Tips for managing technical people – Talk to the Duck
10 August 2016, by Zoe Cunningham
The following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.
‘Rubber duck’ technique is one of the innovations that I have seen introduced by a project manager who was willing to try something new. He didn’t invent the practice, but no-one works in a vacuum; the best project managers build up their skillsets through others’ experiences as well as their own.
You know that feeling you get when you go to ask someone a question, and, just by framing the question in your head, you find you’ve worked out what the answer is? Lots of managers have to deal with those sorts of questions day in and day out, being interrupted in their busy schedules just to find that they’re not actually needed.
Introduce the duck. He’s just like any other manager, but he doesn’t get grumpy if you go and talk to him on his lunch break, and he doesn’t interrupt you just when you’re getting to the ‘oh hold on, I know…’ moment. In fact, he waits expectantly for it.
Following on from the successful adoption of the ‘rubber duck’ technique, I’ve started training project managers with a new device that I call the ‘reverse duck’ technique. Not only does it help them to frame their own questions and solve their own problems, but it also teaches them the underlying basics of project management. Reverse duck technique can also be practised using a duck instead of your manager. The difference this time is that, instead of asking your duck the question you want to ask your manager, you think ‘If I were to go and explain to my manager what I’m doing right now, what questions would they ask me?’. Project managers quickly learn how to present arguments that don’t need to be questioned by senior management – and they learn useful questions to ask members of their own team.