Leading Technical People

First of all - this blog is not about leading sales people, retail people, or administrative people - this about leading technical people for the purpose of building a product. (I am sure someone with 20+ years in those endeavors will have a similar article; just Google it.)

Technical people are easier to manage than any of the above groups because they are, by default, intelligent and self-driven. You don’t get technical skills via looks, family connections or friendships.

(NOTE: I said you don’t get technical skills by any of the above methods – you might get hired for the job, but you won’t have the skills. Hiring technical people is a whole ‘nother blog).

But once again, let's focus on the task at hand: leading technical people to a goal of building something. This is a subject that I know a lot about.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Set the goals
  • Let them dictate the path
  • Create an avenue of dialogue
  • Protect your people
  • Share the victories

Let’s go through these one by one….

Set the Goals

That’s it – if I had only one bullet point, that would be it. Your job is to set the goal. Now, this is where 100% of non-technical people fail in leading technical people. You should know the goal. You should know:

-  What the goal is
-   Why it is worth accomplishing (Do your research!)
-   How much work it will take

Moronic or unrealistic goals that are unjustifiable (both in terms of the effort required and for the reasons to obtain them) will lose you the support of your troop. It’s as simple as that.

Let the Technical Employees Lead the Path

This should be obvious, but it’s not in everyday practice. You hired your team because they were experts in their field. Let them work. If you are micro-managing their every movement, then it’s for one of these reasons:

  • You haven’t set the goal (See #1)
  • You hired the wrong employees
  • You are doing it wrong

It’s usually #1 and #3. It’s not that hard to screen out the ‘wrong’ technical employees. It’s much more common that technical people’s talents are being wasted.

Create an Avenue of Dialogue

This one is always ignored by technical managers at the expense of the project. I had the fortune of working in many great sales teams (as a SE and even a sales guy at times). Good sales managers are really good at this. They create a rapport/dialogue/constant conversation with their team.

Why? Because they really want to talk college football all year, or favorite restaurants or great family vacation spots? Hell no. It’s because they know that once a “dialogue channel” is opened, they will then always know what is going on (in their territory) and be able to address any issues immediately. That’s what good sales managers do, all the time.

Technical managers… they are usually waiting for the Friday status report. Yup – that works… NOT!

Constant dialogue: live it.

Protect Your People

You know what good technical people like to do? Work. Yup. They really do. Once you have communicated #1, these people are like stallions out of the gate!

Except… Stuff happens. And that’s why you exist.

You exist to shield your technical people from this level of stuff (economics, management changes, “shiny object” pursuits, etc.).

If you do your job of shielding your people from the above, you will:

  • Finish your projects sooner
  • Win and keep the support of your troops

This part is not easy – and yes, it will cost you some brownie points with upper management and other mangers. But it’s your day job. Make sure you treat it as such.

Share the Victories

Of course, that means that you should try to compensate your employees economically. But guess what? That’s not always possible. Go start a company with someone who is a failure at raising capital and see how long that company lasts.

How do you keep your team motivated? By sharing the wins.

There are lots of ways of sharing the wins. Pick a comfort-zone restaurant (anything from a team-favorite hot dog stand to the McDonalds next to your office… it doesn’t matter so long as your team love it). Have a routine everyone enjoys when you have a “win” – go to the roof and have cigars, or put on your roller skates and play roller hockey with the team in the parking lot.

Your creativity is your only limiting factor. These are engineers – they are good people – so share the good times. Engineers will work a lot harder for each other than they will ever work for a paycheck, a superior or a company. Make that work for you.

To Sum Up:

There is no greater joy to me than creating products. That’s it – I said it. And there is no greater joy than surrounding oneself with others who share in that passion.  

Follow the steps/guidelines above and go forth and create!