May 232011

Somehow I missed the news about Google’s Project Oxygen earlier this year. This was a large project that measured what skills the most effective managers at Google use, and the pitfalls poor managers fall into. As one might expect from Google, the results are buttressed by a serious amount of data: over 10,000 answers about 100 variables. If you work for anyone, or manage anyone, it’s worth reading about, even if what you do isn’t in software.

What I found interesting was this quote, from

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

It’s been recognised for some time in other businesses that the skills required to be a good manager are not necessarily the same as those needed to do good technical work. I’m glad to see the data coming from Google to support the notion that good software project managers do not have to be technical enough to be lead developers (although they do need to have enough technical skills to know what’s going on).

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