Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is that a project manager or a product manager you're after?

I typically do quite long stints with clients. This enables me to approach the market every 2-3 years with a clean pair of eyes and some ability to discern how it has (or has not changed).

And, I observe a dominant trend in the market for project managers. Something that while it may have been present previously, is now all but ubiquitous. 

Let me ask a couple of quick questions first - consider this a little warming up to the subject.

  1. Which project management methodology requires the project manager to be a subject matter expert?
  2. Which project management process requires the project manager to be a subject matter expert?
  3. Which project management product requires the project manager to be a subject matter expert?
  4. Which project management process, product or methodology requires the project manager to have implemented the same (or nearly the same) product before.
  5. How many projects fail due to a lack of subject matter expertise on the part of the project manager?
(Please note - your project management subject matter expertise is a given)

And, the answer in all cases (as you almost certainly reasoned for yourself) is none of them. Even if you quibble the last one - it's almost a self-evident conclusion if you accept the other 4.

Now I do understand why project managers tend to operate in their chosed fields of (say) construction, accounting or (in my case) information technology. If you spend 90% of your time communicating, you can't spend 90% of the time deciphering what (for the uninitiated) is going to be opaque jargon.

But, that's not what I'm seeing. What I'm seeing is hiring managers who (for instance) are seeking a highly literate technical project manger, with (say) extensive CRM experience and (in particular) SalesForce.Com. But also (and these aren't necessarily nice to haves), Oracle, SQL, Agile, UML. Oh and not forgetting your extensive (for example) experience with off-shore oil and gas and the two CRM implementations you'll have already done.

Now a quick review of some of the chief culprits which cause projects to fail

  1. Poor risk management
  2. Poor stakeholder identification / engagement leading to omission of requirements
  3. Estimating that corresponds in no way to what is achievable on the ground
  4. Flawed business case
  5. Poor scope control
So which of these are addressed by anything other than good project management practice? Yep - none of them.

So how did we get here? I can't say because I'm not a recruiter with my finger on the pulse of the concerns and imperatives of hiring managers, but I have my suspicions. 

  1. Unprecedented levels of cynicism towards both project managers and the profession of project management
  2. Organisations instinctively reaching for the comfort blanket of 'someone who's done it before'.
I'm somewhat fortunate in that my technical background allows me a certain discretion. But I know this. On any project where I'm forced to use my technical expertise, I'm not doing the job the client is paying me for. And worse still, neither is somebody else.

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