Transition from technical expert to business manager

A major challenge for many IT managers is being able to make the transition from a technology expert to a business manager. The requirements and skills of being one of the technology resources in your company versus managing technology resources is entirely different.

It certainly helps to have a technical understanding, but when you start managing you cannot afford the time and energy to remain the expert. The best advice I can give anyone is to “leave your technology competence behind and focus on managing”.

Before you start sending me ugly email messages, let’s qualify this statement a bit. I’m not saying you need to forget everything you know about technology. I’m also not saying that you should stop learning about new technologies. This base of technical understanding will be invaluable in your future management efforts.

What I am saying is that to be an effective manager of an infrastructure support group or a programming support organization does not mean you have to continue to be the expert in those technologies. In fact, unless you have to be the “player-coach” role in your company (often required in a small company), you better decide to let your team play the “technology expert” role.

I speak from experience on this subject. Transitioning out of my technical role to a manager was very difficult for me as it is for so many new IT managers. Fortunately, I had a few senior managers who helped me understand the need to make the change and mentored my development.

You see, as the technology expert your success comes from what you are personally able to do to help the client or the company. The challenge is that you tend to carry this mindset with you when you become the manager.

Not a good thing.

It was an eye opener when my CEO explained to me that it was, “far more important in what I could get the team to achieve than what I could do on my own”. I probably should have known this and most likely did know it intuitively. However, it hits home when your boss explains it to you.

more important in what you can
get the team to accomplish
than what you can accomplish alone

The bottom line is this: If you are spending your time trying to stay current with technology, you are probably not doing the things you need to do to be an effective manager.

Managers need to focus on things such as:

  • planning
  • coaching
  • mentoring and developing employees
  • understanding business and user needs
  • developing strategies
  • inspecting

Management is a full time job. I have only seen a couple of people who I thought were able to maintain their technical expertise and also manage their organization at a high level. Guess what, they were both in very small companies and had no choice.

When you become a manager, it’s extremely important to develop business skills, leadership and management skills, planning skills, and communication skills than ever before. Fail to do this and you will limit your success.

One of the reasons there is such a gap between what IT organizations focus on versus what their companies need is because many IT managers, even CIO’s, continue to focus on the expertise they developed as a technology resource. A person who now has the full IT responsibility for a small company must make the transition to learn about the other facets of his technology support responsibility, , , these other parts may be more important for the company.

For example, if your background is infrastructure, you need to learn more about the business and the critical business applications, the processes to make application programming changes effectively, Help Desk operations, etc.

If you allow yourself to stay primarily focused on the infrastructure, your company will probably have a stellar infrastructure and data center; but critical components of your company’s technology that reside in support of the user and client will be lacking. The result will become very clear and fairly soon – you will not be successful focusing only on infrastructure.

In my early management days, I was authoritative, did much of the work myself, and was controlling. Looking back, I know how bad that must have been for some of my employees. It was caused by inexperience, possibly a lack of confidence at times, and simply not knowing there was a better way.

The “not knowing” part is what causes the IT-business needs gap most of the time. Learn how to assess needs and issues, plan and prioritize those issues, manage projects effectively, and motivate and develop your staff so they can succeed and you will achieve much more success.

The reason I started writing the IT Manager Series books was because I could relate so well to the difficulty many managers have in making the transition to a true manager role. Having the title doesn’t mean much to your staff if you don’t do the things to lead the organization and help them be successful.

Your staff and clients all need some of the same things. They want to know your technology vision, how you plan to get there, and they need confidence that your plan is achievable. Senior executives need to know that your initiatives are cost effective and will provide real value to the company.

In other words, “Are we doing the things that give us the best value for our technology investment?”.

How do you go about making the transition easier?

First, find a mentor or coach in someone who recognizes the challenge and who has had to make that transition themselves.

Second, attend classes that focus on the management fundamentals of managing technology resources. Obviously, I believe my classes to be some of the best in the industry and highly recommend them. Do some research and find educational help that can “short cut” your learning curve. It will pay you dividends in your career and help your company get more from its IT investment.

Third, read as much material on the subject of managing technology as you can. We should never stop learning. When we do, it’s time to retire and just watch the grass grow.

Fourth, approach learning about management and leadership with the vigor and enthusiasm you had when learning a new technology. Both are disciplines that we can all be competent in, but we will never be competent unless we make a personal investment to learn what we do not know. In my case, it was just as much of a matter of not realizing I didn’t know something as anything.

Have you ever had a “light bulb flash” moment? That’s what happens when you learn why something happens a certain way with a particular technology. It’s also exactly what happens when you see the cause and effect of implementing a new management concept that you were not aware of. It can be a true “eye opener”.

MDE can help in several ways:

Our 41st & 42nd IT Manager Institute will be held in September in Nashville, TN and Honolulu, HI in October. If you can’t attend, the Self Study version is always available. This program follows my proprietary IT Management Process and includes my complete library of management books and tools. It is by far the best price value of anything you will find in the industry in developing sound IT operational management skills. Take a look at www.mde.net/institute .

MDE consulting services provides several options – see www.mde.net/consulting:

  • Management mentoring program
  • Management evaluations and development program
  • Delivery of customized management training at your company
  • IT due diligence and assimilation projects

My fourteen books and IT Manager ToolKit were developed to provide IT managers practical insight on what to do to be successful, instruction on how to go about it, with tools and examples to help you implement each concept quickly. They are quick reads and have received high marks from managers in over 120 countries.  Information is available at www.mde.net/cio .

Summary
Focus your energy as a new manager in learning how to become an effective manager. Just because you were an outstanding technology resource has no bearing as to whether you will become a successful IT manager. Key things you want to learn will be:

  • Your business and the technology drivers of its industry
  • How to assess needs and quantify issues that relate to technology support
  • How to develop a vision and plan (strategy)
  • Project management is key – learn how to manage projects and deliver on your promises
  • How to motivate and develop your team
  • How to communicate with clients, managers, users, and employees effectively
  • How to manage change and implement change management processes
  • How to create a client service focus and culture
  • How to deal with a problem client or user
  • How to manage expectations – possibly the most critical skill you must have

2 responses to “Transition from technical expert to business manager

  1. Very energetic post, I liked that bit. Will there be
    a part 2?

    • Thank you Elmo. I hadn’t thought of a Part-2 for this post but may consider it since you asked. There are hundreds of posts on ITLever and most provide tips and insight on how to manage an IT organization better, easier, or more effectively. Thank you for your feedback and interest in the article.

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