Deploying Technology? It’s Better to Use a Non-Tech Programme Manager!

Posted by Simon Rose and Mark Bristow on Jul 22, 2020 1:25:40 PM


We are in an unprecedented period of change – enforced by a global pandemic. This reality is causing many businesses to reconsider and accelerate their digital transformation plans, which will almost certainly mean deploying new technology at a pace that can open the door to risk. Key will be ensuring the latest technology can be integrated with legacy technology, without compromising any existing processes.

To achieve this goal, most organisations will use multi-stream projects run by Programme Managers (PM) overseeing the planning, risk mitigation, budgets, stakeholders, and so on. Typically, these programmes are under the care of seasoned Programme Managers with expertise, specifically in running technology projects.

But is this the right call?

Judge, Agnostically

The default for staffing technology-focused programmes – be it hardware, cloud, SaaS, or other solutions – is to reach for an experienced technologist to lead the team. Often, with deep and varied experience across a range of technology solutions, their expertise is highly valued. Businesses frequently come to rely on the expertise of a technology-focused PM, seeing them as intrinsic to successfully working with vendors to find a fit with the incumbent infrastructure. The value of such knowledge is believed to manifest in reduced costs, minimised delays, and lower risk profiles.

Yet, is there much by way of evidence for this? The jury is out.

Of course, there are many technology-based programmes which have been successfully led and implemented by experienced technology-focused PMs and, our intention is not to offend. We are here, however, to challenge some of the traditional thinking around programmes. There is an argument that suggests deep-seated knowledge can be a disadvantage insofar as the belief that – as a technologist – all the answers are assumed to be known. Unless you’ve delivered the exact same programme with the exact same vendor at the exact same client, knowledge can be an Achilles heel by way of adding a layer of confidence which can prove problematic for some programmes, giving rise to incomplete solutions and/or solutions that just don’t fit a business.

The Repetitive Question

A good PM will have plenty of skills, the top of which will be relationship management and planning. Central to the requirements is the ability to adequately appraise the situation… essentially acting as a ‘judge,’ hearing positions from all sides with the mindset of impartiality. The ability to utilise the SMEs around them to get the job done, build symbiotic relationships across the programme and wider-business, and maintain a truly agnostic approach to the process should be the over-riding modus operandi.

The role of the PM is to run the process – to facilitate the activities, guide the team through the resolution of challenges, and elicit the right information from all parties. To fulfil this role requires a willingness to ask: “why regularly?”. This practice allows the correct answer to be arrived at through exploration of each challenge in detail – removing the risk of “thinking you know the right answer”.

PMs, who are not experienced in technology, coding, UX, etc., will be curious, will ask questions, distil technical jargon, and task the team with giving their thoughts and opinions at every step to achieve non-biased decision-making and more accurate reporting. Additionally, simplification and clarification will make buy-in across all non-IT focused stakeholders – notably, Finance Directors – much more comfortable to gain and sustain. The knock-on effect will be less risk of failure – less risk of losing investment, less risk of missing critical requirements, less risk of poorly constructed vendor contracts, and so on.

The Bottom Line

There are advantages to utilising specialist technologists as PMs for technology-focused programmes. Yet, non-technologist PMs come with a mindset less likely to assume and more likely to mount an independent challenge to assumptions made by a project team. These attributes, we believe, reduce risks, and deliver an optimal set of requirements.

The value to a business of non-technologists PMs guiding technology programmes can be measured through the cost of rework – revisiting programmes post-implementation. McKinsey’s, back in 2012, estimated 17% of IT programmes go so badly, they threaten the very existence of the firm with some budget reworks running at 200%.

At SRM, we deploy PMs on our engagements who have proven track records in complex, high-value projects across a variety of industries. Our top requirement for those PMs handling our client engagements is the ability to ask questions and scrutinise (plans, business cases, investment, etc.); this has delivered significant benefits to our clients, often saving a minimum of six figures in additional costs and beyond.

Our recommendation for anyone considering technology programmes is to consider your requirements for the PM – first carefully and where feasible, always consider a non-technologist one. Then ensure your wider workstreams within the programme have the right skills and SMEs in place.

About SRM

At SRM, we have a long successful history of helping businesses, across many industries, with extensive experience across transformation and change, either helping clients by running their entire project or programmes, or providing specialised, experienced resources to augment and/or lead their existing teams.

We are open for business, and we’re here to support you, our valued clients and prospects, with advisory and transformation services, including programme management across a range of disciplines, from technology to process to organisation design and property change. Our clients buy our ability to cast a critical eye on a business challenge and support them with experienced and seasoned resources to deliver an improvement to their bottom line.

Why not drop us a line at to learn more about how we can help your business adapt and thrive?

Topics: Technology, COVID-19, Digital Transformation