I’ve had a couple of reminders this week about the perceived differences between technical team members and the rest of us. I claim the dubious privilege of straddling the fence, as a former member of an IT shop myself, so I like to think appreciate both perspectives.

A Library IT Department Head said to me last week, “Techies are weird, you know?” Since he said it about himself, I couldn’t exactly disagree, but I actually believe we can all sound incomprehensible or, worse, willfully uncomprehending to each other. So how do we work together?

I’m going to have a little fun and make an admission here, which is that I’m a sucker for big picture showtunes. I’m thinking here of those fabulous song and dance productions of the 1960’s, and I have one in particular in mind: Oklahoma! There is a wonderful scene in which the orderly, settled down farmers butt up against the dashing, out-of-control cowboys. A wise old woman enters from the back and says,  “Aint nobody gonna slug out anything!”

And that rousing song “The Cowhand and the Farmer should be friends” follows. The chorus is “Territory folks should stick together!” Now, I’m not going to assert that all project managers are farmers, nor are all developers cowboys–not by a long shot! But we do sometimes see ourselves on the opposite end of some spectrum.

One of the trickiest times this comes up, I’ve found, is over the question of the project plan itself. And, when I say “project plan” here, I am really referring to the task list with resources, time estimates and interdepencies baked in. A working game plan, if you will, not the full blown set of project documentation.

When you work with a technical lead on a project, you want to build the strongest partnership you can to enhance the chances of success for the project. Interestingly, strength in this case means some letting go of control. The first place to practise this is with the task list. Have a good conversation at the outset of the project about how the two of you want to track progress. Here are some of the questions you will want to ask each other:

  • What are the high level technical milestones?
  • It is useful to both of you track these in the overall project plan? How will that work?
  • Will the techinal manager be tracking technical tasks in a separate plan? If so, can you view this plan? Do you want to?
  • If the technical team is adopting an agile approach, what role can you serve? (Here’s an article about the challenges traditional project managers face in fitting into agile teams*).
  • If you are going to track technical tasks in the overall project plan, can you choose the tracking tool together?

It’s worth taking the time to sort through these issues with each other. You have things to learn from one another, and the project has a lot to gain from your successful relationship. After all, territory folks should stick together!

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