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Gaining technical project management skills can vastly improve communication between us project managers and developers or other technical folks on our teams.

Our ability to communicate effectively with all of our stakeholders is a crucial skill, but when you don’t have any technical knowledge, it can be difficult to “translate” client or even your own feedback into useful instructions.

Learning technical concepts and terminologies allows you and your team to speak the same language, so you waste less time talking past each other and have more time for getting things done.

Top Technical Project Management Skills

Here's which technical project management skills and knowledge to prioritize so that you can get on the same page as your development team.

Technical Knowledge

Getting some technical expertise in the following will help you talk to your developers and other team members whose jobs are technical in nature.

  • HTML & CSS: The building blocks of all websites; will help you understand the underlying structure and what is easy or difficult to do to the overall layout of a page.
  • JavaScript & jQuery: JavaScript is responsible for a lot of the dynamic interactions that you see on the web, like interactive maps. You don’t really need to learn how to code JS, but understanding what it can and can’t do is useful.
  • Hosting: It's helpful to understand the different types of hosting that are available for websites as well what kinds of issues on a site can be caused by problems with the host.
  • WordPress multisite: If you work with WordPress, you’ve likely come across sites using WordPress’ multisite feature, which allows multiple sites to be managed within the same WordPress instance. Understanding how these are set up and maintained is a good technical skill if you work with multisites.

Other Technical Project Management Skills

These technical project management skills are must haves for becoming a successful project manager and getting projects across the finish line.

  1. Project planning
  2. Risk management
  3. Project management methodologies like agile, Scrum, and Kanban
  4. Project life cycle management
  5. Task management
  6. Financial planning and project budget management
  7. Project schedule and timeline management
  8. Tracking and monitoring project progress
  9. Project and resource forecasting
  10. Reporting
  11. Quality management
  12. Project scope management
  13. Project management software

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Why Are Technical Project Management Skills Important?

Why should you invest the time in building your technical skill set as a project manager?

Learning technical project management skills doesn’t necessarily mean learning how to code. It’s more about understanding and familiarizing yourself with the work that developers do so that you can do your own project manager job better.

Here are some benefits of strengthening your technical skills as a DPM:

  • More efficiently communicate requirements and problems to developers through technical writing
  • Better understand if a request from a client will be easy or difficult to fulfill
  • Assess developers’ estimates for accuracy
  • Better communicate with clients about the complexity of developers’ work

Here's an example: Let’s say you’re working with a developer to build a landing page template that has a big hero image at the top, but what they've built doesn't quite match the mockup. If you don’t understand HTML and CSS, you might just tell the developer:

“The hero image doesn’t look right.”

This is the kind of feedback that drives developers crazy. They have to visually compare the mockup against the page, and they may not easily be able to find what you’re looking for them to change.

But if you understand HTML and CSS, you can give clearer, well-defined feedback like:

“It looks like the hero image is set to 700px wide in the mockup, but it maxes out around 650px wide on the demo site. Can you update the site so it matches the mockup width?”

The developer will know exactly where to look and what to change when they look into the code.

How To Identify The Most Beneficial Technical Skills

If you’ve ever looked at one of those “learn how to code” websites (and let’s be real, you have), you were probably overwhelmed by the sheer volume of languages and lessons that they offer.

Software development is constantly changing and full-time developers invest a lot of time in keeping their technical skills current. Where to start?

To identify the project manager technical skills that will help you most, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do you struggle in communicating with your developers?
  • Are there particular parts of every build where you find yourself having to explain things over and over?
  • Do you see recurring issues as part of your QA?
  • What technical concepts do you have difficulty explaining to clients?

The answers to these questions will help you determine where you could improve your technical skills in project management.

If you’re not sure what the relevant skills are based upon your answers, talk them through with a developer (see below) to see what they recommend.

How To Improve Your Technical Skills: 5 Simple Ways to Upskill

Once you’ve identified what technical project management skills you’d like to improve, follow these five steps to move forward and get started.

1. Talk To A Developer

Project managers can sometimes be intimidated by developers. It can feel like they speak a completely different language. But most developers are actually really excited to share what they do with their project manager colleagues and help us better understand their work.

Take your favorite developer out for coffee and ask them:

  • What’s new and exciting in their field?
  • What’s their process?
  • Are they front-end, back-end, or full-stack?
  • What do they find most challenging and most exciting about their job?
  • How do they like to be managed? In an agency, developers are usually managed by different project managers on different projects or initiatives, and everyone does things differently. Are there things that other project managers have done for them that they found really helpful, like including certain information in assigned tasks?

