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The value of professional instinct

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A big hitter in project management once said, Why does Project need an editor? All the articles are sent to you, arent they?

True, very true, my learned friend, but theres a lot more to it than that.

Project is fortunate that it does receive lots of articles on the fly; many well-written and interesting. However, others arent.

This can be quite upsetting for some. Nobody likes being told they need to rewrite their copy, especially when its been through a stringent peer review process.

They say: The copys good, take our word for it, now theres a good chap!

Or put another way, surely a project with lots of good technical experts and a clear brief doesnt need a project manager to manage it?

If only this was the case. Theres a lot to be said for professional instinct. You know, the feeling you get when you know something isnt quite right.

Sometimes you can put your finger on it straight away. In the case of an article it might be badly written or wildly inaccurate. In the case of a project it might be the absence of a clear project plan or a project founded upon unrealistic timescales.

Sometimes its more difficult. It makes sense, its got a coherent structure, but it just doesnt deliver. In other words wheres the rationale for doing so (e.g. the why, the what, the who, the where, the when and the how)?

And thats the key. If in doubt, I always ask the question: so what? Does it pass the so what test? If the answers yes, then were well on the way to realising those all important benefits; if not, theres still work to be done.

I remember at journalism college being asked why do we write? The answer, I was told, is to pass on interesting/essential information or opinion in a way that can be easily understood by anyone who reads it (including the editor of Project!).

Access to outside expertise can be an invaluable resource but its true value is reliant on the professional instinct of the project manager who knows how and when to use it.


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  1. Shanne Edwards
    Shanne Edwards 28 May 2010, 01:50 PM

    Interesting article James...Although in my experience, my 'professional instinct' isn't a gut feeling or faithful leap which guides my decision making process - it's something that is backed by many years of projects and tasks going right or wrong; relationships with colleagues, teams and suppliers working well or not.  And so over time my instinct has become naturally based upon my past experiences with a reasonable (but limited) memory of what works well and what doesn't.  Maybe I'm less whimsical than some and perhaps a little too structured and disciplined (being ex-Army) to give this supernatural phenomenon a chance? Who knows.  All I do know is that the more I learn and experience in life the more effective I become at delivering consistently and coming closer to meeting the expectations of my client, colleagues and suppliers alike.Or maybe I'm just getting a little older... and a little wiser?