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Are you wearing sector blinkers?

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At APM, I get the chance to meet people in a wide range of organisations, all with a common interest in project management and how to do it better. Its purely anecdotal, but I am struck by the narrow horizons people seem to set when considering how to improve project management practices within their organisation. In the same day, one person told me the problem with APM was that we are too IT oriented (he was from construction). Later on, I heard the reverse from an IT person. Yet no sector in APM represents more than 14% of our membership. Are these severe examples of sectoral blinkers the inability to recognise that the practices in other sectors could bring your organisation something new, different and effective? Theres an interesting discussion about this right now in the community section.

Presumably, people move within sectors because their experience in the sector pushes the right recruitment buttons. Some time ago, an enlightened (or was he?) manager of a large project management community said he actively sought out recruits new to his sector because he wanted to bring in new ideas and practices, not just the same old But Ive heard people from construction say that you cant be a construction project manager without knowing how to mix concrete. Is this the case? If it is, then how will pan-sector, or even global standards ever work?
The IPMA has developed the International Competence Baseline (ICB) and a universal certification system whose goal is to certify project management personnel with a globally accepted four level certification scheme. The IPMA recognises that cultural differences can be catered for with a National Competence Baseline (NCB), is there a sectoral equivalent? The APMs competence framework and qualifications map to the ICB so we align with these international standards. According to the IPMA, more than 100,000 people have achieved IPMA certification around the world, but there are other certifications with an equal if not greater global reach.

In developing the APM Project Professional Standard we have taken the view that we need a robust standard but that ultimately there will be a number of routes to achieving it, recognising that people come to project management via a number of paths. Clarity and convergence, its a widely held vision and we are in the earliest stages in seeing that achieved, but does it mean that there will need to be a rethink on the uniqueness that individuals and organisations seem to want in order to differentiate themselves in the market?


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  1. Andrew Nichols
    Andrew Nichols 30 September 2010, 03:48 PM

    Julie,This is an interesting point and is something that is of much debate. I have seen a number of Project Managers working in different areas of business, the key ones being construction and IT. There seems to be a standing assumption that only a specialist project manager can work in that business sector.My observation is that the Project Managers seem to be doubling up as Subject Matter Experts when they shouldn't be, partially this is due to the size of the projects (ie very small), but also it's partially due to a lack of rigorous PM processes.Luckily I qualified as a PM in the IT sector and I have since transitioned from that into the construction industry. So I may not have the specialist knowledge, but then again I don't have any of the baggage that comes with it either.Project Management in it's purest sense requires no Specialist Sector knowledge, however it does come in very useful when you are building on past experiences and you are aware of methods, processes, standards and pitfalls in the area in which you work. I would always choose to have the experience of the sector as well as having the PM skills. You will be suprised how much specialist knowledge I have picked up from all sorts of disciplines following my change in sector!Andy

  2. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 23 July 2010, 11:11 PM

    Dear Julie This is a a real on-gong debate in project management, arguments exist on both sides of the fence.QuestionTo be an effective Project Manager it is essential to have knowledge of the project topic only civil engineers can be PMs for civil engineering projectsYesDo Project Managers need to have specialist technical knowledge? I would argue that they do. That is not to say that they need to understand the minutiae of the detail but a good solid background experience and a broad knowledge of the technical products will turn a so-so project manager into an excellent one. I have spent thirty years running projects of various shapes and sizes but mainly in the software and services industries. Should I be appointed to a similar sized construction project? I will be able to do it, eventually, but it will probably cost more, be riskier and a lot more stressful for all concerned. A project manager with experience and knowledge of the job in hand will be able toHit the ground running, they will be able to formulate plans, build a delivery coalition and be able to understand how efficiencies and excellence can best be achievedHave credibility amongst the team and other stakeholders. This may exist in someone new to the discipline but it would be a brave client who commissioned a new nuclear power plant from a firm whose project managers were excellent at software projects and nothing elseConverse sensibly with contractors and others about the problems that they face and help to convert these into a sensible contractual solutionIdentify and predict major risk areas with far more effectiveness than someone without these attributes, this will save time, money and too many blind alleys.There are dangers of course, the primary one being that of the PM who simply has to get involved in all the detail, slowing things down, duplicating effort and not extracting the best for the team. There are also grave dangers where too much experience and knowledge mean that we keep re-inventing the problems of old and get stuck in a rut. Like most things it is a balance, whilst some knowledge is useful for the reasons identified above, too much knowledge can get in the way,No So now Im intrigued. Was the manager of the T5 project an expert in luggage conveyance systems or an expert in modern building methods. Or thinking on, perhaps they were an expert in aviation transport logistics or even retail outlets. For that matter, expertise in restaurant management or even anti-terrorism security may be of the essence.The answer, of course, is that it doesnt matter.Only the simplest of projects involve just one technical discipline or topic. By far the majority of projects have a myriad of such specialisms and to imagine that the only person who can manage such projects is someone with recognisable expertise in all of them is clearly ridiculous. Apart from any other considerations, which project could afford anyone with this many qualifications?Project managers manage projects. They do not manage departments, or teams of individuals, sharing the same expertise. If they did then they would be Functional Managers and as students of organizational theory can explain, these resemble Project Managers in the same way that chalk resembles cheese.The management of projects is about the management of the overall objective. It is about delivering the big picture by bringing together all the pieces that make up that picture. By necessity the role requires a broad perspective, sometimes referred to as a helicopter view, of the overall endeavour. The management of individual specialisms relates only to how these individual pieces fit together and involves defining their input, asking after and supplying the necessary support and interfaces they need, and then verifying that they have completed the work satisfactorily. The minutiae of how individual specialists achieve their objectives is something the project manager is drawn into at her or his peril. Not only is it an impossibly big task for all but the simplest of projects but it involves landing your helicopter and all the narrowing of perspective that this entails.In fact, such a scenario is a common cause of strife within projects when the technically expert Project Manager concentrates only on those project elements that coincide with their own technical discipline. It ensures some project elements are neglected whilst upsetting the specialists in question who resent being micromanaged.The full story of T5 is yet to be written but it does seem that the teething problems were not due to technical failures within any discipline mentioned above. The failure seems be associated with a failure to recognize the need for training of staff. There was a piece of the jigsaw missing: the sort of thing that stands out only when viewed from above. And while you are in your helicopter, any sign of my suitcase from up there?Taken from does the project manager need to be a specialist