding or hire someone that does. 2. Larger projects that require multiple resources for longer durations enable specialization. Smaller projects that require one or two resources for shorter durations typically require a skill set mix of a broader nature. It all depends on the project. In my 31+ years of experience in IS/IT I have seen it all and done a lot of it. I do keep somewhat current on my coding skills but not enough to sell my services as one. It does keep me informed as a PM to comprehend and understand what needs to be done and who needs to do it and how long it should take. This is essential during the planning phases of the project - especially during the proposal/bidding phase. In most consulting companies, a sales geek rarely goes only to a programmer to estimate a project from the ground up. They typically use someone higher in the org chart to develop proposals. Too bad because often projects are horribly scoped and proposals written with unrealistic expectations and descriptions of deliverables that are vague and arbitrary. This leaves the contract up for interpretation by the customer and WILL get the contracting company in trouble with respect to scope, budget and time. And yes, I've spent my time in both the larger consulting companies as well as hung my own shingle out there.

a.pyne
a.pyne

Firstly, this is part of a VERY old debate. At one end there are people who say that any professional PM can manage any project. At the other that only PMs with expertise in say IT delivery can manage say, IT delivery projects. For me, with an IT background in the 19th century, I have since managed projects and programmes in anything from HR to airlines to nano-technology. The key for me is being a professional project or programme manager. As to some of the nitty gritty - thats why you have technical experts. to advise. BUT I also recognise that some individual projects may well benefit from someone with "local" knowledge. Secondly, a question, why start a consultancy on an area in which expertise is considerably lacking? Focus your business on what services you are able to deliver. There are lots of consultants who focus on PM or business analysis, without the design, development, etc. bits of the life-cycle. Or......simply re-think. But be VERY clear about your value proposition. If you are not, how can your customers know? Hope this helps.

Odipides
Odipides

Speaking as a developer, I'd say you'd need your head read if you can't determine fact from fiction. When I've acted as a PM, I can't recall a single meeting where one of the developers on the project hasn't said something about timeframes or techniques that isn't: a) Downright incorrect b) Exaggerated c) Optimistic d) A premeditated lie Unless you can sort the wheat from the chaff you'd be on to a loser

shull1
shull1

I have worked as a PM in technology for many years and with many developers (coders.) Having done so, I've learned a lot from them, but never actually coded myself. I think project management and development are two completely different roles. I don't think growing up in the ranks of one roles does not make you better suited for the other.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

With all the swats upside it you've been getting, your head must be getting sore. Normally, I agree with you Chip or at most point out minor discrepancies or razz you about a minor point. But on this one I have to admit that you deserve a big swat upside the head. Or several dozen. What in heaven's name were you thinking? This person has stated that they are a BA and a Project Manager at this point. Obviously, the skills set they have is what is required to do the job -- they wouldn't be working otherwise. All that is being questioned is if they could make it as a consultant/contractor. The answer is an obvious yes ... qualified but nevertheless obvious. (Qualified because there are so many ways to destroy a consultancy). What you (and others) are expressing is a typical technician's prejudice -- "if you aren't knowledgeable about my job then you obviously can't do yours". It's the same prejudice that asks for 5 years hands-on programming skills in a software that is only 2 years old from a VP. Not gonna happen, folks. Wrong person, wrong job, wrong skill. A PM has and needs a set of skills that have nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with programming. A BA has and needs a set of skills that have little -- very, very little -- to do with programming. A programmer has skills that have very little to do with either PMs or BAs -- let me rephrase that, in 30 years of IS/IT I have never used my programming skills as a PM. If you are building a large building you need an architect, an engineer, a contractor and tradespeople. Each fulfills a seperate role and each brings a different set of skills to the table. I would no more expect an architect to be able to run wire legally than I would expect a plumber to be able to design the building. IT is no different. Each of the three (PM, BA, PA) has a role to play and each is needed. But they don't have to be the same person or type of person. In fact, I would be prepared to argue that they can't be ... the skills and thought processes need to be too radically different for one person to make the necessary leaps at the same time. A Programmer is a doer, a BA is a theorist and a PM is a manager -- and never the three shall meet. I have been a successful PM in multiple industries including IS, IT, Marketing, Construction, and Organizational Development/Startups and whatever SME is required the required project management skillset has been the same. I've been a BA in multiple industries and no matter what the programming language, the skills required were the same. I've also been a programmer ... and I have never, ever used my programming skills for project management. I have worked for good PMs and bad PMs. I've worked for good BAs and very bad BAs. And every time I've worked with a bad one it has been a case of a programmer (or operator or accountant) being dumped in the job and not realizing that their skills weren't appropriate to the new job. As for the constraints and timelines ... got news for you Leod1961 .... there's a reason that the PM asks for estimates from the programmer and then doubles or triples it. What you think is a constraint is just part of YOUR job for me. Project constraints are far more dangerous to the success of the project. To put it into your point of view, the PM is worried about constraints that affect you having a job not whether a report can fit in 132 columns or has to be split up. (BTW ... there are a large number of BA/PMs who have very successful consultancies often as true consultants rather than as contractors. Programmers as true consultants are few and far between.)

