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Topics: Career Development
Are PM skills transferable from industry to industry?
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Can a PM with experience in software implementation be effective as a PM for a software development project? How about moving from IT to construction or vice versa? I'm gathering opinions on the transferability of PM skills for a magazine article on the topic. Do you think your skills move with you wherever you go or do they lose something if you switch industries? Your comments and e-mail address are appreciated. Thanks!
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In my experience the answer is: Yes you can move around within industries. For example IT Implementation to IT Development. But to go from IT to construction or construction to IT forget it!
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I have gone from IT to working in a law firm. I am now helping coordinate internal projects. You can transfer a lot of the skills you know as a project manager to another industry, as long as you have trusted resources working for you that understand that industry. This gives you the time to learn the industry but also helps you manage projects from the start.

The obstacle I had to overcome was to get everyone to think of their work in terms of projects. Lawyers typically think in terms of deals, matters, or transactions. No matter what you call it though, most have a start and end date along with resources and deliverables. We are now identifying best practices and processes for quality work products. At a high level, everything is a project (even personal things)and can have PM processes and principles applied to them.
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I've been managing software development and business improvement projects for more than 20 years and, in that time, I have crossed a number of industry boundaries and maybe learned a thing or two that might be relevant to this discussion.

The basics of managing a project have remained consistent despite the differences between industries. There are a number of reasons for this:

1) every project in every industry is comprised of people (don't you just love those value added statements?) and most of a PM's day consists of communicating and negotiating with those people, either in writing or verbally, face to face or remotely, etc.. That investment in soft skills you have made in your current industry sector? Good choice 'cause those skills carry forward.

2) the approach to developing a project, irrespective of its nature, consists of the same basic steps that everyone visiting this site already knows: define what is going to be created (scope); plan how it is going to be done (methods & controls); decide what resources you need (who, what); determine when it is going to be done (schedule); build the team and then execute the plan.

3) Another reason for consistency across sectors is how organizations function. In data management circles, there's a view that only 20-25% of an organization's data (types, not instances) is truly unique and the 75-80% equates to "housekeeping" - accounting, HR, etc. This concept of commonality also applies to business processes so a PM will likely already understand a good deal about the organization if not the industry.

BTW - I've also managed a couple of smaller construction projects and found the trick to "jumping ship": have industry specific knowledge either in your own possession on on your team in the form of a trusted expert (the systems architect for software projects, for example). ....and watch each other's back!

If you apply your PM methodology, people skills and a healthy dose of common sense, you should be able to move across those perceived boundaries successfully. Just remember the words you probably first heard from your mother....walk before you try to run.

I hope this helps and look forward to reading the opinions of other PMs.

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YES! YES! YES!

By all means yes! A PM is NOT and does NOT have to be a technical expert. Positions that require you to perform a dual role as a PM and a technical expert are a different situation. PM expertise is a completely different set of skills than the technical expertise.
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Yes, PM skills are transferable as long as each task is defined with a clear entry/ exit criteria. Further, I believe explicitly defined "scope" and "deliverables" are the foundation stones for any project success.

Again, skills like seeing overall perspective, problem solving, logical thinking, common sense (does it make sense?) are the PM building blocks which could be reused across industries.

Regards!
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Yes, the basic PM skills are transferable. The more senior the PM position, the more easily transferable the skills, because the people side of it comes more into play.

However, translating this into getting a job in a different sector is much harder, because people tend to want to hire from within their industry sector. Generally you see poor PM position descriptions - they may want a strong capable PM, but the position description is mostly about the technical nature of the work that is being done. Of course, this is the easiest to verify and scan for in sifting through resumes and candidates. Much harder to discern how effective a person is as a leader, problem solver, conflict resolution, etc.
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Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Cooper and especially with Randy Crighton. I had over 20 years in one company and was made redundant at the end of 2000. It took me a couple of months to get another job and I moved from Retail to Finance, still within the U.K. I believed my skills were generally reansferrable and indeed that was the case. I would re-iterate Randy's comments about different industries. Each industry (and sometimes different companies) have their own nuances. The meanings of words and the structures within the industry (e.g. safety is more critical in a steel furness than in a financial office) need to be learnt or access is required to an industry expert. But the basic PM processes are the same even if some of the tools vary. I hope this makes sense. E-mail me for further discussion.
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My experience says Yes to a large extent although in a rapidly changing world, keeping up with overall industry-specific terminology and trends is key.
I initially worked projects in the consumer goods arena and then transferred successfully into telecommunciations. From a marketing project perspective of developing products that need to go to the market, the similarities are amazingly the same.
My key is to accept a low level threshold on the ego and recruit good will from the techies in the team. Common sense and methodology will prevail.
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Dear Janis, I tend to agree with several of the responses to your post. Generic PM skills are transferrable, but technical PM skills many times are not. IT project management to construction is a good example as is biopharma project management to high-tech manufacturing project management. In many instances the PM must have technical skills as well as process skills to even grasp the project effort. Good luck with your article. I look forward to reading it. -- Mark Perry, VP of Customer Care, BOT International

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