Monday, October 8, 2007

Can Technology Geeks Be (Good) Managers?

If you are a technology geek currently serving as a manager, you better figure out how to become a business manager, if you intend to lead a successful IT department, group, team, or project. You owe it to yourself, your direct reports, whomever you report to, your colleagues in other departments, and your company. You will get a bigger budget, better compensation, more respect from all of your constituents and stakeholders, greater cooperation for your projects to help them be more successful, and greater satisfaction from your career.

It's not all bad for the technology geek turned manager though. If you can grasp the business side, by taking a bit of initiative to learn it, and combine that with technology savvy (even if you let your direct reports worry about the deep down details) you can have the best of both worlds. The last thing technology geeks want are clueless managers. It doesn't matter whether they are clueless about business or about technology -- they are still going to make things more difficult, albeit unintentionally, for their employees.

IT managers should know how to write business plans, prepare budgets, use financial concepts competently such as: the difference between cash flow and profit as well as grasping present and future value calculations, tie projects to business objectives, communicate and be held accountable in business terms, systematically assess and explain risk and uncertainty in ways that relate to the overall business, and communicate with non-technology management in regards to strategy.

This doesn't mean you need an MBA. If you don't understand all of these concepts there are options:

  • Take a basic accounting course (or two) at your local community college
  • Sit down with your CFO, controller, or accountant and ask for some tutorial sessions
  • Buy some books. Ask your CFO, controller, or account for some recommendations (and get them to promise to answer your questions if you take the initiative by reading the books they suggest).
  • Ask your CEO if you can peak at the organization's overall business plan. Afterwards consider and discuss how your department, group, or project fits into the bigger picture. Ask if there are ways you might better consider and communicate your group's vision, goals, successes (and, yes, failures too) as part of the bigger picture.
  • I'll also try to highlight, in a future post, some specific resources that have helped me out.

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