Appreciate the Work

Here's a topic that comes up now and again among technical people and their managers: Do managers of technical people need to understand how to do the technical work they are managing?

Until recently, my answer has been: Not necessarily. If the manager can trust the technical people on the team to be able to translate technical information (about plans, progress, problems, and so on) into business information, and vice-versa, the manager can manage well even without personal technical knowledge.

A few weeks ago, management consultant John Levy gave an answer that I like even better. He had finished speaking to the local Software Process Improvement Network about managing technical work. Someone in the audience asked the magic question. "Must technical managers understand the technical work well enough that they can do the work themselves?" John's answer:

Not necessarily. Managers must understand the technical work well enough that they can appreciate it.

Very nice!

And I'd say that John's advice applies equally well to non-technical work.

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