An Extreme Case of Having no Idea About Technology

  • Sparkle Learning Solutions, Founder, PMP
  • IT
  • "A role of a Project Manager is not to be the smartest person in a team, but to utilize knowledge and intelligence of the team through excellent communication, humbleness and respect."

  • Some time ago, a new project has been assigned to me. Being just another project in the line, I was confident that this one will be no different. In that moment in time, I’ve already worked in one of the biggest IT companies in the world, I had a technical background and due to past performances, I was known as one of the most reliable and successful Project Managers (speaking about being humble).

    That confidence of mine was shattered when I read a Project Charter. It was about big migration on a mainframe machine! I had absolutely no idea about mainframe, how does it opperate and what kind of technical language is used. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know what human language is used, because even copy and paste are not called like that.

    I entered the world of unknown. Project was of high visibility with tight timelines. I needed to find solution quickly.

  • In that moment in time, few things have been clear:

    1. I do not have time to learn about mainframe.
    2. There is no sense to pretend that I know anything about it. I have to be fully honest with my new team.
    3. I need to use my strong sides – communication and project organization and leave technology to experts.

    The first thing I did on our kick off meeting, was to present the goal of a project and to immediately come clean to my team and admit that I am “pretty dumb Project Manager” and that I have no clue about mainframe part of the project.

    I promised to support my team in any possible manner, to protect them from the outside world, respect timelines and availability they set as much as possible, do all administration and enable them to work in peace as much as I can. One thing I cannot do is to have an informed discussion about technology itself and a sequence of necessary work.

    In addition to that, I knew that I can ask good questions, ask if something is missing, if everyone understands all the steps if all prerequisites are there and so one.

    To  my delight, my Project Team appreciated my openness and understood the position in which I was. They were willing to help, do more communication and help than usual and helped on meetings with Customer. I kept my part of bargain and they’ve done their part too.

    Over the time, we did develop a very nice rapport and, of course, I made sure that they have been appropriately recognized at the end of the project which has been successful in spite of my ignorance.

  • Often, I am asked if a Project Manager can be successful without having technical background. In my career, I met a lot of excellent Project Managers who haven’t had such background and I met some poor ones which did have. What truly makes a difference is ability to communicate, cooperate and, most of all, respect your team members.

    However, that does not mean that technical knowledge cannot be very helpful. I would gladly use some of it in my story above 😊.

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