The technical manager is generally the customer facing portion of a technical team. Your customer might be a true external customer, upper management or another group within your organization. Regardless your goals are the same – to identify the client needs, and to create an accurate timeframe and description of the deliverable. In this role you must interpret the needs of the customer, communicate that to the technical team, ensure that those results are obtained and then bring the finished product to the customer.
Since the technical manager is usually a technical person first and a manager second, it is easy to fall into a sympathy trap with your team. Completion of the technical aspects of any project is usually impaired by various setbacks and delays. While you will have a complete understanding of the nature of these sorts of challenges, your customer does not. It’s critical that you avoid being overly sympathetic with your team or you will end up trying to defend them after they fail to achieve a goal rather than proactively managing the expectations of your customer.
Your role as manager is to gather detailed information about the timeline and functionality deliverables that the customer expects. The more thorough you can be in this information gathering process, the more you increase your chances for success because you will not have to go back and adjust expectation due to discovering that you missed a critical aspect of the expected deliverable.
While it’s possible to create a sufficient amount of slush in a deliverable timeline to account for some challenges, it’s better to narrow down the variables by brainstorming possible obstacles so that your timeline is as accurate as possible. Armed with an accurate time estimate, you can set clear expectations with the customer while simultaneously holding the team accountable for delivering to the deadline despite any setbacks.
Technical team members tend to have difficulty with creating accurate timelines for their deliverables and as such an inexperienced technical manager will find him/herself frequently caught between a legitimately frustrated customer when a deadline is missed, and a staff member with a technically reasonable explanation for having missed the deadline. Working with a technical team to proactively consider possible setbacks and planning for them in advance is the key to long term success in managing technical people as it ultimately results in setting both yourself and your team up for success within the organization and creating the perception that you achieve your goals on time.