leod1961
leod1961

Exactly. How can someone with no coding background whatsoever even possibly predict timelines and constraints without understanding the fundamentals of programming, let alone understanding and having experience with specific programming languages. I myself code in PHP/jQuery/Javascript and report to someone who has a Java background. He may not have a background in PHP, but has an understanding of what programming involves. And to make things better, because he has coded in a top tier 1 company, he understands what it means to code in bits and pieces and to break down a project into small chunks of software in order to build the bigger picture. And this is the basics to being a good Project Manager.

rstoeber
rstoeber

The specific question was about "coding expertise," but the writer and Chip miss the bigger problem faced by anyone dreaming of starting a business on their own - very few of us are good at everything. I have seen more entrepreneurs fail due to a lack of sales skill rather than any missing technical ability. It's really easy to get complacent after picking up that first contract from a previous employer, but what happens after you've worked your butt off for six months and the project is over? How do you find that next client, and how do you scale the business (assuming that's a goal) if you have to alternate between sales mode and project mode? Also, if you could magically acquire one "coding" skill what would it be? Mobile app development is very different from designing a data warehouse. Integrating multiple databases after a company merger, building a new e-commerce site, or implementing a CRM system all require very different skills. Being a plumber or roofer can be a great job, but it doesn't qualify you to be a general contractor. It's hard to make specific recommendations without more info about Kavita's background or goals, but here are two suggestions. First, start by focusing on projects that don't require actual coding. I can provision and manage Linux servers today from a simple app on my iPad - no technical skill required. Content/document management systems like Wordpress or Alfresco, and cloud-based collaboration tools like Google Apps don't require any coding. Second, find some developers that prefer sitting at a computer to making sales calls - that should be easy. Check their references, review previous projects, and just talk to make sure your personalities are compatible. Find and keep in touch with several people like that before you have a project so that when you do land a new customer the resources are already available. Informal partnerships can work really well for everyone and might lead to more formal arrangements if the business grows. Good luck.

smbneely
smbneely

I have had my own PM Consulting business for 9 successful years. I have managed development projects with no coding background, BUT they were projects for existing clients who had already brought me on board for other types of projects where I did have expertise. The developers were employees of the client and I strictly handled PM functions on these projects. While PM and BA principles apply to any type of project, it is best to have some industry or project specific knowledge to get started, especially if you don't already have a client or 2 ready to start using your services.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Finding good people to do the work you can't. How do you know they are good? Given you are happy with that. Maybe you asked Chip to do it. When Chip says this isn't going to work, are you going to trust him? Are you going to walk back to the client and say this can't be done based on his say so. Can you afford to do that? Chip's a businessman, he isn't going to work at a loss without a good payoff, and he's going to have to trust you to believe that. Can you convince him? He isn't going to work on your complete lemon of a project and give himself a bad rep. Can you despite the fact that its' lemon shaped, lemon coloured and tastes exactky like a lemon, convince him it's really a tomato? So do you go somewhere else to get an answer you like more. There are plenty about who will take you to the cleaners, and leave you responsible because you didn't know what you are doing. They got paid, by you. My advice, sell yourself to someone like Chip, until you learn the ropes. Think in partnership instead of in charge.

