‘But I’m not technical’

There is a huge variety in the pursuits in which we can become accomplished – programming, carpentry, car mechanics, the piano, writing, cricket, and so on. Each one requires dedicated attention, and years of practice, but some get much more appreciation than others.

It’s probably because when someone plays a beautiful concerto, you know that you couldn’t possibly do what they do, but you appreciate what they do. The same is true for a beautiful bespoke bookcase, or a glorious cover drive, but it isn’t true for a fixed gearbox, or a elegantly executed algorithm.

We’re used to things just working – it wasn’t always thus, but thanks to the quality-obsessed six sigma competitive landscape – it is now. When things don’t work we want them fixed. We don’t care what’s wrong with the gearbox, or the electrics, or the app, we just want it fixed. And cheap.

When we’re working on projects and talking about what a system / building / anything needs to do and people hold up their hands and say ‘I’m not technical’, they’re not saying ‘I’ve reached the limit of my technical knowledge, and the things you’re saying are going over my head’.

They’re saying ‘I’m not prepared to try and understand what you’re saying or why it matters, and frankly I’m not interested.’

There are plenty of times when I’ve seen this line trotted out in meetings, by people who should know better – people who should have an understanding of the technical detail they’re nominally responsible for, whether that’s system functionality, or the business rules that govern decisions in a process flow.

Project managers are generalists, almost by definition (even ‘Technical Project Managers’) – we may not understand the detail to the same degree as the programmer explaining it, but we have a responsibility to do our best to understand it, and to make it easy for others to understand – to build a shared language.

Saying ‘But I’m not technical’ often means ‘I can’t be bothered’ – if you can’t be bothered to appreciate someone’s technical skill, why should they bother to do more than the minimum for you?