Submitted for publication by Email, February 19, 2009 © Robert Goatham & Calleam Consulting Ltd.
Published here April 2009.

Introduction | Projects From First Principles | Compounding the Challenge
Onion Rings | Experts and Expertise | Barriers to Developing Expertise | Conclusion

Barriers to Developing Expertise

To be fair to the industry, developing expertise in a project-based environment is a major challenge. In many ways the project environment is the "antithesis" of the environment people need in order to learn on the job. As a leader in understanding the processes by which people develop expertise, Gary Klein of Klein Associates has shown that people develop expertise fastest when they are in the right environment. That environment requires four elements to be present:[9]

  1. Exposure to repeated patterns of events
  2. Rapid feedback between a decision being made and the decision's outcome becoming manifest
  3. The ability to isolate individual decisions and link them to their outcomes
  4. Time to reflect on those outcomes

In an IT project based environment there are many obstacles that stand in the way of creating those four conditions. Among other things, the characteristics of IT projects are such that;

  • Because projects extend over significant periods of time there is little immediate feedback on the decisions we make
  • By definition projects are all unique. That uniqueness makes identifying repeated patterns more challenging
  • Projects involve complex webs of interrelated decisions which makes isolating individual cause and effect relationships hard to do
  • Where projects extend over significant periods of time, participants may have only experienced a handful of full project cycles. This again reduces the exposure to repeated patterns
  • Project teams are often working under constant pressure so they lack the time to look back and reflect on performance

Given the problems listed above and the fact that many IT development centers spend relatively little money on training, many IT workers learn their skills through the school of hard knocks. Those who have been down that road can attest to how rough a journey that can be. The cost to both the organization and the individual can be high. It is not difficult to find stories of people leaving the industry because of stress, senior executives fired following a failed project, or even organizations made bankrupt by a failed project.

 Experts and Expertise    Experts and Expertise

9. Klein, G., Sources of Power: How people make decisions, MIT Press
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