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Topics: Aerospace and Defense, Consulting, IT Project Management
Is a project manager also a technical expert or is it better to have project manager and a technical project manager?
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Each has their own advantages, so do YOU combine both or work together with a technical expert? Depending on the feedback we all could get a better idea and maybe it depends on the subject area. I look forward to your feedback and thank you in advance!
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In my experience having the technical backgrounds is what has made me a better project manager. I have worked in smaller organizations were having a PM, and a technical PM isn't an option. Having a technical background has helped be to assist the team out by stepping into a BA role or the second set of eyes on a problem. It has also assisted in estimating effort and duration. With my knowledge and the expertise of the rest of the team, estimating exercises seem to take less time and provide more granular results.
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1 reply by Arif PUNJWANI
Apr 11, 2017 12:31 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Bryce, thank you for your feedback. I also grew from SME to first a technical project manager and later as a project manager. I found it also useful as this helps with risk management (knowing technical difficulties), communication in general (as a part will be on the technical requirements) and managing the project. I am working in a technical field, but I don't know if this approach is used in general. I think it will also depend on the organisation type and complexity. The feedback from everybody will provide us hopefully with a better view.
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This question comes up a lot, on this forum. Many of us agree that it's always helpful to have technical knowledge, but whether or not it's "required" is up to the organization and the job description.

Here's another twist: is it better to have a competent project manager with no technical knowledge, or someone with a lot of technical knowledge but no project management background? Again, it depends on the organization and the job description. I have seen very successful project managers who had no domain knowledge when they entered their current field, and I have seen technical leaders who learned how to manage projects.
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2 replies by Arif PUNJWANI and haytham mhassan
Apr 11, 2017 12:47 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Wade, thank you for the input. I think each have their own advantages and it probably depends on the business and company size and/or project size.
May 16, 2017 7:16 AM
haytham mhassan
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good point to re-question , but i think the late one description it seems to be have no chance against the first description , we may make it a bit fair as we can say someone with a lot of technical knowledge but with moderate project management background ?
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Arif:
You don't mention the size, complexity,industry, contract details of the project but I assume it's a contract for an IT project.

The beauty of the splitting the roles is understanding the roles, focus and deliverables. Certainly, it will save you money to have one person as the PM/Technical Lead/Engineer.

You may wish to consider one of many roles:
Systems Engineer
Enterprise Architect
Data Architect
Network Engineer
Etc.

There are many roles but industry type may change the technical roles you are looking to fill.
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2 replies by Arif PUNJWANI and Naomi Caietti
Apr 11, 2017 12:59 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Naomi, thank you for your input.I know it will depend on the company size and/or project size. The question here is in general in order to know if all PM are techical and if both functions are used. It is true that it will save you a lot of money if one person can combine it, but maybe it depends on the industry and maybe it is not possible for complex projects as you might need different SME profiles (as you have indicated for IT).
Apr 19, 2017 6:20 PM
Naomi Caietti
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Arif:
Well the real answer is it depends, the culture, contract, project, risks or resource constraints will dictate if you need a PM and Technical lead etc. Does a PM need to be technical to lead a project? No but it's beneficial for many strategic/tactical reasons.
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Hi Arif,

I can think of using a mechanic to troubleshoot any vehicle electrical issue. The mechanic might be able to perform basic troubleshooting and the risk of not being able to fix it is high. On the other hand if the car is taken to the right shop the risk of not fixing the issue is lower. The above does not insure one or the other fixing or fail to fix the issue but there is a lower risk when the proper resource is assigned to perform any job. Of course this is only my humble opinion. Thank you for sharing this question.
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1 reply by Arif PUNJWANI
Apr 11, 2017 1:27 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hi Edgar, thank you for your input. Correct, in order to resolve an issue, you need the right resource and hopefully the PM can identify it and/or assign the right resource.
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On large projects I would go for 2 persons. One would manage the project, the other oversee all technical matters. I have see many project succeed in that approach.