sparent
sparent

You have to consider that there is a project AND a product to be managed. I have worked on projects, alongside a product manager. There is a lot to be said for separating the roles and assigning them to separate individuals.

qazolat
qazolat

There are, I think, three separate questions at issue here... 1. Is it possible and/or realistic for a non-coder to manage a development project? 2. Is it possible and/or realistic to make money offering (essentially) only business analysis and project management? 3. Is it possible and/or realistic to create a software consultancy that doesn't provide development expertise? The answers, as I see them, are mostly positive, but with a hint of "realistic" caution. 1. It is emphatically possible and realistic for a non-coder to manage a software development project. It happens all the time in public and private sector organisations. In my 25-odd year IT experience, the larger and more complex the development project, the less likely it is to have a seasoned developer heading it up. Sometimes the project manager will be an ex-tech head, but he may not have programmed since RPG400 or CoBOL days, and indeed frequently, the project leader will not have a clue about current programming practices or languages. The value added to the work by the project manager is measured in planning, facilitation, liaison, unblocking, reporting, managing risk, managing stakeholders, etc. That is, all the things people think are easy, until they fail spectacularly when they try them for themselves. 2. Given that, then it must be possible to sell such services to other organisations. Here in the UK, we have a number of the usual suspects that sell such services (presumably quite profitably) without necessarily selling their development expertise. Names such as Accenture, CSC, CapGemini, PA Consulting and so forth come immediately to mind. However, even when it is only the role of BA and PM that is sold to the customer by such companies, there is the reassurance that all of these organisations say they can field whatever software developer you require, to any level you want, providing you can pay the going rate. [I put "say" quite specifically, because promises are one thing, and delivery quite another. A couple of years ago, an organisation that is funded by HM UK Government paid a preferred supplier to provide software experts for a national development project. As it turned out, they had to source these experts from another supplier at additional cost, since they didn't actually have the resources they said they did. ...But that's another story for another time...] 3. Since it sounds like you are talking about a small operation initially, while it may be possible to create a software consultancy that doesn't have a bunch of programming experts to fall back on, you may struggle. If potential clients are either looking for a one-stop shop, or want the reassurance of being able to get additional developer resource or actually hand over everything if necessary, then they will likely stay away from your fledgling consultancy.

percipio
percipio

The main point of this article was to seek advice on how to 'start' an IT consulting practice, not carry on a successful one or certainly not to step into the shoes of a CIO. While the fundamentals of a project are very similar from project to project and industry to industry, I wouldn't expect to be able to start a successful construction project management consulting business without understandinging how to frame up a home. The same holds true for IT, it goes beyond being able to apply the smell test. IT managers must have a keen understanding of the development process in order to intuitively adjust expectations and build project plans. The CIO and experienced IT project manager has the necessary checks in place and those trusted advisors identified - that's what comes with experience in the industry. The startup consultant does not - they don't have the resources at the beginning. My $.02.

ashoksingha
ashoksingha

Chip, You can't have got the gist of this article so wrong. I completely disagree with you. The understanding of what is needed in terms of objectives, outcomes, and services is what is required by the "IT Consulting practice". The construct of a good coding team and a team Lead you can trust and have done work with in the past. The experience will come with more accomplished projects. Let me ask the question does a CIO understand the incremental detail at the coal face - NO, but they have the necessary checks and balances in place to provide the indications to them. Ash

