But it takes two to tango, and I'd like to challenge the assumption that a non-technical* manager can be an effective manager of a technology group with the right communication.
Let's use some simple logic first: Say it is possible to manage a technical group without being "technical". Then you are implying that management decisions essentially have nothing to do with technology; management is management - maybe it's about people, maybe it's about process, but it has nothing to do with technology in any fundamental way.
This leads to two supporting fallacious assumptions (which are very common in business):
- ideally all management decisions in a technology group can be translated into non-technical terms. Any failures in this communication are ultimately the responsibility of your technical team to address (otherwise you'd have to learn something about technology, which you've already decided is essentially irrelevant to management concerns).
- management issues are essentially simple and easy to act upon unless someone is making them needlessly complex and/or resisting doing any real work (i.e. your technical team).
Would you say that you can be an effective owner of a sports team without knowing anything about sports or the sports business?
No, because in each of these areas a knowledge of the specific problems and solutions is a requirement of the role of leader. Yet popular business philosophy has started with the assumption that all manager positions are essentially identical in their demands and execution.
It's time to start recognizing that technology isn't always simple and that effective technology managers have to be at least somewhat technical -- it's a requirement of the job.
* I'd like to point out that some managers consider themselves "non-technical" because they lack the domain-specific jargon or experience in a technology group. Maybe they were a biologist, instead of a computer scientist or at least they have some appreciation or experience with science issues. I consider these managers "technically capable" -- they are capable of understanding the arguments with some effort in learning or developing common terminology. This is a more amenable situation because these kind of managers don't make the fallacious assumptions noted above. They are eager to think through problems and find solutions even if they don't have the specific vocabulary. Given Sid's points of effective communication, they will rise to the very technical challenge of running a technology group.