The concept of technology goes back to ancient Greeks: online etymology dictionary states technologia as its origins:
- techné: meaning belonging to the arts, crafts or skill;
- logia: meaning sayings or speaking;
In the ancient times, technology was more than “gadgets”; it was mostly about the craftsmen passing their know-how, the art of doing things from generation to generation, and improving and innovating along the way. As the terminology evolved, it also acquired a scientific context: etymology of technology indicates that in 1859 the meaning “science of the mechanical and industrial arts” was first recorded, followed by the terms high technology in 1964 and high-tech in 1972.
Today, technology is more vital than ever to firms’ global competitiveness. Yet, technology is inherently difficult to manage with its constantly changing and unpredictable nature. As a result, the field of Management of Technology has emerged to help aid the technology managers through this complex maze by giving them the tools, processes, and the know-how they need to bring high-tech products to the marketplace. The U.S. National Research Council in Washington, D.C., defined management of technology (MOT) as:
linking engineering, science, and management disciplines to plan, develop, and implement technological capabilities to shape and accomplish the strategic and operational objectives of an organization (National Research Council, 1987).
In summary, technology management focuses on the intersection of technology and business, encompassing not only technology creation but also its application, dissemination, and impact. As technology managers, our job is to align the technology strategy with the firm’s goals and objectives, and to apply our know-how to manage the process and the results. As such, at a minimum a general understanding of technology and innovation, management, leadership, strategy, operations, new product development, project management, product marketing, organizational behavior, and product quality is needed to be successful in the role.
Technology management is a demanding and a rewarding job, as it requires the right balance of generalization and specialization, business and technology, big picture thinking and minding the details, as well as hard and soft skills. Here are some of my observations on where the technology managers often struggle. I would love to hear your experiences as well.
- Focusing mainly on a single aspect of the technology management process — Sure, we all have our strengths. However, technology management requires a multidisciplinary approach. Managing only one aspect of the project, such as technology, without much regard for other facets crucial to its commercialization success, is an early sign of failure. You can see this in products with poor maintenance and upgradeability, issues with overall usability, and failing when it comes to addressing customer needs, or costly manufacturing processes, packaging, etc.
- Executing the flavor of the month strategy — It is the job of the technology manager to ensure technology direction is aligned with the organization’s strategy. However, as Heraclitus stated, change is the only constant. If a change in strategy is not communicated effectively, and change management is not handled accordingly, the team will be left feeling as if they are executing the flavor of the month strategy.
- Failing at the know-how and not utilizing processes effectively — Process of managing technology will be different based on the type of innovation and where it is in its technology and product life cycle. Inappropriate application of processes will certainly hinder its success.
- Ignoring the softer side things — A big portion of the job requires emotional intelligence, and being able to manage change effectively and efficiently. Available tools and processes are not sufficient, and skills are required to maneuver the political landscape, and ability to manage bottom up as well as top down and sideways.
- Forgetting to wear the appropriate hat: leader, manager, strategist and technologist — A technology manager needs to be able flexible, and wear the appropriate hat as the context requires. We are the leader that communicates the technology vision and strategy, and many times the ones that rally the teams. We also need to strategize for the big picture, define the technology directions and also demonstrate proof of concept as required. Not to forget the fact that we also need to manage the day to day details with a multidisciplinary approach.
- Being oblivious to the influences of internal and external forces — It is too easy to stay focused on the day to day management of the details. However, as technology managers, we need to be mindful, and effectively and efficiently manage the opportunities as well as the threats.