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

the job which suggests a bit of a crisis in confidence, when taking the big step into his own consultancy. Hard to work that long as a PM/BA and not pick up some perspective about how developers work and what's important to them. Anyone who spent ten years hiding under their desk dodging the issues wouldn't have the bottle to even think of going out on their own. Sensible reaction on his part and a bit of fear is way better than stepping out thinking you know it all. Fastest way to fail in our game that.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Coding experience is what I consider important. The expertise that comes with that includes the unrealistic explanations you alluded to, as well as the ability to propose or provoke helpful alternatives.

gechurch
gechurch

Definitely this sort of homework needs doing, but it doesn't need to be done by a manager. The underlings can (and should) do all of this research and feed their findings up, and that's when the manager should get involved. A coder might report "There's an off-the-shelf module we can use that will save us about 20 hours of coding time, but it doesn't handle X in quite the way we need and we won't have access to an API to extend it if our needs grow". The manager should then apply their greater high-level understanding of the project (for example knowing things like time is more important than money on this project) and their domain knowledge (knowing what an API is, understanding the risk of not having source code etc) and come up with a decision.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I hope and expect that you'll find it illuminating. Best of luck in your new venture. Let us know how you get on. And thanks again for the question!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I thought you were a freshy, starting your own business because the market is crap. After ten years you must have experienced that shudder, when your coder boy, comes up and says "You know that bit we thought would be easy".... All you have to know is he has the exact same reaction to "There's been a small change to the spec" Like someone walking over your grave isn't it, or the whine of a drill before some sadist in a white top starts working on your upper left incisor...

sparent
sparent

"As a PMP you would be reporting to a project manager." Sorry but I've been PMP-certified since 2003. I've been a project manager long before and have been ever since. "Project managers don't have time to track every phase, task, event and milestone of a project." That might be true on big projects. On small projects, I rarely have a project administrator to do this for me. The same principle applies, a project manager should know how to administer a project.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I probably should have been clearer in the article that although I think the PM needs to have some coding experience, I don't think they need to be able to code the current project. They just need enough of an understanding of the process of development so that they can contribute useful direction and smell BS.

gechurch
gechurch

I think there's one more to add: e) So vague as to be worthless You need to have at least some software development in your history to be able to pick which response you're seeing and deal with it properly.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Just a small project, to get an idea of its constraints. It might open your eyes.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I certainly wasn't. I've worked with a lot of PMs as a developer. I know how my role impacts on theirs. You've worked with a lot of programmers, you know how your role impacts on theirs. That's the difference between us and someone just starting out. All that stuff that's often at best just alluded to in class. My classes in software development 90% of it was on the arcana on software design, literally years of it. No context around it. Software life cycles and development management, two paragraphs. From the point of view of a commercial developer who's worked on a lot of projects with a lot of PMs and BAs, I've got to say there was a fundamental failure to teach me what was important. When to sort something quickly, and when to quickly sort something. I wouldn't expect a PM to know how efficient a bubble sort is or to come up with the algorithm. I would expect them to know that a super fast sort was far less important to the project, than getting the customer list form finished so we can get on with the order form. An experienced developer would come and tell you that with a bubble sort you can have the form tomorrow, if you want it to come up in < x clock cycles it's going to be next month. An experienced PM would know that his developer was spending all their time trying to shave three nano-seconds off his sort algorithm, and hadn't actually created the form that was going to use it. This is what real world experience gives us, there is "no other way round" we are both part of an integrated solution to the customers problem. If you believe "you" are the most important cog in the machine, then other cogs will be deemed less important. The risks they identify, the concerns they put forward, the needs they have in order to work efficiently or even at all will be denigrated, ignored. "Your" bit is more important. Wheels complete off, failed, often comes as a complete surprise to the incompetent. Or the worse situation, the programmer who gives knowingly you a super fast sort on a broken form, or the PM who massages the numbers so the dashboard is all smiles.

