Becoming a Technical Project Manager

Making a leap into technical project management? Great! Here are some tips to get started!

Develop technology subject matter expertise.

You should be comfortable with technology basics. The geekier the better – but you should start by making sure you:

  1. Understand the fundamentals of data networking. This is the “how are things wired?” items – and while there is a *lot* to learn – at a minimum – you should understand how a local computer connects to the internet, and how computers connect to a network of other computers. And the basics of domain name systems – you know – the traffic cop of the internet.
  2. Learn about relational databases, and how (and why they work. Like data networking – there is a *lot* to learn. You might never become an expert regarding the difference between and inner and outer join. But you should be savvy about data normalization. So if you see a “database” that has a first name and a last name all in the same field – you’ll know that you won’t easily be able to sort by last name.
  3. Learn the fundamental building blocks regarding website creation. Again – this is a huge topic, but at a minimum, you should understand the basics of the “how” (HTML, CSS, JQuery, JavaScript), as well as the “why”. This second piece – the why – is also a big category – everything from responsive design to User Experience, and from Web Typography to Analytics.

(That’s just a start. You may need to learn a lot about any one of those items – but you get the idea – if you are managing a project – you’ll be better equipped if you understand the tools and theories that make everything work).


Learn About Software Development Methodologies.

This is both easier and harder than it sounds. There are really just two flavors these days, Waterfall and Agile, although each of those have a near endless variety applied to them in real life. I personally think Waterfall is of limited utility – but you should still learn about it.

(When taken to their extreme – both are silly. For a humorous take, see my article about using those methodologies to prepare for a 7 mile race.)


Develop Great Communication Skills.

Substantially ignore all of the mumbo jumbo about managing budget, time, risk. Your project will be successful if you have great communication skills, if you tell the truth, if you are curious to learn, and if you don’t treat your scope of work like a shield. Because it isn’t – the second you think you win because the scope says so, you’ve lost.

(You can do the same thing with the Iron Triangle – it belongs in your tool kit the way addition “belongs” in the calculus toolkit. Learn it, keep it around, but move on. Please.)

Sure – budget, time, risk – those are important. But when things get tough – you’ll need great relationships with your team. A great spreadsheet or project plan won’t help if everyone thinks you’re a jerk.


Earn Some Certifications.

Almost everyone will ask for either a Scrum Master Certification or a PMP certification. Both are good to have.

But don’t stop there: consider courses about communication skills, technology, software development, and more. Technology changes quickly – and you should seek to stay current, both with credentials and with self-learning.


Put it all to Work.

Managing a technology project is art, science, hard and soft skills. No two projects will be that much alike, but you can learn from every project. Figure out (even if just for you) what worked, what didn’t, where you made mistakes, and where you can improve. You can see my top 21 tips to get started.


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