Project Management Is Industry Independent, Project Managers Are Not

This industry independence has been a major factor in the development of project management as a discipline, but that independence doesn’t extend to the people practicing the discipline. While project management is industry independent, project managers must not only know how to operate in business and project environments, they must also be well acquainted with the focus of the project.

The popularity of project management in recent years owes much to its ability to transcend boundaries. The techniques put forth in this book can be applied to projects in any industry. From Silicon Valley to Broadway, projects of every size are becoming more efficient and their products are improving in quality, thanks to the use of solid project management methods.

Specifically, project managers require skills in three different areas:

  1. Project management. This is the pure discipline described in this book.
  2. Business management. Negotiating, finance, customer recruitment, organizational development, communication, and motivation are skills that any good manager should have, whether managing projects or operations.
  3. Technical. Nearly every company that has developed a career path for project managers begins the path with technical competence. Whether it’s accounting, advertising, computer chips, or oil pipelines, the person leading the work needs to know it thoroughly. These same career paths, however, don’t require candidates for project lead roles to be the best technicians in the group.

Project managers are more likely to be involved in technical decisions on small projects, but even on large programs, managers need to understand the work being performed. If they don’t, they might be able to act as facilitator, catalyst, motivator, and cheerleader, but they won’t be able to understand or participate in technical problem solving. “Good,” you might be thinking. “I don’t want to be involved in the detail work.” But project managers who don’t understand the technology they are managing can lose the confidence of their teams, particularly teams that are proud of their technical ability.

It makes sense that the best project managers bring a mix of skills to their job, and that the larger the project, the more project management skills are required. But even the leader of a one-person project needs to be able to organize work and communicate clearly with customers and management.

Perhaps the best proof that management theory is portable comes from the companies that work with the discipline the most, that is, the project management consulting firms. These firms work effectively in all industries—not by having all the right answers, but by having all the right questions. Bring them in to kick off a project and they’ll focus your team on the key issues, help you to perform risk assessments, and build project plans. Throughout this process, however, they will be acting as catalyst and facilitator—not as decision maker. The decisions will be made by the project manager with the help of his or her team, because they are the ones who possess the technical skills demanded by the specific project.

Project management is industry independent—the theory works in all kinds of industries. But project managers are not industry independent – they must have good technical skills in their field.

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