gechurch
gechurch

'What you (and others) are expressing is a typical technician's prejudice -- "if you aren't knowledgeable about my job then you obviously can't do yours".' It's more like "if you aren't knowledgeable about my job then how on Earth are you going to make good decisions about it and provide guidance when it's needed". I can only imagine that you've worked on some very big projects, given your talk of splitting roles and your lack of respect for the need to understand the project you're meant to be managing. Without a doubt there are many things that are common to managing all projects and these will be the same whether it's a construction project, software development project or attempting to rid the world of AIDS. I can imagine that if you work on big enough projects then you won't need to have a lot of domain-specific knowledge - it can be a full-time job working on the really big picture ideas, and you have other people who handle the true management and implementation work. Let's bring this back into perspective though - we are talking about someone starting out on their own trying to get their first project management gig. Is it likely a fortune 500 company is going to be giving her a call asking her to manage their next big project? Of course not. The jobs she might be considered for will be smaller gigs where the company wants a single point of contact that will be responsible for overseeing the whole project. This means she will have to make a lot of lower-level decisions based on experience and understanding.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Because all these swipes haven't touched it yet. I respectfully disagree, based on my own experience. A project manager may think they're successfully managing developers, but if they have no coding experience then they really don't know that for sure.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Given your point of view and claimed experience I'm betting you do know the critical thing a PM has to know about programming. It's that, that small change in the understanding of the requirements, or minor revision of the scope, just threw everything your coder boys have done up to press, into the bin. You could have put that point forward, instead you go all defensive and lash out at Chip. Why is that exactly? Oh and stop tripling Mcleod's estimates, he already did that...

jedichica
jedichica

@leod1961 They can't predict.. that is the point.. That is the Technical Lead's job. A Project Manager should NOT be predicting timelines or arguing technical details with the technical experts/ SME's.. He/She manages the process, stakeholder relations, budget etc....

pbohanna
pbohanna

on the current project, you need to put it out there that you will be available for the next project. On a two year project I was brought in as the change manager, during the last six months of the project most of the team had already secured roles in the following project, in another company. And I totally agree with you about coding skills and about finding people.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

In my mind, the specific skills aren't as important as understanding the factors that are common to all development projects -- the motivations of a coder, the things that lead to getting stuck and procrastinating, the problem-solving skills required. Those are the things you need to have experience in, even if it was with RPG or COBOL. With that, you can at least ask the right questions to help your developers move forward.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but it's not a coding skill I reckon the guy was asking from a higher level of abstraction than CRM, or even flash game. However while I don't agree with your reasoning, your conclusions are spot on. Starting a business and keeping a business are hard enough without saddling yourself with this sort of handicap on top of that.

gechurch
gechurch

"The understanding of what is needed in terms of objectives, outcomes, and services is what is required..." Understanding what is needed will only get you so far. Knowing how to deliver it is something entirely different. It's your ability to communicate your vision, to convert it into actionable items, to ensure the people implementing it have the skillset to do so, to set realistic schedules etc etc that will determine how successful you are. "The construct of a good coding team and a team Lead you can trust and have done work with in the past." If your business plan is to hire brilliant people to do all the work for you because you don't know your field deeply enough to do it yourself... you're in trouble. Even if you were able to find someone who was brilliant, why would they want to work beneath someone that doesn't understand what they do, instead of doing the same thing themselves, for more money, and without the hassles of a boss? And as a side question: Even if there was such a perfect employee out there waiting to be hired - how do you expect to be able to hire for their coding and development-leadership skills if you haven't had experience in these areas yourself? "...does a CIO understand the incremental detail at the coal face..." I too don't think this analogy holds true. While a CIO doesn't need to know all of the implementation details of a project, they'd better understand the details that are crucial to the success of that project. If the CIO doesn't understand the details that are filtering up to them they are not going to be able to make good decisions. Lastly, I do respect your views, even though I don't agree with these particular ones. You should show the same respect to Chip. Your first two sentences are very disrespectful in my opinion, which is unfair as Chip consistently provides well-thought-out and practical advice. -1 from me for this rudeness.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

