Leadership

7 techniques for managing your technical staff


In my last blog, I talked about some of the general characteristics of an IT project team. For example:

  • They tend to be introverts
  • They tend to think more logically than emotionally
  • They tend to be problem solvers
  • They tend to be technically creative

Knowing some of the characteristics of your technical staff allows you to better understand how to manage them effectively. Applying some or all of the following techniques will help you create a more conducive work environment where people can excel.

Give them the tools that need to do their jobs.

Establish an environment where people feel they have what they need in order to do their jobs. This includes having appropriate hardware and software. It doesn't necessarily need to be state of the art, but it should be of acceptable quality. Because they're in the IT field, IT people get frustrated when they don't have the right hardware and software to do their jobs effectively.

Make sure they have the right skills and provide opportunities to learn.

IT people love to learn new things. Managers should make sure their people have the skills needed to do their jobs and that they receive opportunities to grow into new technical areas. This doesn't have to be third-party training classes. It can include computer-based training, seminars, webinars, books, magazines, etc. Also, once someone has mastered a certain skill and they start to become bored, look for ways they can cross-train and learn new areas of the group.

Create a viable work environment.

Technical people like to understand the work processes in the group, and then they like to be creative in working within that structure. So, set the high-level rules, but don't micromanage the details.

Give people as much information as they need to do their jobs.

Managers should strive to be proactive communicators. Remember, many IT people are introverts who like to process information internally. They may or may not come up to you and ask you what's going on all of the time. Managers should make sure that they communicate as much as they can about what's going on in the company, their organization, and their group.

Shield the team from office politics

Don't let your team get bogged down in the organization muck. This means removing organizational roadblocks and shielding the team from organizational politics. IT people will tend to get cynical fast if they feel like a political environment is affecting their work or in decisions that affect them.

Make sure each person remembers he's part of a team.

Even though IT people tend to be introverts, it doesn't mean they prefer to work alone. IT staff may prefer to work independently, but they also like being a part of the team. Managers should nurture this need. For instance, they should have regular team meetings. Managers should also make sure they have opportunities to do fun stuff as a group - even if it's just going to lunch together once in a while.

Be there when needed and respond to problems and concerns.

Not all problems can be fixed, but many times the simple act of listening and trying is enough. People will give you credit for trying, even if the ultimate resolution to a problem isn't available.

You might note that many of these management techniques are not unique to technical staff in general or IT staff in particular, but they're particularly applicable to the IT staff.

17 comments
MikeGall
MikeGall

Hmm, I'm not so much an introvert, as someone that finds few people worth building a friendship with. I honestly couldn't care less about how the hockey game went last night for example. Perhaps not needy is a better description of the techies I've worked with. They can chat up a storm and party just as good as anyone. For the most part this post is right on. Especially the part of giving staff the tools they need. I can't count how many places I've seen where the IT guys have 5 year old computers. It makes no sense, you have someone making 50/hr, waiting a minute or so everytime they try to do something. Drop a couple K Ebenezer and you'll get more done :)

iyepes
iyepes

I don't surprise why people usually quits from there in groups of four by month.

djredford
djredford

Duh. Anyone who's been in the business for any length of time already knows these things. I think to you need to state the target level of your post. This is tech management 101.

len.ashby
len.ashby

Encouraging people to ask their peers for help, ideas, etc. More specifically appoint a 'buddy' to do QA on major outputs. Paring people with strengths / weaknesses will help improve the skills of both.

ksorensen
ksorensen

Check your ego at the door. Make sure they know that you know your success depends on them and their hard work. After many years managing tecnical teams I can say without fail this is the most important rule of tech management. Respect and sincere appreciation are absolute musts.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

I'd add a few points to this list. * Don't Overwork Them * No matter how effective they are, they can only handle so many projects. If you give them too many at one time, all of the projects will suffer. Either assign other people to some of the projects or delay some of the projects until the individual is freed up. * Limit Interruptions (when possible) * For some projects, positions or individuals, you may need to limit the interruptions that get to them. With an important project, find a way to provide the team members with some uninterrupted time to actually work on the project. Whether this time be a joint time spent in a group or individual time working on individual aspects of the project. You may have little chance of doing this with regards to a position (for example, a help desk is a 100% interruption job), but for some you may have some flexibility. For example, if you have someone developing some kind of application, limit their interruptions and you'll probably get a better result. Different individuals have different tolerances for interruptions -- that's just how it is. Know the individual's tolernace for interruptions and stay within it for optimum performance. Also, consider this tolerance when making assignments -- you don't want to put someone with a low tolerance for interruptions on a help desk. * Let them Express their Opinion * When appropriate, allow people to express opinions freely. Keep it polite, but keep it honest. Whether their opinion is good or bad, right or wrong, about a project or about the company or even about the manager; let them provide it in some appropriate format. This can provide a lot of insight that can be valuable to any manager.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

