Dino Cajic on how non-technical people can manage software

Is it possible for Non-Technical People Manage Software Projects? Yes. For it to be successful, there needs to be a separation of tasksYes. For it to be successful, there needs to be a separation of tasks and an understanding of the basics. Everything else is high level enough that the project manager can be successful enough without having any background in software development or software development projects.

Is it easier for projects to be managed by technical project managers? Of course. Having a deep understanding of software development is extremely beneficial in a small team, but can be a disadvantage when it comes to role clarity. A technical PM is likely to jump in and get involved in areas that are outside of their role, which is a losing long-term strategy.

Understanding the Basics

There should be a high-level understanding of certain topics within software development. Some of the ones that the non-technical PM should know are:

  • What is an API?
  • What is the difference between a dev server and a production server?
  • Understanding the software development workflow and methodology (i.e. Agile).
  • An understanding of the deployment process.

A thorough understanding of project management concepts is expected by any project manager. There’s no difference when it comes to PM’s in software development.

Knowing the Software from the User Perspective

Many project managers fall into the trap of trying to understand how the software functions from the developer perspective. Communicating on a developer level hurts both sides: the developer side and the client side.

It hurts the client since the client is most likely non-technical. When they describe the software, they’re explaining it from the user perspective. They don’t care how the communication needs to occur behind the scenes. “The form needs to send me an email” is the most amount of technical information that the customer wants to provide; it’s also the most amount of technical information that they expect to receive.

It hurts the developer since the project manager does not live in the code. Going into the code wastes time. That’s what the developer is there to figure out. The PM should speak at the customer level. They need to state that the form doesn’t work and not to try to diagnose why it’s not working.

Knowing the software ins and outs is advantageous in this form of communication. The PM should have a solid understanding of the entire software. When the customer asks a question, the PM should be able to reply thoughtfully and not run to the developer with every question. For example, if the client asks what happens when the user submits a particular form, the PM should be able to state the action such as, “the content is emailed to the sales team” or “a notification is emailed to sales that there is content that awaits their review on the admin side.”

What If the Explanation Requires Technical Expertise?

The non-technical project manager is surrounded by a team, most of them being technical. These questions should be directed towards the technical lead. If constant technical communication needs to be occur with the client, the technical project lead should be on the client calls.

What Does the Non-Technical Project Manager Do?

The PM is expected to gather information, communicate project timelines, keep track of the budget, and monitor tasks and the completion of those tasks. The tasks themselves should be estimated by the technical lead and communicated back to the project manager.

The Project Manager’s primary responsibility is facilitating effective communication between the client and the software development staff. They’re the face of the project; keeping up with relationships is important.

When translating the software development language to the client, the non-technical project manager first needs to translate “dev-talk” to themselves. Training the development team to speak at a high-level is an advantage that non-technical project managers have over technical PM’s.

A good non-technical project manager is a great motivator. Great motivation encourages success within the project. Even when issues do arise, an effective PM knows how to address issues without placing blame on the development staff. This continues a positive relationship and allows for constructive criticism.

Software Developers create code. Project Managers make sure that everything is organized properly; organizational skills are difficult to attain. Experienced PM’s have this skill as part of their core skillset. Moving between disciplines becomes a simple task with proper organization.

Adjustment Period

How long does it take? It depends on the individual but most start to get a grasp of it within 6 months. It also depends on the amount of work. Working on one project vs 5 projects can have its pros in one aspect and cons in another. One project allows the PM to solidify the skills with a slow and steady approach.


An experienced Project Manager can adapt to the technical environment. I have seen successes and failures. Sometimes, the environment is the culprit. Other times, the individual is just not meant for the software development business. Should you be afraid of attempting a project management career in the software development industry if you have no technical experience? Absolutely not, as long as you have a strong project management background.

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