When the developers come up with a time frame and a cost and consequences, and that is too long, too much and not too palatable. What happens? Entire argument in the bin, isn't it? Nobody trusts what they don't understand. Those checks and balances are deliverables, and deadlines and costs, and change requests and omissions... But the plan was done based on what people wished to happen, not what could or would. I need it by X. I can spend Y on it. That means I plan for Z. Z isn't achievable say the developers. Yes it is says the PM / Manager / CIO. See it's on the plan, say manager pointing vigourously with both sides of his half hair piece. Developer shrugs and walks away knowing they aren't going to win the argument. Two weeks later. The timeline is still fixed. The resources are still fixed. The goal posts have moved around about eight times, the project is twice as big as it was and despite all this, you untrustworthy developer types are still late.... So the only two ways to be a good CIO/ PM/ Manager Are to know and accept this, may be even, he whispers, plan for it... Or you can just blame the devs...

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

While it's true that a manager doesn't need to understand all of the details that s/he manages, I think development is such a different kind of activity that not having a good knowledge of how it works is more like trying to be the CFO without understanding finance and economics.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

nor a subordinate come to think of it... Usually the other way round as well. I've "found" (usually during a free lunch) this suite of components, if (meaning when) we use it we'll save loads of coding time. Coder boys says no we won't we'll spend it all trying to make the components in the suite do what we want. He will be ignored though, as he's a mere underling...

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I had to wonder what IT was like back then. However, a.pyne's second point is certainly worth noting.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I've done bits of PMing over my career. I've even done mini-projects. I've been Technical Lead on Projects. I'm more than familiar with some of the politics that can surround a project in a corporate land. I'm not a PM though, even with reigned in perfection and a very pragmatic approach to development, I'm still way too techy to make a good one in my opinion. I don't have any problems recognising when the interface between PM and developer has broken down though, even less any penchant for ignoring it. Never seen that failure not cost me more work.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I'm not saying that in order to be a PM you had to start out on a developer track. I'm just saying that having an understanding of the kinds of challenges and opportunities your people face makes you an effective manager, and not having that makes you a worse one. Software development is a different kind of activity than almost any other. Unless you've done it, you cannot understand it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

How deeply involved the PM needs to be in the project makes a huge difference in the amount of domain experience required. In a very large project, s/he can rely on technical leads who function as mini-PMs for their area of responsibility. Even so, I think some technical background will be a huge asset for reconciling all the stories you get from each of the people reporting to you.

gechurch
gechurch

Yep. I like the analogy one of my first University lecturers used... "That small change you've just requested is the equivalent of asking a construction crew to 'just add a few more storeys' to their skyscraper months from completion. All of a sudden your elevators don't go to the top any more, we suddenly need an extra storey of underground parking, all the footings aren't deep enough to keep the building steady in the wind..."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Some clueless fool called Hopkinson was sure a particular problem could be fixed by doing "this". Then when this other burk called Tony, actually went and looked at the code, found Hopkinson's idea was a complete non-starter.. As it was I managed to successfully explain this fiasco to myself without losing too much credibility. :(

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Have to get my teeth drilled to distract me from it..

gechurch
gechurch

Agreed. But no matter how big the project and how many other technical people you have around you at some point you must be able to make good decisions, and you can only do that if you understand the information that is filtering up to you. The role of a manager is to remove hurdles that are stopping the people below them from getting stuff done. If you aren't actually making decisions, or (worse) if you are making decisions without a good understanding of their consequences then you are not removing obstacles; you're being one.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's actually adding a few more storeys to the basement...

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