The Non-Technical

A Development Manager with no technical knowledge, and are therefore out of their depth when managing developers.

Problem

It may seem counter-intuitive that someone who has never developed software can have software developers reporting to them, but there are certain situations where this can happen:

  • When the decision is made for all project team members to report to a single manager.
  • When a development manager leaves the company, but there is no technical manager available to replace them, the developers must be made to report to someone.
  • When the organization does not see itself as a technical organization (as you might in a marketing firm), and therefore does not see the purpose or need for developers to report to a technical manager.

In order to effectively manage software developers, you have to earn their respect or run the risk of them not taking direction. A sure way to never gain their respect it is to have no appreciation for the difficulty of the work that they do. Where this appreciation is most critical is when developers must provide and defend their estimates.

Development managers often act as a check-and-balance to developers who are poor estimators. Project managers will often look to the development manager for approval when they feel an estimate does not seem appropriate for the work to be done, but only a technical manager can confirm the accuracy of an estimate. Conversely, if a developer’s estimate is undesirable to a Project Manager, only a technical manager can effectively defend the developer’s estimates.

Ultimately, The Non-Technical development manager is useless to the project. They do serve a benefit to the company in providing a human resources reporting structure for the sake of tracking work attendance, enforcing company policy, approving time sheets and vacation requests, but have no negative or positive effect on the project itself.

Solution

It is common for Developers and Project Managers to complain about non-technical managers when estimations come under dispute, but in reality they are just looking for an arbiter, and believe it is The Non-Technical Development Manager’s job to be that arbiter. As The Non-Technical Manager has no tangible impact to the project other than their inability to meet this expectation, the expectation simply has to be reset: The Non-Technical Development Manager simple cannot act as an arbiter in matters of technical dispute.

With expectations reset, we are then left to examine the two key characteristics of the Non-Technical development manager:

  • They are of no use to the project.
  • The do no harm to the project.

Which results in the solution being to simply ignore their existence, regarding them only as a necessary part of an organization’s middle management.


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