Smaller project can be a different choice. My experience is when you put a technical person, when the project start to be behind the get involve in the technical aspect instead of solving the source of the problem.
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2 replies by Arif PUNJWANI and Tim Podesta
Apr 11, 2017 1:41 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Vincent, thank you for your feedback. I also noticed that on large projects the two functions exists with clear responsabilities. On smaller projects I noticed the approach depends on the complexity of the project.
May 17, 2017 2:02 AM
Tim Podesta
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I agree with this point. I would add that the project manager needs to understand the language of the project if not be a technical expert. My example would be in oil and gas and the PM needs to understand the basics of petroleum engineering - the language of subsurface technology and drilling.
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A project manager is like an orchestra director: she/he must have knowledge for each involved instrument but she/he must not be an expert for each instrument.There are a lot of examples outside there about the benefit one or other approach (expert vs knowledge) get to any type of projects. Is a paradox for lot of people: in one said they have complains about the project manager role is consider tactic in their organizations. On the other side the same people firmly believe that a project manager must be an expert in one field. If the organization consider that you are an expert in one field forget about the organization will consider you in the side of strategy.
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2 replies by Arif PUNJWANI and John Tieso
Apr 11, 2017 1:52 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Sergio, thank you for your feedback. I like your comparison of the orchestra director! Probably it also depends on the industry and sometimes the need of assigning a SME as a project manager (with project management training of course).
Apr 18, 2017 8:17 AM
John Tieso
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Great response Sergio. I love the analogy to an orchestra director, because that is exactly what the PM should be--listening, looking and acting to be sure the team is in concert, but not trying to call all the shots. A PM should have knowledge of technical issues, but trust in their technical lead, selecting someone who has the requisite knowledge needed. There will always be exceptions, but, in general,, the PM should not try to be the Techie as well.
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These are definitely two separate roles. While it helps to have technical knowledge as a PM, and some PM like skills as a technical lead, it is far better to have two people filing the roles well. I've seen many instances of technical resources being forced into the project management role. Bad idea. There is a reason each profession has schooling, and technical training to make them superior in their management or projects or grasp of architecture or coding. Any organization looking to cut costs and make folks work in both roles are doomed to disappointment with mediocre or bad results.
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1 reply by Arif PUNJWANI
Apr 11, 2017 2:09 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Liana, thank you for your feedback.Cutting costs by performing both roles is certainly not recommended. There are two roles, but not every organisation uses them. As indicated in the post of Vincent, on large projects both roles are noticed. On smaller projects it depends. My experience is that smaller complex projects would have more advantage of having a combined profile (meetings, resolving issues, minimizing risks, ...) instead of having two seperate roles, but this might depend on organisation size and industry (among others).
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A Project Manager is required to be proficient in project management. There are separate roles for technical experts; technical lead, SME, or technical manager.

As Liana, and others, point out, I have witnessed technical resources placed into a project management role with sub par results at best. Walking through the weeds makes it difficult to view the field.
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1 reply by Arif PUNJWANI
Apr 11, 2017 2:25 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Andrew, thank you for your feedback. I can understand that a SME placed in a PM role does not guarantee the best results. It depends on the person, the training and support from the organisation. In order to be efficient I think a PM needs to understand technical matter without being an expert (see post of Sergio). Large projects would have both profiles (post of Vincent), but what about the "smaller" projects. Probably it will depend on the organisation, complexity of the project and industry.
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In the past one of the PM of the team where i work has just few knowledge about the bussines of company, many people asked to others, even me: why is he leading the team if he don have IT technical knowledge background. I was pending how the team and work was going on, and I understood, how he leader the team, and look for the rigth person when he need to solve any issue. Thats was an incentive for team work.

After some time a new chief come with us for new projects, with large technical knowledge, many people on teams thinked that would be better that the other one. But, for me from my perception, he try to solve issues by deciding for himself, in most of cases, what he think is the rigth way

I learned from both of they, every one make his decisions and both of they finish his asigned project

Some techinical leaders maybe has not the skill to develop the team, but could very good for help on solve issues along the project

What I think is, It is not only about what a PM know, it is about how to be a good leader
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1 reply by Arif PUNJWANI
Apr 11, 2017 2:39 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Ruben, thank you for your feedback. It is true that PM depends from person to person and the background. I think each has their own advantages, so in one case it would improve team work, but also being dependent from SME. In meetings one could provide directly feedback while the other one would have to consult the technical PM or SME. I also encourage teamwork and having SME, but sometimes it is not always possible to have a SME available when needed. Any PM should of course have the necessary soft skills for project management.
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I am a firm believer that the PM should have at least some technical grounding in the subject matter of the project. That being said, I agree with the previous comments that trying have the PM also act as the Technical Lead or SME is short-sighted and foolish,
(at least on mid to large scale projects).
In the power generation industry, we are known for using our engineers as PM's for a lot of the more technical based projects. These usually end in schedule disasters and cost overruns and, surprisingly, a lot more scope creep.
Technical knowledge is not a substitute for proper Project Management and oversight or vice-versa. Each has its proper place and perspective.
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1 reply by Arif PUNJWANI
Apr 11, 2017 2:55 PM
Arif PUNJWANI
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Hello Mark, thank you for feedback. It is nice to read your feedback based on your experience. It is true that each has their own strengths and weaknesses. I wonder if a non-technical PM would do better. Maybe having both would help in order to avoid cost overruns, scope creep, ... but this depends on industry and/or complexity of the project(s).
Sometimes it is not possible to avoid cost overruns and scope creep even if it was managed by an expert PM, so sometimes it can difficult to manage a project even with the best resources.
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