How to be a Non-Technical PM in a Technical World
Imagine my dismay when I was first confronted with the reality that the future consists of Content Management Systems, HTML code, data migration and Search Engine Optimization. But I joined the Bixal Team as a Project Manager, fully aware that the company I agreed to join was deeply immersed in the world of technology. I could either adapt or be left behind. And so, I pulled up my bootstraps (not to be confused with Bootstrap, a framework for building responsive, mobile-first sites) and got to work.
Project Management in the technical world first seemed like I landed on Mars. Front-end developers, back-end developers, UX and graphic designers were all aliens. I spent my first few weeks Googling approximately every third word or acronym I heard floating around the office, completely convinced that at any moment they would realize I was an imposter and banish me into the depths of a hard drive.
As time passed I realized that the concept of technology was much more intimidating than the reality of learning it. Even more importantly, I realized that Computer People were actually just… People. My coworkers were just as willing to teach as I was to learn. I began sitting down with developers and asking questions about all the things I didn’t know. And slowly, I began to not only understand, but appreciate tech culture. A whole new world had been opened up to me, filled with new and exciting things to learn.
There are some lessons I’ve learned about being a Project Manager along the way that are useful whether you’re still trying to learn tech or you’re a seasoned pro.
- Don’t be afraid of risks. Risk is not merely something that should be mitigated, it is also an opportunity. Never taking a risk guarantees you’ll miss out on chances to make your product even better than it would have been before.
- Be Agile. Much like our world, our projects are ever-changing and oftentimes unpredictable. While planning and organization are hugely beneficial, sometimes life (including contracts and deliverables) will throw you a curveball. Using Agile Development practices will allow you to adapt under pressure and succeed despite not knowing what exactly is coming next.
- As a PM, utilize your team. You are in that particular role for a reason, and the same goes for your fellow project members and the important parts they each fill on the team. They have an entire library of historical knowledge and skill sets that you are going to need. Allow them each to do what they do best, and do your best to facilitate their work.
- Be honest and open with your team and ask questions. No one expects you to know everything about everything. By confronting the areas where you may lack knowledge, you position yourself to learn. The ability to be genuine and honest will foster strong and reliable relationships, as well as endow all of your team members (including you) with a sense of purpose and importance. There’s no shame in not being the SME for all roles, so take this opportunity to learn new things and grow your knowledge base.
I’ve come a long way since my first days of surreptitiously Googling unknown computer terms under my desk. My preferred method of fixing technical devices still remains shutting them off and then turning them back on. I will still occasionally think to myself, “Is that English?” when conversing with developers. However, with the right team, a little courage and a supportive employer, it is indeed possible to bridge the gap between the world you’ve known and the ever-progressing world of technology.