STAFFING YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT TEAM (Part 8) –Project Manager and Industry, Domain and/or Technical Experience

This McLaughlin and McLaughlins Project Professionals post is the eighth in a series of discussions regarding current challenges with the staffing aspects of your project management team.   This post (like Parts 4, 5, 6 and 7) addresses acquiring the human resources (people) or staffing.  In this case, we focus on the project manager.  The Subject Series can be viewed here.

This, the fourth post on acquiring the project manager, addresses the relevance and/or importance of industry, domain and/or technical experience in a professional project manager.

According to Google, LinkedIn is the World’s Largest Professional Network.  As a member of several Discussion Groups that pertain to project management, I posed the following discussion:

In Project Program or Construction Management, how important is industry, technical or domain experience?

“When project management candidates or persons are being considered, selected, and engaged or hired, technical or domain experience is frequently an expressed consideration. Often, criteria for the individual includes industry, project-specific scope, technical or other experience with the content of the project are expressed requirements. There are differing views on this subject. What are your views?”

“PMI’s PMBOK discusses many activities and skills that are (in part or entirely) focused on the Project or Program Manager. All of these process requirements are managerial in nature, virtually none are technical or domain related.”

“In his authoritative book PROJECT MANAGEMENT, A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, Dr. Kerzner lists ten proficiencies for effective project management. Only one of the ten is Technical Expertise (assume same as domain expertise). Industry or similar project experience does not make the list.”

“Having managed many projects in many industries and with varying underlying technology, it is fair to say that opinions vary widely on this topic.”

“What is your perspective, opinion, experience or view?”

The comments are both thoughtful and revealing.  In the following, we have extracted typical (but not all) of these comments.

The PMP Group [Project Management Professionals] is limited to PMP certified [by PMI] persons.  Being a PMP, I posted the above for discussion.  As an example, the following comments are from a group member (hence, certified PMP’s).

Peter Sturdivant, PMP, ITIL • Hi George,”
“As alluded to in your opening statement, let’s clarify the distinction between management skills and industry, technical or domain experience. When I see job descriptions for a project/program manager, but the requirements are heavily weighted on the technical side, this tells me that whoever wrote the job description has little knowledge of, or respect (value) for, management skills; it reflects a highly internal focus. Neither then, is there an understanding or awareness of the external world, i.e., the customer. Are they building a product to satisfy internal or external requirements? It’s like saying that anyone can be a waitress. After all, the only technical requirement is to walk between the customer and the kitchen, when the true requirement is to manage the customer (stakeholder) experience, and to collaborate with the other restaurant personnel (colleagues) to make the customer’s experience the most positive, and repeatable.”

“How important, then, is industry, technical or domain experience?”

“I believe the importance is a function of the market. During a period of low unemployment, I would think it is relatively minor. In today’s job market, the competition is fierce. I would agree with your, and Dr. Kerzner’s, premise that domain experience is one-tenth of valued requirements. If someone is pursuing a position through the paper (or electronic) route, in this market and economy, with hundreds of candidates, there are many that meet all ten of the requirements, and possess the domain experience they are seeking. So why would anyone who is less “qualified” be considered?”

“There is an old adage that says a good PM is an inch deep and a mile wide. There is some truth to this, because of the wide range of people and issues in their world to make things happen. The PM needs to be able to understand what each stakeholder’s concerns are, but does not equate to, or require “talking shop” with them. I’m a believer that it is better to educate than legislate. I also believe educating those around us is an integral skill in managing them. And this is not simply confined to the walls within where you work. In essence, education is management; and control, the complete absence of management, is legislation; the difference between creating norms as opposed to making rules.  [Snip]”

“To Yossi’s point, which I respect, the size of the project is relevant. On smaller projects, I agree with him. On larger, complex projects, technical expertise is less important than management skills. More to the point, how would a highly technical software developer who is also managing a project, deal with finance, legal, HR, business development, marketing, sales, customers, hardware engineers, facilities management, administrative assistants, vendors, etc.?”


Peter refers to “Yossi’s point” and so, here it is:

Yossi Ronnen • I think that there Is an importance to technical or domain expertise when managing related projects (eg software development). Although it is possible to to manage such a project without the expertise, the PM will have to expand the team to include technical staff with extended abilities (who understand the domain, and can control and understand the process). The cost of the project increases due the need for additional staff, and there is the risk of having a manager who is not respected by his/her team (a known topic in organizational behavior).”


These points are important to as considerations that go into project planning and Project Management Plan.  The plan must recognize the attributes, skill-sets and limitations of the project manager, related staff and the underlying project particulars.  The ones that Yossi and Peter mention are typical of these considerations.

Subsequent posts will incorporate many other comments.

Good luck and let us be enlightened and pragmatic in the selection and acquisition of the project manager.  Be sensitive to the requisite quantity and skill-sets needed to implement your intended project execution strategy.  Otherwise, the execution strategy must be changed.  This is part of the interactive planning processM&M wishes you good luck in your project management challenges and endeavors.

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