The Project Manager and the Subject Matter Expert – A Hidden, Yet Critical, Project Risk

Thomas Conway

One of the hallmarks of Project Management Institute (PMI) discipline—and the best practices of project management in general—is the identification, controlling, and mitigation of project risks. Project managers apply the risk-controlling aspect of PMI discipline to increase their awareness of potential risks, the potential impact of those risks, and potential solutions and/or mitigations of those risks. The cornerstone or underlying artifact for this process is the risk register. The benefits of this process and the underlying risk register are clear. Project managers are much more likely to resolve risks quickly (sometimes even before they occur) and are much more aware of the variability of their estimates and the project’s progress when all potential risks are clearly enumerated, inventoried, periodically reviewed, and tracked. However, despite how diligent project managers may be, some risks are simply missed, overlooked, or cannot easily be inventoried and recorded in the project’s risk register. A risk that fits neatly into that group lies in the complexities of managing technical projects wherein there is a significant reliance on subject matter experts (SMEs).

An Example Project
Consider a large-scale IT project wherein there are several technical disciplines involved (these could be, for example, JAVA, CICS, DB2, Oracle, and …

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"Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining."

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