Does PM need to be SME?

From the Practitioner's Guide to Program Management Blog
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I have about 20 years of progressive practical experience in program and project management. And I conducted extensive academic research while writing a book, "Practitioner's Guide to Program Management." As a result, I have extensive knowledge of program and project management that I would like to share. The blog will provide a methodology and tools to execute programs and projects, illustrated with many practical examples. It will cover multiple topics related to program and project management.

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There are two schools of thoughts about whether PM should or should not be a SME as well. In a more broader terms, should PM have technical expertise on the subject of the project. How in-depth of knowledge about product should PM have? Historically, in IT PMs were developers who were promoted to PM roles. As a result, PMs were SMEs but not necessary business savvy people. Nova days, PMs are frequently business people and not technical experts. What will the future trend be for PMs? Which knowledge will be most important, technical expertise or business knowledge or both?

Posted on: April 22, 2019 10:33 AM | Permalink

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You do not need to be an SME to be a PM but you need to have the minimum technical experience in that field because it will help you managing those projects by making sense of the budgets, timelines, and problem solving.

Irene, this is an interesting question. I have been practicing project management for a few years, but initially got involved as the business SME. I didn't come in with much technical knowledge but have been able to learn so much from the many teams that I have now worked with over time. I feel part of my responsibility is to have enough technical knowledge to help manage the team, but having the understanding of the business has been what has led me to be a better PM.
I am always open to learn more of the technical aspect, but I would never underestimate the business knowledge required to deliver value to the stakeholders.

Hello Irene: I was hired in IT as a project manager after leaving the world of health insurance. My personal experience is that I often am asked to manage projects that have never been done before. I often have very limited experience with the product or software implementation. This is when my PMP skills help guide me through the process. Having the technical knowledge would be an advantage for sure - but has not been critical to the success of the projects I have been working on. I do have some technical experience with similar products or know what SME's to reach out too, but we have successfully led projects here in my sphere of influence without being a SME myself. Thank goodness for the ability to collaboratively work with teams to creatively plan, identify risks, avoid issues and more. Thanks goodness for the proven processes and methodologies of project management.

PM doesn't necessarily need to be a SME. It's the know how that can work equally. The know how can be business or technical or both. Again, it's not required but it helps to give the project managers ask relevant questions or probe deeper in order to understand the scope, estimation, challenges etc.
This kind of know how can be gained while working on the project and isn't a 'must to have' in the beginning of the project.

Good question. PM does not need to be SME . But if PM is SME ,it is good.
In my case , I face this issue ,when i go for interview for Project Manager in software companies. Some companies expect from me to be expert in Mobile app and Web Site .

A good PM does not need to be an SME. The PM needs to leverage the knowledge of the SME's to become a fast learner in the subject that the PM lacks experience in. One advantage of not being an SME is that you ask more questions that could be beneficial in catching potential issues or approaching the project in a better way.

If a PM is an SME in a subject that is a plus and minus. Why a minus? The PM needs to know the boundaries of involvement by not stepping on the feet of the SME's. The plus is leveraging past experiences.

A project manager must be a subject matter expert. In project management. This is our domain.

The rest is optional. More knowledge is generally helpful, but project managers don't need to know how to write code to manage IT projects, nor do they need to be certified plumbers to manage construction projects. (Those two jobs are related, by the way. They both eventually require someone to push "bad stuff" through the pipeline.)

That said, it's common that "project management" positions require some degree of industry-specific knowledge. In many cases, it's because they expect a project manager to do more than manage the project. A project manager might help install a floor, for example, but that is not a project management activity.

Good question. I have found that is is often better for a PM to have a broad knowledge of all areas and aspects of a project. A PM who is an SME often has a lack in an important area- good at engineering, only ok at business analysis. I also sometimes see SME PM's second-guessing decisions made by the SME's working on the project with regard to risk and performance.

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