I’m a Project Manager, technically

Whiteboard showing a project managers attempt to visualize his process
To do: Use Kanban, Try Kanban Tool Doing: Learn about Kanban Done: Get some sticky notes, get a whiteboard

The vast body of knowledge surrounding Project Management has recently picked up as a separate science. A sub knowledge area in the Management knowledge island, project management is seen as its own stand alone knowledge area now, seeing how the importance of projects as a tool for change management is acknowledged more than ever before. More project managers identify themselves as a Project Manager, a very specific job title, not too different from a novelist, a doctor or an aeronautical engineer.

But Project Manager, the title, vs project manager, the role, has brought in its own heap of confusion into the business world. There are people who fulfill the project manager shoes, who may also be an Accountant, Civil Engineer, Banker, Department Manager and many other people with a completely different job title. This ability of people with different job titles filling the role of a project management job is unique to project management world and it brings us to a really important question. Does the project manager need to have technical skills required for a particular project and is it important in determining project success? Do Project Managers belong to industries of their own specialization or does project management itself form its own special industry?
The answer is, it is too early to tell.

How likely is it that an IT company will hire a Project Manager who is from the Civil Engineering industry to complete an IT project? Unlikely, right? Is it possible for that Project Manager to successfully complete an IT project? Absolutely yes. You see, project management doesn’t limit its studies to a particular industry. A project manager can, theoretically, fill in the manager shoes of any industry and still successfully complete the project. It has been shown that technical knowledge of the project product (the deliverable) has resulted in poor project managers, because he/she tends to lose focus on the project management aspects and starts to get involved in the technical aspects of the product. When the person who sits to control and take care of project management aspects loses his/her way, then the project is guaranteed to fail the project. So, in essence, hiring a project manager without any technical skills in the final product just may make a good decision, albeit, a really illogical one.

Hiring project managers from outside the industry has some implications on project managers themselves. From the same example before, suppose the Civil Engineer/Project Manager gets chosen to do an IT project. Now we have an underutilized human resource because this particular project manager has a set of skill that is not being utilized at all. But hey, he/she can use project management chops to get the project done, so there is that. This, while true, results in job dissatisfaction because a project manager in this situation may end up feeling like an over glorified desk secretary. He/she really has no idea or clue about the technical success of the end product, so now, it’s just a matter of following through a series of steps until the product is finished, which tends to be a tad bit lackluster. There is also the fact that the project manager then has to surround himself/herself with technically experienced people who can then give advice to the project manager.
The factor that could really decide whether a manager can fill the Project Manager job in any situation might just come down to experience. Successful completion of projects from many industries answers the question at hand in a very definite manner, but it leaves some questions open about whether the Project Manager is satisfied with the job. We seen CEOs walk in to organizations, with next to no experience in the technical side of the business, and get away with a successful tenure because Management and Leadership is slowly evolving to its own industry.

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