Technical and Domain Knowledge – Is it a must for a Project Manager?

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Last updated on
28th Aug, 2019
Published
29th Sep, 2017
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Technical and Domain Knowledge –  Is it a must for a Project Manager?

A topic much debated in the recent times is as to whether it is mandatory for a project manager to have technical skills specially related to the business or industry that they work in and whether it helps them successfully manage their projects.

Project Management in Summary
Project Management is a role with a collection of responsibilities in terms of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing a project.  The project manager must be able to run these main process areas of a project ensuring delivery of the unique product, service or result that it is intended to deliver within the triple constraints of time, cost and scope. 

Hence, project management demands mastery of a different set of skillset altogether. The project manager must be skilled in stakeholder management, scope management, cost management, time management, quality management, resource management, risk management, communications management, procurements management and integration management which are the ten knowledge areas as defined in PMBOK™. In addition to these the project managers must have competencies in people management, collaboration and in project management tools in order to be successful.

Project Mmanagers Selection in Oorganizations
The selection of project managers varies from company to company. There are organizations that look at the project manager role as a dedicated role. This is most common in large organizations where projects run in traditional plan driven waterfall manner. A dedicated project manager is allocated to plan and manage projects end to end. In smaller organizations that mostly follow change driven agile approaches, project management is considered as a role that can be played by a team member whose primary responsibility is something different. In plan driven projects of large team size and scope the amount of tracking and coordination required is more. Hence, a dedicated resource to manage a project makes sense.

In this case the Scrum Master role may be played by an individual whose specialization or primary job role is that of a business analyst, developer or even of a QA engineer. Agile projects are normally consisting of 5 to 9 team members who are expected to be cross-functional and be able to help each other to work as self-organizing and self-healing teams. It makes sense to have a technical resource to play a project manager role in such a team.

In addition to the project management approach being used factors such as maturity of the project management practices of the organization, organizational culture, size of the organization and even the industry plays a major role in the decision of selecting a technical project manager. For example, IT companies which do technical research on niche areas often appoint a technical resource to manage the project. 

A popular project management article published in www.cio.com is ‘7 must have project management skills for IT pros’ which lists critical skills that a project manager in the IT industry must have. They are,
●    Be highly organized and a good multi-tasker
●    Take charge and know how to lead
●    Be an effective communicator
●    Know how and when to negotiate
●    Be detail oriented
●    Recognize and solve problems quickly
●    Possess the necessary technical skills

According to this research,technical skills are just one aspect of the skills required by a good project manager. More pertinent skills are to do with being able to organize and take forward the project while handling difficulties with regards to resources, stakeholders and other project constraints. 

Technical vs Business Project Managers
It can be argued that a technical project manager will be able to look at the problems faced by team members in a more logical manner. If technical project manager can objectively analyze situations when planning and executing projects and guide team members to solve problems more effectively. Organizations which feel this way may promote their technical resources to play project management roles rather than hiring generic project managers from outside. However, it is important to note that project management is applicable for any industry and they are expected to possess transferable skills. 

There is a flip side to the argument as well.  A technical project manager may face difficulties in communicating with business stakeholders or, have difficulties in planning as they would always look at things from their perspective about capabilities. They may have problems in identifying and understanding the bigger picture of the project goals and objectives and how they tie with the business objectives as they may base their decisions only on technology.

Some organizations when publishing job advertisements indicate that project managers who have worked in a certain business domains are preferred. It is clear that technical knowledge and business knowledge are equally important for a project manager to have. In conclusion, it is clear that good project managers must have a mix of good business as well as technical skills and be able to adapt and apply these skills as per the requirements and context of the project.
 

Profile

Rumesh Wijetunge

Chief Innovation Officer - Zaizi Limited, Chief Operating Officer - LearntIn (Pvt) Ltd., Director /

Rumesh is an IT business leader with over 12 years of industry experience as a business analyst and project manager. He is currently the CIO of Zaizi Limited, a UK based data management company heading the operations in Sri Lanka, the COO of LearntIn, a global training institute based in Sri Lanka and is also a lecturer / trainer at multiple private universities on management, IT, business analysis and project management subjects. He is the current president of the IIBA Sri Lanka chapter and is one of the most qualified and sought after trainers in Sri Lanka. Refer his LinkedIn profile for more details and to see more articles he has written on linkedin