Project Managers - When do we get to be more like plumbers?

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Plumbers are professionals. They are not just people who tote tool boxes. They are people who fundamentally understand the workings of plumbing; how water moves uphill, downhill, round bends; pressures and orifices; the suitability of the different types of pipework and fittings; etc. etc. Oh yes, and they have a tool box too!

However a man cant just walk into his local hardware store, purchase a Plumbers Toolbox and walk out a plumber! There is a system of accreditation which verifies understanding of the principles of plumbing and competence in the appropriate use of a collection of tools.

As in any profession, plumbers are the product of their knowledge and experience and as they become more experienced and seasoned they will add new tools to their tool box and some of the old ones will become trusted friends. They will know everything in their tool box and when it is most appropriate to use it. They will know what fits and what they are most comfortable with. They will know how to get the right results.

As a person employing a plumber I will not expect him to discuss with me what is in his toolbox, I will not want to inspect his tool box, nor will I want to see his certificates in how to use his various tools. I will also not be expressing a preference of the make of tools he has chosen. I will trust that he is a plumber and he knows what he is doing.

Of course, if he has no tool box I will be alarmed. If his choice of tools is clearly unsuitable a mallet to make a hole in the wall I will be worried, with just cause. However I will be equally worried if, when asked about progress, he talks about what tools he has used and when. I will want to know what issues are causing him concern, what mitigating action he is taking, and what if any effects there are to schedule and budget.  

So when do project managers get to move into this professional arena. When do we as employers, stop focussing on the tools; stop wanting to inspect the tool box and the certification; stop expressing a preference over the brand of tools; and start recognising the innate ability of a project manager to know the job?

This surely has to be next level of maturity within the profession.....?

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Posted by Irene MacDonald on 17th Feb 2011

About the Author
As a Project Management professional Irene has been an APM member since 1998 and a Fellow since 2007. As an active volunteer Irene served on the committees of the APM People SiG and the SiG Steering Group. Currently Irene is a member of the ETAG and a book reviewer for Project Magazine Irene has a wealth of experience, particularly in the people and cultural areas of project, programme and portfolio management and shares this through public speaking, university lecturing and APM events.

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