Project Management

Project Manager Knowledge Areas

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Project Manager Knowledge Areas

Who is to blame when a project fails?

Categories: PMO Leadership

Knowledge (noun) / familiarity with someone or something.
Project Manager Knowledge Areas

Pick two. If I were to ask you to pick two of the following three areas of knowledge that you want you project managers to be adept in, which two would you pick?

  1. Knowledge in project management
  2. Knowledge of the business
  3. Knowledge of core technologies that drive the business

This is an age old discussion and debate. Usually the discussion concerns itself with whether or not a skilled PM can be effective cross-industry without being skilled in that industry. Often the example that follows is one of IT project management vs. construction project management.

That is an interesting discussion, but I have a more basic perspective. And that is not whether or not a skilled PM can be effective in different industry domains, rather can a skilled project manager be effective, at all, without an acceptable degree of knowledge of the business and knowledge of the core technologies that driven the business?

Not surprisingly, many PMO managers want to see their project managers have more expertise on the business side and in the technologies that enable and drive the business. However, there are those in the profession that would suggest that a project manager can be, effective and of value, in any project environment without needing to be industry savvy, skilled in the business, or technically deep. Really! And then there are those, that is, some project managers, that don’t care to be industry savvy or technical, preferring instead to just manage the project before them. These folks can tell you what drives Earned Value for a project, but they can't tell you what drives Market Value for their company. Hmn.

Consider the following.

  • How is it that some (not all of course) project managers regularly attend project management conferences and local chapter meetings to learn about project management (this is good of course), but they never seek to learn more about their business or to meet some of the divisions, departments, and people that make up their business?
  • How many of these project managers attend regular monthly meetings or conferences to extend their knowledge and skill in the industry of the company or to extend their knowledge and skill in the technologies that enable and drive their company’s business.

Or put another way, when a project begins to go wrong, is it really a technical project management issue that is behind the failing project? Or is it something else? And if it is that something else, what are we doing to ensure that our project managers have the skill they need to relate to, to recognize, and to manage that something else..?

Therein lies a real problem. Challenge your project managers to become experts in the company’s business and in the technologies that enable and drive the business. It will make them better project managers today, and for the future.

Posted on: August 29, 2012 10:28 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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You make a very good point.

A good project manager probably can manage any project, but would they be the best choice if compared to a PM that had business and industry specific knowledge?

Hi Mark,
I totally agree with you.

I was assigned to a project based on a new product and in an industry I never worked before with. I was literally parachuted in the customer's office with 1 day of notice.

I could not drive, I could only follow and trust the product SME. Results: wrong estimates, dates overly optimistic, delays.

If I had had some background on the product and the industry, if I had been given some time to learn, my chances of success would have been much higher.

I will first ask - Do I need a project manager only or I need a project manager with domain knowledge? If my reply is the former, then I will ask - Do I need a purist or I need a pragmatist? If I need a purist, then I will get someone with solid project management knowledge (probably with many certifications) as the project manager. If I need a pragmatist, then I will go for someone with many years of experience and had led many projects of different sizes and nature.

If my reply is the latter, then I will ask - Do I have a subject matter expert (SME) that can assist the project manager? If I do have a subject matter expert, then I will pick someone with good project management knowledge as the project manager assuming that the SME can help the PM. If I do not have a good SME, then I will need a project manager with more experience and knowledge in the domain that is required.

So, in conclusion, we just need to ask ourselves what we actually need. The right answer lies in us, not the PM.

Knowledge of project management definitely first. Now once the PM has this knowledge, being a services supplier he/she has to understand client's business for each new client project. And technologies again can't be ignored. So some knowledge of core technologies will surely help to provide Value to clients.

There was a time in my PM career when I would have said that a good PM could manage any project in any domain with minimal business knowledge. I was wrong. My own experience as a PM, later managing PMs, has demonstrated the very real need for PMs to have an acceptable knowledge of the business. Projects are integral parts of the business, not somehow separate. Projects do not occur in a vacuum. They both affect the business and are affected by business. PMs must be aware of things like the market, the competition, time to market factors, and regulations as well as the needs of the business. These factors can, and usually do, influence project timing, critical success factors, and project objectives. Without knowledge of the business environmental factors like those mentioned above as well as how they will impact the project, the PM is operating without crucial knowledge about the project. This lack of knowledge impairs a PMs ability to make sound decisions about the project. Projects often require innovative and creative solutions to achieve the business objectives and I do not believe it''s possible to find them without the kind of business knowledge that is often lacking.

I have often advocated the project management is a tool that is used to ensure the business succeeds. As such it is part of the business, a way of doing business. To be successful in business, one has to know and understand the business.

In my interviews with PMs and business managers in companies with struggling PMOs, I have discovered a common theme. PMs complain that the business doesn''t understand project management. But equally, the business complains that the PMs don''t understand the business. For what ever reason, there is a "wall" between the two, a kind of "my side of fence, your side of the fence" attitude. I have set in meetings with PMs and heard phrases like "we need to get this project done and throw it over the fence to the business and let them run with it." Folks, there is no fence. It''s all one business and everything is about ensuring the success of the business.

So I have to advocate that PMs are really business managers also. They may not run a department, but they are managing part of the business, not something separate from the business. Their management skills may be specialized, but they are still business managers.

I think Harlan Bridges makes a very good point. Too often, in Project Management, we emphasize the "Project" part and ignore the "Management" part.

Doing delphi analyses, tracking EVM, or even creating an MS Project Gantt chart may aid the project, but success is driven from integrating business issues, technical issues, human resource issues, etc. Good management is crucial. Project specifics are merely nice additions.

1. Knowledge in project management
2. Knowledge of the business with Knowledge of core technologies that drive the business


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