Wednesday, March 10, 2010

technical experts as managers?

Management literature discusses incidences about wrong promotions that result from appointing a technical expert to managerial position. There are certainly some problems in such promotions, but there are some positive sides as well. My objective is to bring out the similarities between technical and managerial processes.


I should first point out that technical covers a broad range of professions. Some of the examples of technical  professions are: accountents, trainers, software developers, lawyers, writers, analysts, business developers, directors, so on and so forth.


One very important issue in technical vs management is that someone who has spent years in developing technical skills leaves that field and starts in a new profession. It takes time and effort to develop skills, which is an investment for the organization and the person. Because once someone moves to managerial position from technical position, he / she rarely comes back. So  organizations as a whole lose because they lose a good technical person and get an untrained manager.


Another point is that the skills required to achieve managerial results are often different from the skills required to achieve technical result. A technical person succeeds by specializing more and more in a given area, where as a manager has to have a broad perspective.


But I believe that we are missing a very important point. A technical person is not often very different from manager. For example, software development requires an engineer to learn what is called software development life cycle. In software development life cycle, one must analyze the requirements, develop designs, then create implementation and at the end test the implementation. IN management one must plan (analyze and design), organize and direct (implementation), monitor and control (testing)


Above software development life cycle is also known as waterfall model, as there is no feedback loop. Hardly any organization would be using such a method, because problems are complex and understanding them at once is very difficult. so there is another method, which is a slight variation of the waterfall model. Instead of doing the entire life cycle at one go, it is done incrementally. So in the first round we start with the prototype and apply the life cycle On it. Then in each consecutive rounds feedback from the previous round is taken and new features can be added. This way if there is any change in our understanding about the problem, we can change the path and be flexible.


The same method can also be applied in management. Apply the management process incrementally, and it should not be very difficult to manage large and complex projects.


Of course there is big difference in working on your own and getting the work done with people. so technical specialist must be evaluated for communication and interpersonal skills before they are considered for promotions. At the end, I would agree with the statement that just because someone excels in technical role, he / she should not be promoted to a managerial position. there must be separate career ladder for technical people.



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