The move from Technical Expert to Manager
Let me start of by explaining how things were before I became a Manager.
I worked my way to a Senior ASP.NET developer with a decent amount of SharePoint exposure; it only took me 7 years.
And in those 7 years I was usually poorly managed;
• scope was poorly defined and not managed
• no clear plan was in place or plan omitted crucial steps
• timeframes were unrealistic
• no quality checks were in place (faults were discovered during client demo's)
• clients expectations were not managed
• communications were poor
• processes were not followed
• resource allocation was poor (I once requested a .NET developer and my Manager believed he solved the problem when he got me a junior network administrator who knew a little HTML)
• poor risk management
In many cases I had reached a point where I had very little faith (or respect) for my manager that I insist that they present me with the requirements and leave me alone so I can “do my magic”, this involved me contacting the clients to clearly define their requirements, plan an approach that is within the timeframes promised, build, document and demonstrate the solution (so it looks like I had the making of a good manager at a very early stage).
I was seen as a champion and I enjoyed that, but poor management always frustrated me, and to make matters worse, I became the victim of my own success where my managers (from every company I worked in) ended up overloading me with projects, while other members of the team were able to watch movies and chat whole day. I shut off my Gmail Notifier because it was distracting.
So when a company approached me and asked me to manage their Systems Integration department, I said yes without any hesitation. I saw it as a great opportunity to finally be part of a company that is well managed.
But the move from a technical expert to a manager is not an easy one.
At first it was great, I was heavily involved in all the technical aspects of all the projects, I hired 2 resources, and spent hours a day training them up and improving the quality of their deliverable, I used my technical experience and skills to produce accurate cost estimates and timelines so clients expectations were well managed. Delivery was strong, Staff was happy, Department was profitable. In summary, my approach was seen as successful.
Over time, the number of projects coming in increased, meaning that I had to grow the team in order to continue delivering a strong solution. My team of 3 grew to 15 (and we are still hiring), I now have team members spread across 2 provinces and 2 continents.
With a team this size, I was forced to move away from the technical aspects of a project and needed to focus on Management specific tasks, my focus shifted to the following:
• Improve customer relations
• Project planning, estimating, coordinating
• Improve staff morale
• Improve internal coordination and processes
• Improve department profits
• Focus on high quality service delivery
• Manage project scope
• Improve resource management
• Staff training
• Risk management
I have been managing this department for over 3 years now. Thankfully, the department is still successful in all aspects – there are a few things I know now that I wish I knew 3 years ago. I would like to share that with anyone about to start the technical to management transition.
• If you are spending time on the technical requirements, you are not doing the things you need to do to be an effective manager
• Seek coaching from other managers who has made this transition, I unfortunately did not have a coach, and I feel that whatever I achieved in 3 years could have been done in 1 year with proper coaching.
• You need to change your thinking from “what can I do” to “what can I get my team to do”
• Management is a full time job – if it’s not, your team is very small or you are doing it wrong
• You need a set of skills that was not needed as a technical expect, mainly: business skills, leadership skills, management skills, planning skills, communication skills so attend a management class as soon as possible.
• Technical skills are not a requirement to be a good manager – it helps but you can’t be dependent on that or too long, keep on learning about the technology, but focus on high level overview rather than technical details.
• Do not be controlling, empower your staff
• Your manager or other members in the organisation may still see you as a technical expert (no matter how long you have the Manager title) and expect you to fulfil technical roles personally – you need to stop that from happening, make it clear that as a manager, you cannot fulfil the requirements personally and, if possible, assign a resource instead.
• Become more people focused, maintain communication with your client and staff even if they are in a different continent.
• Be passionate about Managing, it’s that passion that made you a technical expert, and its that passion that can make you an expert in Management.
• As a manager, it is your responsibility to say No to tasks that cannot be completed without compromising bigger projects or the companies reputation
• Understand that this job is not expected to be easy. Managing people have too many variables and unlike you technical role, you are not going to get it right all the time, understand that, accept that and learn from that.