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Generic project management – really?


I heard a lot of people saying that a PM is a PM. And if you manage one type of projects, you can manage any type of project.
But I don’t think that’s true. And I will argue this opinion in the current article.

First of all let me tell you that I understand where this idea is coming from. The reason behind is that a PM should have only knowledge about managing a project and he can easily apply the methods and processes to any kind of project. Far from true. The real value of a PM comes from taking the theoretical tools and processes and tailor them to fit the specifics of the project and company. Without it, a PM is no more than a glorified secretary. Or can be easily replaced by an automated software tool.

Another thing that is easily looked over is the field expertise. The argument is that a PM should not be an SME (Subject Matter Expert). True, but he should be able to understand one, to have a common language. Let me give you one example. In a software project (I will mostly use examples from this field as this is to what I’m acquainted with) a PM can easily have access to SME knowledge through a senior developer, team leader, architect etc. But a PM should also play the role of a mediator/negotiator between the resources/teams involved in a project. What will happen when two SMEs from two different teams (like QA and dev) don’t reach an agreement because what it lacks is a common ground, a common language. Then the PM should step into the scene and lay out this common ground. But if he lacks the minimal expertise in the field to understand both languages and bridge the teams …
In business, there is a saying: a worst decision is better than a late decision. Same in project management. And sometime, the PM will end up in the position of taking hard decisions for the well being of the project. Sometime these decisions are at the borderline of two SMEs.

Just for the fun let’s see a discussion between a PM with a background in construction and a developer.
John (developer): – Mike, the database broke just two hours ago.
Mike (PM): – But this should not be a problem. We will order one, you’ll unscrew the old one and mount the new one.
John (developer): [Thinking: Ohh geez, what a %&#$]
And we can laugh about the other side of the coin too. But my expertise in the construction field does not allow me to make a good one :). Of course, the example is exaggerated and this exact situation can be easily handled by an SME, but I think you got the point.

And not to forget the human factor – the professionals in the team can feel frustrated and not understood if the PM does not employ a common language and a minimal expertise in their field.

So you can easily see, why a PM is a little bit of everything plus a PM. Of course, real life examples can easily contradict me (and any of us knows at least a few), but the actual added value of the PM in those cases is worth pennies.

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