A quick update from my PM class. This week most of the time in the class was focused on an organized debate over the assertion that “The best person to lead a project is someone with deep area knowledge” with the idea that “deep area knowledge” was expertise in the specific field in which the project takes place. So, in other words we might suggest that the best person to lead a software design project is someone with programming experience or the best person to lead a nuclear plant construction project is a nuclear engineer or the best person to lead a cross-disciplinary multi-function change initiative at a corporation is, well, there’s where the argument breaks down.
A formal “Pro” and “Con” team were tasked with presenting the two sides of the issue. The nuclear plant example came from the Pro team and was an excellent example of a project needing someone with deep area knowledge. But a Nuclear Plant project hardly exemplifies the average or common project. On the Con side, the rebuttal made another very valid point: is the best person to lead a home construction project a plumber? Or an electrician? Or a carpenter? You don’t want someone who has deep experience in so narrow a field, but someone with general knowledge of the industry. Both sides effectively argued, however, that whether you are looking for deep area expertise or general industry knowledge, what is crucial for project success is expertise in Project Management. That means understanding how tasks must be organized, how to allocate resources, and how to communicate everything about the project to the project team and other stakeholders.
It’s this multi-disciplinary approach that I find most interesting about Project Management. There’s a lot of overlap, conceptually, between effective Project Management and effective Leadership. I think I could bring a lot to the table in that sense, if given the chance.
In the end, in my opinion, the two debate teams were at a draw. It was clear from the examples presented, in my opinion, that there were situations where the best leader was also someone with very specific expertise in their field. But it was also evident to me that there were situations where hiring someone with such a narrow field of expertise could be detrimental to a project. The old adage goes “if you give a man a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail”. A person with deep area expertise is like a man with a hammer, but unless you’re working on a project where every problem really is a nail (and those projects do exist, though they are not the majority), this person’s narrow perspective may not be the most effective for the project.