Understand Your IT Project Staff and Manage Them Accordingly

Remember is that it is impossible to categorize everyone within a profession.  You can make some general assumptions about technical people, but this does not mean that the assumptions apply to everyone.  As a manager, you must ultimately have multiple techniques that you can apply to different people in different circumstances.  One technique will not work for all people at all times. 

That being said, let’s make some generalizations about managing technical staff on your project.

  • They tend to be introverts.  Generally speaking, the definition of an introvert is one who is primarily more comfortable with an inward focus in life while an extrovert is generally more comfortable with an outward focus.  For example, when introverts receive a lot of new information, they tend to want to think for a while before speaking or drawing conclusions.  Extroverts, on the other hand, are more comfortable expressing ideas to others.  If they jump to the wrong conclusions, they just change their minds.  Basically extroverts are comfortable thinking out loud.  Introverts would rather think through the “rough drafts” in their minds and then talk when they think they have a coherent and logical position. 
  • They tend to think more logically than emotionally.  This tendency should be obvious.  Technical staffers typically are not motivated by a lot of “rah-rah” speeches.  In fact, they tend to be cynical of this type of motivation.  They will usually listen politely (perhaps even snickering to themselves), but the effects are short-term.  On the other hand, they can be persuaded and motivated by a logical argument.  If the logical argument can be combined with some motivational techniques, you might have a chance to actually get them excited. 
  • They tend to be problem solvers.  This is a great strength of technical staff as well as one of their weaknesses.  Most technical people love nothing better than to be confronted with a problem.  They get excited and they immediately start to apply their problem-solving skills.  The weakness comes in because there is a tendency to jump on a problem without fully understanding it first.  This often can lead to being less than optimal in the use of resources. This is also a reason why technical people don’t like to spend as much time on project planning. They have a disposition to jump in and execute the project instead of spending time to understand the nature of the project first.
  • They tend to be technically creative.  This may seem like a contradiction.  Your first thought might be that the sales and marketing staffs are the creative people.  In fact they are – in the sales and marketing areas.  They will also be the first to tell you so – because they are extroverts.  However, the technical discipline requires a fair degree of creativity as well.  This is especially true in the IT world.  In many cases, there is not one best solution to a business problem.  In the development field, for instance, analysts need creativity when they are defining a solution with the business clients.  Designers need to be creative applying technology in the best manner.  Programmers need to be creative as well in trying to apply the best techniques to build the most elegant solution.

Understanding these general characteristics is the place to start if you are a manager of technical staff.  Once you begin to understand how people work and how they are motivated, you can start to think of the best way to manage them.  Now that you have gone through many ideas, here is a summary of some of the general points you should consider as you manage your staff.

  • Try to establish an environment where people feel they have what they need to do their jobs.  This includes having appropriate hardware, software, policies, procedures, etc. 
  • 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.  Technical staff tends to reflect on this information.  Ask for their ideas and opinions, but give them time and ample opportunities.  Don’t expect them to react immediately.
  • Shield the team from office politics and all of the distractions that can abound in a large company.  Tell people what they need to know (see prior point), but don’t get them bogged down in the organization muck. 
  • Give people continuous opportunities to learn.  This includes encouraging people to invest the time to learn, but also helping with some opportunities.  There are many creative ways to learn new things.  Once a person has mastered a certain skill or aspect of his job and he starts to become bored, look for ways he can cross-train and learn new areas of the group. 
  • 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 is not available. 

You might note that many of these management techniques are not unique to technical staff in general or IT staff in particular.  It is true that many of the techniques can be used in other areas as well.  However, they are particularly applicable to the IT staff.

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