They missed one; free coffee and bagels. Work is better with full tummy.

dan.necsa
dan.necsa

1. "Establish an environment where people feel they have what they need in order to do their jobs". ok, but if you work with high tehnology it's better and the results is more value if give what he need and more let him to explore and test the new product's. If you cut the connexion with world(ex. personal e-mail) he will found a new way how to pass were he want. 2. details make rules. If they don't have the imagination, never ever will be able to make new product's and in time! 3. "Make sure each person remembers he???s part of a team" - this if a key point from USA old movies. with this you will go back in 60's!!! Give pleasure, if you want to work hard with them! Be his friend, but remember: not so close! ask him if he want to go with you to drink a beer or something else . Give a proper pay! give the satisfaction that something is done and he done this! 4. All problem's can be fixed, this depends on you if you wanna help him or not! my suggestion is to try hard to help him because he can see and he will give the help back in work!

nkoulouparfait
nkoulouparfait

WhatI am reading is a big eye opener for me; Iam sure if this were more popular, many projects and companies could feel better

mjrunion
mjrunion

The points made, truly reflect the IT staffs that I have worked with over the past 10+ years. The most important and most often over looked is the need to avoid micromanaging the lower levels of the IT staff. The help desk in may cases can resolve issues before they become problems if they are freed from the script mentality. This can only be accomplished through continued training for these front line staffers(another great point made).

NPetersen
NPetersen

The problem is that managers are so "advanced" they stop using Tech Management (TM) 101 techniques. Sound, basic management is usually all that is needed in any work-place. Unfortunately, managers chasing the latest management fad while neglecting the basics is far too common as evidenced by other posts and my own experience. It never hurts to be reminded of the basics. Thanks to Tom Mochal for a well-written blog.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

You comment that "Respect and sincere appreciation are absolute musts". I agree with you, but I wonder if there could be too much of a good thing at times. For example, I dealt with one SMB software company where we would call their support line and eventually get someone. We'd state what the problem is and the person we got would invariably say "Let me ask Simon and call you back." (NOTE: name changed to protect innocent, yadda yadda.) Often several hours later, you get a call back from the person, who essentially says "Simon says your problem is...". At times you'd get a talkitive person who would insist that "Simon" was a well-respected individual who was greatly appreciated. The problem that I see in this case is that everybody simply went back to him rather than try to do anything on their own. Granted, this could just be laziness on the part of everyone else. But could it also be a case of respecting "Simon" too much? Everyone considers him so good that maybe it is lowering their own self-respect? If so, does that mean respect and sincere appreciation can be pushed too far and end up detrimental to the group? If anyone is interested, there came a time when we called and were surprised that the person DIDN'T say "Let me talk to Simon." We were so stunned by this that we asked about it. We got the answer, "Well, Simon doesn't work here any more." BTW, support plummeted for about 6 months before recovering to a point only slightly worse than when Simon was there.

meryllogue
meryllogue

... are directly related to the formula that exists within PM to determine the effectiveness of an individual based on his or her other projects, daily tasks, etc. It is also directly related to RISK. Once someone reaches about 4 projects, they are a risk to all of them. Or to the very lowest priority one(s). And so that person becomes someething that I have to work to reduce or mitigate, whether it's through negotiations with other PMs, their functional manager or whatever it takes.

lady_ringwraith
lady_ringwraith

hear, hear! my brain shuts down when i don't get my dose of caffeine and glucose.

hshameem
hshameem

I fully agree with this article. It is very much true, as I had gone through the phase of a team member and being a PM I think these little things should be taken care in order to make a very good team

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

I'm not a PM so I didn't know about the formula. I'm just going from personal experience. I'm not surprised that there is some PM formula for those two, though. PM seems to have a formula for just about everything. :) To me, it's just plain common sense. But then, as the quote says, "Common sense isn't". I see a lot of managers (not necessarily project managers, but standard managers) who are either ignorant of those two factors or else willingly ignoring them. I've seen people assigned to as many as six projects at the same time while being expected to help with help-desk issues. This "help with help-desk" means that when someone dials the help-desk number the person with six projects will, at times, hear his phone ring and have to take the call to unlock a network account. And yet that person's manager wonders why nothing is ever getting done!