5. Article (English)


How Good Should Be The Technical Competence Of A Project Manager? 

The author of this article believes that the question above, the title of this article, should not be answered with a single sentence. This is one of the reasons why this article was prepared. Another reason is that this is a hot debate topic in the community.

When we think about this question, we have to consider how much responsibility and authority is given to the project manager in the company. Therefore, we have another important question: What are the responsibilities and authorities of the project manager? Let’s consider the organizational structures of companies and try to answer our question.

Project Management Institute® defines various organizational structures. Some of them are explained and taken as a reference in this article. It is not right to say that one type of organization structure is better than the other. Depending on the conditions of the company, one can make a proper decision.

First example: One of the organizational structures is the weak matrix. Actually, the titles “project expediter” or “project coordinator” are defined here similar to the title project manager. The project manager has sufficient responsibility and authority however the project expediter and the project coordinator have partial responsibilities and authorities. The project coordinator has little more responsibility and authority. The weak matrix structure where the project expediter works is defined as follows: The project team consists of team members who work in different departments. The manager of the project expediter decides what kind of work the team members are going to perform. The project expediter distributes this information to the team members. The team members perform the tasks and report the results to the project expediter. The results are evaluated by the project expediter’s manager. Then he/she tells the project expediter who should perform what activity in the project team. This procedure is repeated continuously. To summarize, the project expediter’s responsibility and authority are at a minimum level. The technical competence required for this type of job description is at a very low level. One should be able to monitor the team members’ work only. In other words, technical competence at a very low level will not cause any difficulties.

Second example: Another organizational structure is the projectized organization. Here the project manager is also the department manager. The project team members belong to his/her department. This type of organizational structure gives the project manager the highest level of responsibility and authority. So, what should be the required technical competence? A related question is: What should be the technical competence of a department manager? This is of course another topic for debate. It will be fair to say that the required technical competence is more than the required technical competence for a project expediter. Suppose that the project manager needs to evaluate not every single detail but the conditions from a general point of view. His/Her technical competence should not be at a level lower than the technical competence of any of the team members so that we have a healthy working environment.

Third example: Suppose we have a project where a large number of team members are involved. In this type of project, it is likely that the project manager does not have sufficient time to interact with every single team member. In addition, it is not fair to expect that the technical competence of the project manager is at a high level for every single detail related to the project. In this case, it is possible to appoint project leaders. The project leaders manage the team members. The project leaders report to the project manager. So, the project manager is actually managing the project leaders. The competence required here is not the technical competence necessary to manage the team leaders but the competence needed to manage them indirectly. In other words, the competence needed is the managerial competence to manage the project leaders.

Fourth example: The expectations of the upper management might change depending on the budget, complexity and the risk of the project. For example, consider a project whose budget, complexity and risk are at low levels. It is not likely that the company will suffer a big harm because of a mistake done during the project life cycle. That’s why the upper management may not have strict requirements for the technical competence of the project manager.

Let’s consider now some examples where the upper management gives some kind of responsibility and authority to the project manager, and think about at what level the technical competence has to be.

Project team formation: Think about the condition where the project manager has sufficient responsibility and authority to choose the team members. Also suppose that the project manager has sufficient choices. Here, if his/her technical competence is good, he/she is going to be able to form a team whose technical competence is also good. On the other hand, if our assumptions about this condition are not true, it does not matter a lot at what level the technical competence is.

Kick-off meeting: After the team was formed, no technical competence is needed to arrange and to conduct the meeting efficiently.

Planning activities: If the project manager can trust the team members and the other critical stakeholders, there will not be any problems even if the project manager’s technical competence is at a low level.

Monitoring and evaluating the technical performance of team members during the execution stage of the project: His/Her technical competence should be good enough.

Monitoring and reporting the general project performance during the execution stage of the project: No technical competence is needed.

Communications and coordination: It depends on the situation. Let’s give an example: If the project manager is supposed to monitor and report the general project performance to stakeholders, no technical competence is required. On the other hand, if the project manager is supposed to manage the expectations of the customer who does not have the necessary technical knowledge, then technical competence is required. Although it depends on the project, it will be fair to say that more often than not technical competence is not required.

Decisions related to the corrective and preventive actions: In some cases, some work is required where technical background is necessary. If the project manager is able to receive enough technical support from the team members, technical competence is not required.

Evaluating the change requests: Sometimes technical competence is required, for example if he/she has to make a quick technical decision.

Project closure activities: Technical competence is not required.

To summarize, if you ask me how good the technical competence of a project manager should be, before I give an answer, I ask you to describe me the conditions present, and also the responsibilities and the authorities given to the project manager.

Can Izgi, PMP®          28.02.2009

Copyright © 2012 Can İzgi, PMP® – All Rights Reserved.

 Date Posted: 16 Sep 2012 @ 09 43 PM
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2017 @ 02 34 PM
Posted By: admin

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