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Manage The Knowledge Gaps

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To be great in project management, we can't only be familiar with our role as the project manager. We must be educated about other roles in the profession, as well as most, if not all, knowledge areas.

But project managers often do the work they like and are familiar with, rather than work that needs to be done. Even if it's work that contributes to a project's overall success, I find that many of us focus on tasks that we're familiar with or that we already know we're good at.

Regardless of how great I am with some tasks, I know that I must fill in my own knowledge gaps with team members' expertise. Because in addition to being a good project manager, the real trick to getting things done is surrounding myself with a capable, well-trained project team.

Instead of trying to learn everything and being everything to everyone, I accept that I won't always know it all. I ask for input from the team on a regular basis. This makes the team feel needed and appreciated for their contributions and makes the project execution more efficient.

Do you tackle the tasks you're good at rather than those that need to get done? How do you balance your own expertise with that of your team members?

 

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7 Comments

Most of us gravitate towards the things we're comfortable with....if you were an engineer before being a PM, you will naturally feel more comfortable with this aspect of your project vs. other areas. PMs need to take a step back and look at the larger picture. I do exactly what you recommend as well - I surround myself with good people from other areas. And you have to learn to trust your team members/subject matter experts and stay out of the technical details yourself no matter how tempting! If you're solving technical problems, you're likely not doing something else that you should be doing as PM.

As an engineer in the Medical Device Industry, I also tend to fall back on what I know, but I have never been afraid to ask for explanations of areas I don't understand. Yet I won't do it in a team meeting setting where my lack of knowledge is wasting many other team member's time.

My main value is as a Project Manager, planning an efficiently run project, communicating with others when tasks are running different than plan and executing the project efficiently.

That said, I am never afraid to take on grunt work when it will speed up the critical path. Project Managers should be the bearers of rocks, the carriers of water. It is our job to remove the obstacles that are slowing down our team members and keep the project moving.

That attitude has put me in many strange positions but I've never regretted putting on the bunny-suit and helping out in the clean room, running computer systems validation executions or driving laptops to off-site employees stuck in the snow. Whatever it takes, I'm still a pair of hands who can do tasks and I am never afraid of 'lowering' myself to do this grunt work. My attitude is always: "If it's on the critical path, it's the most important work at that time. "

The loyalty this engenders from my team is worth millions on this and future projects.

Dmitri:

This is a great point and speaks to the debate of domain expertise or general experience as a PM.

I forget which book spoke of an amazing talent at either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. This gentleman had risen through the ranks quickly and had a reputation of being a top performer and excellent COO. When the time came, he was given the nod for CEO but within a short time he began to fail. How could a successful executive in other aspects of the business be so poor in hsi new role. They pointed to his comfort zone and falling back into the Ops discussions and details vs. building on the gaps required of him now being the CEO.

Strong developers that become PMs often do the same thing. They are naturally drawn to those dev resources on the project and get into the details of those tasks, while marketing or legal are left to figure it out on their own.

PMs that have strong domain experience, must be very concious of their time and efforts to address their weakness or focus on those functions of the project that are not their comfort zone. Set a reminder in your calendar if you have to, but you must spend time working with all functions of your team. And don't be too proud to tell them "Legal is not my strong point, can you explain what A, B, C means".

I believe that a good manager depends more on his ability of proper communication with his team, rather than other skills he/she may have.

I agree with you that in order to manage a project better, the project manager should also educate him/herself about other knowledge areas but it is seldom the case.

In order to fill the knowledge gaps and keep the project in right direction, the expertise of team members should be managed by properly communicating and identifying their additional skills. The vision and goal of Project Manager should be conveyed clearly enough to the team members in order to obtain the optimum results.

I manage projects in the medical device industry and regularly rely on my project team for knowledge and technical expertise. Instead of being the know-it-all, I make sure I am knowledgeable with general information in every area and then call in the team or technical experts as needed.

This tactic seems to work particularly well since as the project manager I am able to connect all of the pieces as well as perform some program management. For the team, each person becomes an integral part providing knowledge specific to their area and is able to contribute more than just execution of the task - a learning experience for all of us.

Mary Romano

@MaryRomano99

As always the concept of team flows through the management of each project. Think of everything from a team perspective is very important. Everything in project management starts to make sense if you think of it as a team effort and team goal.

The natural tendency is to stay in our comfort zone - however I have come to realize that when we get out of this comfort zone then great things happen that allow us to grow and reach our potential. Thus, I usually start with the tasks that need to get done, not the ones that I know how to do, as I already have experience to estimate the effort for the latter. This allows me to allocate my time appropriately and set the needed time limits.

Throughout my project manager experience, I have led many different types of projects (software/infrastructure/business). I was not a subject matter expert in most of those projects – I invested on getting the needed overall understanding of the problem so to lead the project, facilitated and coordinated the work, ensured appropriate communication channels, and guided the team into the successful completion. Thus, I worked closely with my teams and made sure that all needed expertise was either within the team or available to the team so to safeguard the project’s success.

I believe its important to use appropriately the strengths and knowledge of each team member - one person cannot know or do everything.

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