How much knowledge and experience does a Project Manager need to have to start a project? It is a question that has perplexed me for a while now, as being a successful Project Manager; I have regularly been engaged in fields that I have very little background in.
Clearly going from a Project manager in IT to a Project Manager in the construction industry isn’t going to work. Some experience in the core field is necessary, however can an IT Project Manager in Finance transition to Telecommunications or the Health Industry? Why do organisations ask for mandatory experience in specific applications when the application is clearly unique to that organisation? Is it really a process of advertising a job that has been customised for a specific individual?
Is it a hindrance, or an advantage having industry and business knowledge? It is often considered that a good Project Manager is the person that progresses through the organisation from one position to another until they land as the Project Manager. Their experience in the business is seen as the advantage for a successful project. However, often in these cases, the incumbent Project Manager has little training and experience and will get into the micro detail at the cost of not seeing the bigger picture. This is because they have been previously trained to focus on the detail and aren’t able to remove themselves from this level to operate at the project level.
I was once contacted to undertake a review of an Anti Money Laundering (AML) compliance project. The sponsor was concerned over the projects overall status, as perception was that it was not progressing. The organisation as a whole had moved into the final phase of testing, while this subsidiary was, after 18 months, still locking down their requirements. The compliance date was rapidly approaching, and the client was rightly concerned if they were going to achieve it. The consequences of failing were significantly high.
The health check resulted in some interesting findings. One finding was that the Project Manager allocated for this initiative had very little project management training. The Project Manager had progressed through a succession of successful engagements as a lawyer, and had been originally allocated as the AML legal counsel. With several successful AML deliveries, and the resolution of the compliance act, the organisation felt that a Project Manager with AML and business knowledge would be best suited for their AML compliance project.
The Project Manager was caught up in the detailed review of all documentation, and became the bottleneck for their delivery. The requirements were bouncing back and forth with the Business Analysts on specific wording, requirements, and details that were causing lengthy delays. Another issue was how AML was changing the organisations process and what they could do to minimise the business impact, it was the PM that was addressing this issue. The overall project delivery was compromised by the Project Manager, with their knowledge and understandings of the business, being stuck at the detail and overlooking the wider perspective.
Should a good Project Manager be able to transition across industries? Here is what I believe; with the experience the Project Manager has garnered, and with support from the client, an effective and experienced Project Manager will be able to quickly identify what needs to be done and by whom. A good Project Manager will surround themselves with the team that understands the details and provide them with the information they need. The team will have the Subject Matter Experts and designers to provide the solutions, delivery and the detailed information.
In my opinion, it all comes down to the PM. Some are able to easily transition to a variety of projects and industries, and others will struggle. The question that I believe needs to be addressed is what qualities and attributes do the Project Managers have that can transition between industries, to those that find it more challenging?