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There is not need to be an expert. Knowledge is required but not to be an expert. And I can affirm and sustain it based on my personal experience working on the field and the experience for other people.But when you read job request posted along the world most of them search for people which are experts in a domain. It happens because those job post are searching for a domain expert that will work as project manager too which is not recommendable.
If the project manager is not also a very experienced technical expert then he can't provide full leadership to the project team but instead he would be just some sort of facilitator or coordinator. When the PM is not a technical expert then a weak matrix would result and functional managers need to step in and manage the project in their area of expertise.
The reason for this situation is the fact that the success or the failure of a project depends heavily on decisions that are technical in nature. If the PM is not also a good technical expert then he can't take or review such decisions. If these decisions prove to be wrong then the project would fail and there is nothing the PM can do about it.
The capacity of a PM to deliver a project in time and on budget is severely limited if he is not also a good technical expert. In this case the success of the project would depend on many things that are beyond the control of the PM.
As you know @Adrian we fully disagree on this point. You are talking about a project leader, not a project manager. Mainly because a key thing, taking into account your comment, must be modified to be successful:1- while we can consider different types of leadership the project manager must not be a leader because the technical knowledge. This is true for project leaders, not for project managers. A project is to deal with different people from different areas so being a technical expert will not deliver value. 2-the project manager will not decide. The project stakeholders must decide. Failure occurs when a project manager does not understand it. 3-project success or failure does not depends on technical decision. In fact, when technical decision is the component that have a great impact on project then the project will fail for sure. And as I mentioned, the project manager is not the person that must take decisions.4-the project manager must be in control ever. If not, there is not reason to have a project manager assigned.
@Sergio I disagree with point 3. In fact what I write here is mainly based on my experience rather than on theory. A few years ago I worked on a project and one of the technical leads "decided" how to do the work. Well actually he didn't have any formal authority but the other technical team members approved his idea. His idea proved not to be too good and because of it the project got delayed and the customer was not very happy.
If we had used other idea would the project have succeeded? Who knows. It could have been better or worse but the idea is that the decisions taken by the technical experts play an extremely important role on the project's success. Maybe it depends on the type of the project and on the domain but as far as I have seen this is true.
The PM in the above case was not even involved in the technical decisions because well he was not a technical expert and he couldn't understand the technical details.
As regard to point 4, I strongly agree with you but when you are not a good technical expert you simply can't be in full control, at least not in full control over the project team.
Now, despite the fact that we disagree on this point, again, from experience I have seen that organizations, at least the large ones, in most cases assign PMs that are not also technical experts. So project management appears to work as you think it should work. Nonetheless the limitations that I have talked about do exist and I have seen them.
The project manager is theoretical responsible for the delivery in time and on budged of the project but this is hard when others (the stakeholders) take the decisions. What if they take the wrong decisions. Are you the PM going to be blamed for that?
Thank you very much for your answer. I am here to learn for comments and improve myself and, as in other opportunities, you help me a lot to achieve that. Just to clarify, when I said that stakeholders must take the decision I am including all the subject matter experts. And the project manager is not able to decide if a decision is wrong or not. Why? Because the project manager has not all the information needed to do that. The portfolio, program and business stakeholders have all the information needed to take the decision (including the technical ones). BUT in case of all related to project management the project manager is the subject matter expert (in my previous statement I did not put that clear). The problem in the situation you stated is not about the technical expertise is about a way to manage the project. So, here comes the point about the role. If you are a project manager situations like you stated must not take place (obviously there are a lot outside there and believe me that I have faced a lot by myself). But if you are a project leader or coordinator you have to make your own destiny inside the project. And here comes the point that if you are a technical expert you can create "power" to positioning yourself beyond the project leader or coordinator inside the project. But if after that you still remain on technical leadership you are lost. A project manager is like a orchestra director. Indeed the orchesta director have knowledge about each instrument. And indeed the orchestra director could be an expert in one of them. BUT if the focus is that instrument, if the focus is take decision about that instrument, the orchestra director is lost.
Thank you all for the insight and healthy debate..!!.. I am also handling a portfolio of engineering projects ( some are strategic & some are small routine engineering upgrades) and some time due to lack of resources, we may have to deal with projects which are out of project manager's technical expertise .But what we do in such case is ,either we involve the functional technical expert for technical support or we hire a relevant expert technical consultant to manage the technical nitty grity of the projects. I feel that project manager will able to get ample information ,knowledge & support from all this sources to resolve technical matters and take right decisions keeping all stake holder's into confidence...!! Yes, decision process will be fast & project manager can handle it with more confidence if he/she itself is the technical expert..and is most preferred but it seems it is a necessary condition but not sufficient condition for executing his job....!!
But question still remains is then why the recruiters ask for project manager who are expert in his domain as one of the pre-requisite..?? simply to ensure that project gets delivered with required quality...??
Many persons see project management as a discipline in itself, and totally unrelated to the field it is applied to. This view is that a project manager experienced in road construction projects can just as well do a software development project.
I do not share this view. I think the persons advertising for project managers to be experts in the domain want to signal that they do not share this view, either.
I think that to be successful a project manager need to know enough of the application domain to be able to effectively communicate with the project team, and to understand the implications of the suggestions and problems raised by the team.
I do not believe in the project manager being the technical architect or lead engineer. I think that it is best to have these as separate roles in the project team. However, I think that for an efficient project the project manager must communicate closely with the technical lead, and the project manager needs to know enough of the domain to be able to keep this communication efficient.
As for recruiters: in many parts of the world they often ask for a 25 year old PhD with 35 years of relevant work experience in exactly the kind of work the position has, but on a more advanced level than the position they are recruiting for. ;-)
Just to clarify my points. The first thing a project manager must do before she/he is assigned to a new initiative is something forgotten for lot of people: perform elicitation activities related to the environment where the initiative will be taken. There are process to do that. I follow the CMU SEI process using Zachman framework first row as a guide. No matter the project manager is assigned to a initiative inside the same organization she/he is working today the project manager must perform elicitation activities. The focus is to get knowledge about the new business (remember: an organization could have more than one business defined where the organization compete) searching for: terms/entities that exists into the domain, functions/process that exists into the domain, key stakeholders that exists into the domain, "pains" the stakeholders have into the domain, locations where the activities are performed into the domain and reasons why other organizations exists into the domain. With all these on hand then you are able to start as project manager in the initiative you are assigned.
To say you need to be an expert in the field means that you value project management less that the expertise.
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