Successful IT project teams require a good balance of resources with different skills and perspectives. The best technical SME’s are creative problem solvers with experience operating in complex and nuanced environments. Great business PMs foster trusted relationships with stakeholders and ensure that their technical counterparts are supported. A powerful business tool is created when a unified team dynamic is fostered between the two skillsets.
A poorly aligned team can not only be stressful to manage; it also exposes the business to higher levels of risk. In these situations, organizations are susceptible to the following negative outcomes, among others.
- Rushed changes that don’t fully factor in people or technology impacts
- Delayed delivery because risks are too high and ownership is unclear
- Products that don’t focus on quality or usability
PMs with business backgrounds can find managing technical projects intimidating. Making technical decisions regarding a solution without a background in the technology can be a daunting responsibility. Following the five steps below can aid a Business PM in navigating the often unfamiliar technical aspects of a project, while also avoiding the common project pitfalls.
- Weigh technical SME operational demands with project delivery
All too often, technical projects lag in delivery because the resources involved have operational responsibilities that limit their bandwidth to move projects forward. This can frustrate both the PMs who aim to plan and schedule, and the technical SMEs who are required to switch focus quickly. At the outset, it is critical to determine what a technical SMEs availability is. Assessing their workload during the prior 2-3 months, given their day-to-day responsibilities, can provide an accurate measure of capacity. Gaining a strong understanding of a Technical SMEs availability will allow a PM to develop more realistic timelines and make better decisions around acquiring additional support resources.
- Bridge the gap between technology and user’s needs
Usability is the single most important factor in delivering quality technical solutions. Establishing a clear theme around usability can anchor a project, ensuring a common vision throughout all phases. Technical resources should consider how additional clicks, logins without SSO, manual manipulation of data, etc. can wear on a user base over time. Products with strong usability have a higher chance of adoption and user retention, thus all parties should remain focused on this central theme.
- Consider solution alternatives
Once resources find a technical solution, they may stop considering alternatives. However, when a recommendation doesn’t meet timing or design needs, it’s important to encourage your resources to explore other options. It can be uncomfortable to challenge a resource’s recommendations directly, but with prompting to consider alternatives, they will be empowered to think creatively to find the most appropriate solution.
- Allow for a reasonable level of ambiguity
Technology is constantly evolving, and SMEs might not have immediate answers for every problem that arises. There is a significant difference between having a depth of technical knowledge around a solution and having seen every possible situation that may arise in an implementation. Take this difference into account. A PM must establish constraints, while making sure not to stifle the creativity of the solution.
- Resist the upgrade impulse
New releases and greenfield environments are often appealing. They provide an opportunity to right some of the issues within the current environment. However, upgrading technology is often expensive and disruptive. Before pursuing new technology, ensure that technical resources and the business users are committed to resolving underlying process and data issues within current technology.
- Find an impartial technical sounding board
When implementing new solutions, seek out an impartial, technically savvy sounding board. Find an external viewpoint that doesn’t deal with the day to day of the specific technology. Use this person as a litmus test to gauge the risk or efficiency of a solution. While this relationship can be valuable, ensure the interaction does not undermine the technical SMEs position.All together, these considerations can foster a more collaborative working relationship between Project Managers and technical SMEs, ultimately resulting in a stronger team dynamic and a better product.