What should be the level of technical literacy of the project manager? / Hebrew

What should be the level of technical literacy of the project manager? / Hebrew

Hello everybody. My name is Maryna Zabotina, I work as an account director in a digital agency. We have 320 people in our staff. I want to raise a seemingly simple, but holivar topic about what level of technical literacy a project manager (PM) should have.

I have a team of several managers. Of course, projects happen of different calibers. And the level of managers is also not the same.

When I myself first started working as a PM, I did not have a technical background. But gradually I managed to type it. Now I can read code, have a meaningful conversation with developers, know terms and concepts. In my opinion, this is what every manager dealing with development projects should strive for.

My colleagues and I often discuss how the manager should pump this school, where to run, how “hard” he should be. It became interesting what the community thinks about it now.

Let’s make a few assumptions:

  • Currently, we are talking about managers who work specifically in custom development;

  • These are managers who have development projects, not just design and/or content. That is, they can lead an intranet project or deal with large online stores;

  • Managers need to defend decisions in front of clients and justify the choice of certain technologies for the project;

  • Accordingly, for this, managers go to developers and consult with them before going to the client.

And another trailer: in this article, the phrases “technical PM background”, “technical literacy”, “technical savvy” are synonyms.

What should be the level of technical literacy for such admissions?

Before going to Khabr, I conducted a small survey on the topic within the company. There were two versions of the survey – one for managers, the other for developers.

What the managers said

Managers were interested in learning how they rate their level of technical literacy and what problems they see in communicating with developers.

Here’s what they answered to the question, is it possible to do PMU only with soft skills, without having hards

And here are some managers’ answers to the question about what difficulties they have due to a lack of technical background:

It takes a long time to understand technically complex tasks and ask developers questions that may seem unreasonable to them. But it has to be done.

I don’t always understand what the developer is saying

Problems with the complete formulation of the task, some important details may not be taken into account, not clarified in advance with the client.
Difficulty arguing with a client, especially when dealing with objections.

The main difficulties on my side are related to understanding the server infrastructure.

Despite the above data in the market, there is an opinion, and I agree with him, that a technical background for a manager is now rather an advantage than a masthead from the point of view of employers. If you look at vacancies for PMs, you will rarely find requirements like “Mandatory minimum experience with code” etc. in them. But if you have cool software, and at the same time you can conduct a meaningful dialogue with developers, then you will be in the top of the employer’s eyes.

When I finally figured out what a pull request, merge request, dev, master, prod.

What the developers said

I found out from the developers whether they feel the difference when communicating with a manager with technical knowledge and without. And do they think that PM must necessarily have a technical background. An interesting moment came out here:

Opinions were divided on whether a PM should have a technical background to close custom development projects.

At the same time, to the question “Do you feel the difference in communication with a technically literate manager and with someone who does not have such a background?” 80% of boys answered that yes, they feel.

Here are some developers’ responses to the question: In two words, what, if any, difference do you see in communicating with a tech-savvy PM?

In a nutshell: difference in understanding.

it is not so much the technical background that is important as the understanding of how things work. if a person understands, then at an early stage he gives feedback to the client about the unrealistic nature, and does not come up with an idea, to which he receives an answer from the technician “it doesn’t work like that”, distracting him from the little things

It is very difficult to fool a technically savvy manager. in task evaluation (objectively, not what I would try)

There is no need to explain banal things

In the translation of tasks from client to development; in task filtering. A technically savvy manager will clarify all the necessary points himself before giving the task to the developer.

And when asked whether they are ready to help managers if they come to them with questions, almost all answered “Yes”. We managers really appreciate it when developers enlighten us and help us better understand some processes and terms.

Problems of PMs when diving into technical details

And one more moment – there is one big problem with the technical background for PM – there are not enough materials.

We have Khabr, there are other forums, there is YouTube and the search bar in Google after all. But still, most technical materials are written by technicians for technicians. The manager acquires new knowledge taking into account two conditions:

  • Limited time. Usually, some request arrives from a client or team, where an unfamiliar technology appears. Or deadlines. And it is necessary to quickly understand what it is about.

  • Difficult language for quick learning of the material. It’s about the fact that all these materials are not originally written for managers.

  • Aging of knowledge. This problem is not only for PMs, but we also feel it on our skin.

And I also noticed that there is no glossary that could simplify the life of junior managers. Conventionally, a document or something that would describe the basic concepts. It simply does not exist in nature. Maybe some companies have something similar, but in general there is no such thing on the market. At the same time, due to inexperience, Juns may not be able to formulate questions correctly. And this, in turn, annoys the developers.

But such a glossary would be very useful. I remember that at one time I did not have enough of it. And I see how less experienced colleagues lack it today.

And as a result

I want to ask dear habrausers: what do you think about all this? What kind of technical background should a project manager have when dealing with development projects?


None. A manager can do without technical knowledge, provided he has developed software.

Basic level. Let’s assume that we consider the basic level at which the PM knows the basic concepts, understands how one tool differs from another, and knows how to correctly formulate questions to the developer.

Advanced level. Either the PM has a specialized education, or during the time of work he independently plunged into development. And now he can talk to the developer on an equal footing and defend the solution to the client without prior discussions with the team. In the sense that he can choose the arguments himself.

Special thanks for the comments: it is always interesting to read the opinions of developers and managers on this issue.

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