2. Play With Code

A lot of learning about code is understanding cause and effect: if I do X, Y will happen. I’ve included a few links to resources for learning to code at the end of the article, but if you’ve never really looked at code before, the best way to start understanding these concepts is to play with underlying code using the Inspect functionality in your browser of choice.

Anytime you're looking at a website in your browser, right-click and select “Inspect” or “Inspect Element.” At the bottom of the screen, a new area will appear that shows the underlying HTML and CSS of this site.

HTML and CSS are the building blocks of all websites. If you think of a website as a house, HTML is the wood, concrete, and brick that builds the structure, and CSS is the paint, window treatments, and other touches that make things pretty.

In the Inspect panel, try right-clicking and deleting or changing something. It’s likely that something on the page will be removed or change. See if you can make the connection between what you deleted/edited and what happened on the site.

3. Get Your Own Demo Site

Your company probably uses some kind of demo sites while new projects are in the build and test phases. See if your developer buddy can make you your own demo site with whatever basic install they usually use.

Then play around your demo site. Try basic things like hard-coding some HTML in a page and adding some CSS. If you’re using WordPress, try installing and customizing a new theme. Look at a site that one of your developers built and try to replicate something. If you’re anything like me, you learn best by doing, and a demo site gives you your own place to learn and make mistakes.

4. Make Something

If you’ve played with your demo site and you feel up to the challenge, try improving your skills even further by creating a whole site from start to finish:

  1. Buy a domain name
  2. Purchase and set up hosting
  3. Install WordPress (or another CMS) on your hosted site
  4. Configure and style the site

There’s really no substitute for trying to do the whole thing from start to finish so you can understand the workflow and where things can go wrong.

If you get hung up, do your own research to try to fix the issue yourself before asking a developer to step in and help you. Figuring out a development problem on your own, even if it takes hours, is one of the best feelings in the world.

5. Keep Learning

Improving your technical project management skills is an ongoing endeavor. There are always new technologies, new languages, and new approaches to learn that can help you develop and hone your technical skills in management.

If you see something on a site that you’re not familiar with, or you hear about something new from a developer, go back to your demo site and play around with it and find a way to learn more.

Keep taking classes and stay sharp with digital PM training so you’re steadily learning new things. Some of my favorite resources are:

  • CodeAcademy: a free site (with a paid subscription option) with self-guided, hands-on tutorials in a variety of languages and subjects. Each screen gives you a real-time code editor to let you test your know how of concepts.
  • freeCodeCamp: Another free service that gives you specific, real-life tasks and deliverables with a code editor to help you learn by doing, with a focus on front-end development. Many cities have local freeCodeCamp meetups where you can review each other’s work and discuss coding.
  • Coursera: If you prefer more of a classroom-style experience, Coursera offers lecture-style courses led by professionals from around the world. Classes are often self-guided but have recommended timelines for study hours and completion.
  • WordPress Codex: The codex is the WordPress “bible.” You may not understand much of it at first, but it’s a great reference for learning how things in WordPress are structured and fit together.

Tip: If you’re planning on continuing your education while working, check if your company offers tuition reimbursement for employees. Many employers have begun investing in their employees’ education by offering to reimburse them for outside classes, training, and certification programs.

What's The Difference Between Hard Skills And Soft Skills?

Project management skills can be split up into two categories: hard and soft skills.

A hard skill refers to knowledge that can be taught and easily evaluated, like our ability to use a project management system or create a project plan.

Our soft skills and interpersonal skills are what most people think about when they think about project managers:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership skills
  • Time management skills
  • Adaptability
  • Decision-making skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Collaboration and teamwork

What Do You Think?

If you’re a DPM with strong technical project management skills, how have they helped you in your work? Or if you’re looking to build your technical skills, what are you looking to improve?

Project management certifications, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), can help you gain these technical project management skills.

Or, read about the technical program manager role, which is a viable career path for a project manager with the right technical skills.

By Bethany Lang

Bethany Lang is a senior project manager with more than 9 years of experience in a variety of roles. They began their career as a grant writer and fundraiser for nonprofits before transitioning into tech as a project manager and trainer at both NeonCRM and Cornershop Creative, working with nonprofit organizations. They've also worked as a WordPress and front-end developer alongside their role as a PM.