Tips & Tricks For Managing Technical People

Guest Blog by George McQuain, Operations Expert | Sheldon Cooper Reports to Me? Oh NO!!!!

How would you like to have Dr. Eric Gablehauser’s job? Dr. Eric Gablehauser is responsible for managing the Physics Department on the hit CBS situational comedy “The Big Bang Theory”. In other words, he is Sheldon Cooper’s boss. If you watch the show, you know that can be a challenge.

That is why I am writing this blog post. As an Operations Executive, I have often had the honor and privilege of managing technical teams. People who often had IQs so high that I thought they were in a high IQ society that is higher than Mensa, a group that a guy with my IQ had never even heard of.

Because I have led such teams, the issue I am going to discuss is this: “Is managing technical teams different than managing non-technical teams.”

All stereotypes aside, in my experience, managing technical teams is very similar to managing non-technical teams. The keys to managing both types of teams are getting to know the members of your team and understanding what is important to them, their strengths and weaknesses, what type of work they are passionate about and what type of work they don’t like to be involved in. Once you understand these issues, you should be able to articulate with them a definition of individual and team success. You can then lead your team toward a successful outcome.

In my experience, technical people can generally be segmented into two groups—creative and production. Here are some tips for managing these two types of people.

Managing Creative People

  1. Always hire the best people you can. In my experience, high-quality people thrive on
    working with other top-notch people.
  2. Create a collaborative environment where ideas and work product are mutually arrived
    at and not dictated. That said, you may still need to spell out and define the end result
    you are looking for.
  3. Give your team the ability to work independently of you. Stay out of their way. Give them
    time to be creative and take initiative.
  4. Tell your team “Why” and not “How”.
  5. Teach them how to present their ideas and solutions to non-technical people.
  6. Teach them about meeting customer needs, seeing ideas/solutions from a user’s point
    of view and making a profit. This may also entail teaching them the difference between
    a “way cool” idea and one that will meet customer expectations and make money.
  7. Use customer project deadlines and requirements and the need to make a profit to set
    targets and goals. Do not waiver from these goals.
  8. Focus on important issues like getting high-quality work done. This may mean being flexible on things like work hours, time spent in the office, dress code, etc
  9. Set high expectations. Expect excellence. Give honest, direct and consistent feedback.
  10. Treat your team members like adults. This means full disclosure of the business
    situation and always showing and expecting mutual respect.
  11. Reward and celebrate success.
  12. Manage management and customer expectations in light of the above.

Managing Production People

In my opinion, other than work hour scheduling and time spent in the office, the tips for managing Production People are the same as those for managing Creative People. That said, there are some major differences in the type of work done.

Technical Production People are generally accountable for making sure that systems and infrastructure work 100% of the time 24X7X365. For example, when people arrive at work, they expect their computers and systems to work. When customers visit the company’s Website it needs to work. In addition to reliability, these systems also need to be secure and responsive. In light of all this, I would add these tips to those spelled out above.

  1. Set, measure and manage production standards (for example, system up-time rates) to
    exceed end user expectations
  2. Make sure that your team is scheduled to work (or are on call) when the business needs
  3. Ensure that the team puts in place a planning process that ensures that the company’s
    infrastructure will meet the business’ capacity and business needs.
  4. Ensure that you have a working business continuity plan and security program (both of
    which need to be internally and externally tested).

Managing technical people does not have to be the challenge most managers presume it to be. Unfortunately, as managers, we often look at technical people as stereotypes (like those on “The Big Bang Theory”). Technical people are people, just like non-technical people. They have individual strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, fears and baggage, idiosyncrasies, families and friends, hobbies and non-work interests. They sleep and eat and live life.George McQuain, Operations Expert

In summary, deal with the members of your team as individuals, Get to know and understand them. Treat them like adults. Treat them like you would like to be treated. Be a good manager. Be a good leader. Encourage and push your people to go beyond their self-imposed limitations. Do all of these things and you’ll do a great job as a leader and your team will thrive.

Like all of leadership, it’s not always easy, but when your team’s goals and your organizational goals become one and the same, your team will achieve some amazing things.

About George McQuain, Guest Blogger
George has been described as a “100% Leader” a “Level 5 Leader”, an operations, turnaround and IT expert and a guy you can count on to get things done. Learn more:
Leadership Blog:
Twitter: @GeorgeMcQuain1

© 2012, Marci Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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